Every night I dream of teaching.
I know it has only been one week since my last trip to campus to turn in my badge and say goodbye, but each night since has been filled with visions of the classroom, my students, me in the role of teacher.
In one dream, I was explaining an idea to my class and they were getting it, really getting it. Eyes lit up with understanding. In another, I sat with my coworker in her old, almost empty classroom. (She had already moved most of her stuff into mine.) We tried to figure out how to manage the room changes for the last week of school. I didn’t know where I would teach. And then we realized, blissfully, that this was the last day of school. There was not another week. The year was over. There was no need to fret about rooms or space.
In the dream that woke me up last night just before midnight, students were coming in to my class late. Or almost late. Or saying, “I’ll be right back, I just need to…” some excuse or other. Some were students that I taught this year, but students from my past popped up too. It’s been at least five years since I taught Aaron W. and yet there he was. This tardiness had been going on all year from these kids and was getting worse and worse. But last night, I was no longer tolerating it. I got on to each and every one of them, saying, “No more. This ends now.” And they smiled at me. Every one of them looked at me like they knew. Those were the words in my head as I awoke. The words I scribbled on a post-it note in the dark. Smiling like they know. And it was simply clear that this problem would be over.
At first I thought the dreams symbolized me feeling displaced, regretful about leaving, anxious about losing my teacher identity. After all, I am not going to settle into this life change over night. It has definitely not sunk in yet. This weekend, I saw an old friend who asked me, “Are you still at CRMS?” And I said yes without even blinking, until my husband elbowed me and I remembered that the answer was and was not true. The following day I renewed my yoga account. The cashier asked me if I was still a teacher and when I nodded, he awarded me my 20% discount. It took me a full three minutes to remember and wonder if I should feel guilty.
The thing is that I am on the cusp right now, at the border, in the land of in-between. I will still be receiving a paycheck from LISD for two more months, my guest bedroom is filled with crates of files and binders from my classroom, and it was only fourteen days ago that I was reading “The Landlady” to my students for the last time. But I’ve already handed in my keys, and my school login was deactivated the day after I left. (Of all the things for the district’s technology to take care of quickly, they choose booting a 13-year teacher out of her email.)
I am no longer a teacher, but I am not yet anything else. I tell myself I am on summer vacation, but vacation from what?
So at first, I thought the dreams were a sign of disorientation and loss. I worried that they would plague me all summer long, maybe longer. I worried maybe they meant I had made a mistake. But I forgot, briefly, to trust in the capability of my subconscious because often it knows what it’s doing.
Several years ago when my cat Lili passed away unexpectedly, I felt a lot of guilt mixed in with my grief. Guilt that I was not with her when she died at the vet, that there might have been something I could have done to prevent her untimely death. I began to dream about her. In the dreams, her ghost inhabited my house—running to the food bowl at meal times, laying on her favorite purple chair. Although the images were not disturbing, they were not comforting either. They just left me with the sense that there was something I needed to do. Then, in one of the dreams, Lili scooted past me out the front door, the way she often tried to do in life. At first I panicked and started after her, afraid for her safety. But then I realized—the dangers of the outside world were not a problem for my little cat anymore. The weather, the cars, the other animals… nothing could hurt Lili now. And so I let her out. I let her spirit run outside where she’d always wanted to be, and I felt my heart lift with the peace of it. I never dreamed about Lili after that.
Last night, after waking from my most recent teaching dream, I lay awake for several minutes, overcome with that same sense of peace.
Now I see that these are not representations of anxiety or regret. They are images of me transitioning, healing, fixing. In my subconscious, I am able to do, with confidence, the things that eluded me for the past several months. Finally I have time to deal with all of these little problems, the things that got away from me all year, the things that ate away at the atmosphere of my classroom, tore my relationships with my students down. The lessons are going well now. The tardies have been addressed. And it’s not just me being happy that they are fixed. The students find comfort in it too. They are being noticed, being cared for, feeling solace in the fact that someone is taking charge. Smiling like they know. Like they know that things will be better now.