Let’s Talk about Back-to-School Teaching Dreams

Angela Buzan Life in the Classroom, Science

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We’ve all heard it: “dreams reflect the inner desires of your heart”. Unfortunately, that platitude doesn’t align with my late-August night scripts. Because sometimes, teaching dreams can be a little… intense. Tell me if these dreams sound familiar:

  • It’s the first day of school and the kids are out of control. You’re screaming your head off but no one is listening. And then the principal walks in and pleasantly asks: “Are you ready for your evaluation?”
  • Or this one: You oversleep and miss first period. You arrive an hour late, only to realize your kids are happily collaborating and conducting reliable research from their phones—as they work on the state standardized exam.
  • Or, scariest of all: the parent e-mail that turns into a meeting that turns into a hearing that turns into the likely finale for a dystopian young adult novel.

See, the thing is, I don’t remember writing a Philosophy of Education that referenced my inner desires of destruction.

So what’s going on here? Have I discovered a Freudian conspiracy? Turns out, not all psychologists agree to the inner desire theory. In fact, here’s something to consider: those nightmares may actually be productive.

Many psychologists now believe that “dreams assist in memory formation and problem solving” (Morewedge, Norton). When you pause to consider the amount of information we receive in a single day, this makes perfect sense. Elementary teachers are responsible for the lives of 25 to 35 children and additionally manage a number of aides, volunteers, and co-teachers (remember when society was obsessed with Kate Gosselin and her eight kids?). Many secondary teachers interact with upwards of one hundred and fifty students a day.

The fact is, the teaching environment is one of continuous decision-making, action-response analysis, and data intake. Marge Scherer, in her ASCD article titled “Keeping Good Teachers”, points out that the average teacher makes more than 3,000 nontrivial decisions every day. Let me contextualize that: there are only 1440 minutes in a day! [Enters from side left: fact-driven headache]

Antti Revonsuo, a Finnish cognitive scientist, recently discovered that when we dream, we rehearse behaviors of self-defense in response to threatening situations (Simons). Translation: those teacher dreams are the result of your brain processing thousands of decisions and considering a range a responses and outcomes. In other words, that teacher dream about the kids being out of control? As an effective teacher, you already know that simply yelling at kids is an ineffective response—hence the reason the children do not change their behavior. The dream about oversleeping and the disastrous exam: perhaps your brain is inspiring a high interest and high stakes project that’s not the traditional five (or fifteen) page essay.

As for the dream about the parent: hopefully you’re realizing that you and the parent are both worried about the best interest of the child. Instead of reacting, what about involving the parent in the decision-making process? And if that fails: go ahead and write the YA novel, because Freud also claimed: “dreams are the paradigm of poetry”.




Works Cited

Morewedge, Carey K.; Norton, Michael I. “When dreaming is believing: The (motivated) interpretation of dreams.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 96 (2): 249–264. Online.

Scherer, Marge. “Keeping Good Teachers”. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. 2003. <http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/104138/chapters/The-Qualities-of-Great-Teachers.aspx> Accessed 20 August 2016.

Simons, Ilana. “What Do Dreams Do for Us?” Psychology Today. 11 November 2009. <https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-literary-mind/200911/what-do-dreams-do-us> Accessed 20 August 2016.


Angela Buzan is a full time English teacher in the Flagstaff Unified School District. She has thirteen years’ teaching experience and has taught all grades seven through twelve. In 2010, she received a Fulbright Teacher Exchange fellowship to Kolkata, India; in 2012 she achieved National Board Certification; in 2014 she earned a Master’s Degree in Curriculum Design and Instruction. Her current challenge is to out-read Gavin, in third period, who typically polishes off three novels a week.

Comments 7

  1. Angelia

    This is a smart and witty post that captures the inner most thoughts of many teachers and puts a positive spin on the anxiety we all feel from time to time. We DO make so many decisions every day that it can be overwhelming and can lead to the fact invoked headache… but this is our passion, it is our profession. When we are driven to do something at a level as high stakes as education, anxiety about our decisions and actions are inevitable. Freud could have had a field day with my “the kids painted the classroom purple and my parents are my principal” dream!

  2. Danielle Brown

    I love this post about teacher dreams! I love the idea that those dreams are a sense of self defense! I knew we (educators) made many decisions, but it’s nice to see it quantified. It also makes sense why there are times, when others ask why you do XYZ, and you truly don’t know. That’s where the reflection comes in! Thanks for the amazing resources!

  3. Sandy Merz

    Well, we’ve been in class about a month now, and I really want to have a teaching dream tonight and then try to analyze it in these terms. But I gotta say that I’ve always thought the 1000s of non-trivial decision thing is bogus. What do those who claim it mean by a decision and mean by non-trivial. Forget that there are 1440 minutes in a day, there are only 480 from 8 – 4 which means, if the data are to be believed that we make over 6 non-trivial decisions a minute – one every 10 seconds. So here’s a challenge or anyone – take any minute of your school day and name the 6 non-trivial decisions you made. I think I need a dream to practice my self-defense against the silliest statistic ever.


    Nice post . I was fascinated by the analysis ! Does anyone know where I might be able to find a fillable USPS Exhibit 5-2b document to edit ?

  5. Alaina Adams

    Teaching really is as complex as rocket science; I say this ALL the time… and your post highlighting the thousands of decisions that teachers make is so timely at the beginning of the year. Thank you for helping me see that I am not crazy – just always refining my craft (even in sleep).

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