Monday, December 15, 2014

I had a nightmare last night. A humdinger. During my 2nd career, I taught emotionally disturbed children and this was one of my teaching nightmares. (Dance nightmares— I don’t know the steps, the part, the music, or indeed, why I must dance— play out too, sometimes, still.) Most of my pupils in waking life were young kids, but when I have these hopelessly chaotic dreams the students are always teenagers. Often there are hordes of them, as in this one, and they are running amok and I am trying to “settle them down” long enough for the sweetness of reason to prevail. I remember saying many times to them, no, trying to shout (I have a piss-poor shouting voice; doesn’t carry) above the din that if they would only stay in their seats and be quiet we could get to know each other, have reasonable discussions, become co-operating participants in a learning process. But no.

Instead of a classroom, we were crammed together in an auditorium. Young people ran up and down the aisles, did incomprehensible routines on the stage, although it was clear enough that as various groups grabbed the spotlight, their intent was simply to mock everything I tried, and everything else that had been tried by others. My job in that auditorium was to teach literature, and this was profoundly unimportant to the group I was supposedly in charge of. They were passing bottles of potent eggnog around and popping the tops of beer cans, too. Budweiser, I remember. At one point I made a frantic call for help from my Principal. Maybe she could at least help me divide the crowd into manageable groups. Surely I wasn’t meant to control such a massive class! And the lovely, strong, resourceful woman who’d been my mentor and who was always supportive of me in those real days of teaching, came into the huge, awful space for a brief appearance. She was no help and in fact said if I didn’t like my job I should go take another offer I’d mentioned to her, (of course I didn’t know what she was talking about) of becoming a dirt farmer! A dirt farmer was someone who actually farmed dirt as I understood it in the dream.  I know I tried to find students who were possibly on the fence about anarchy, but they slipped away from me before I could reach their hearts or minds. The dream wasn’t "a loss of control" dream. It was "a discovering that I’d never had any control" and that my place in their lives was less influential than that of a lone cowboy, without even a horse to help him, charged with stopping a stampeding herd of cattle. It was a god-awful dream; a relief to wake up from.

Only a dream, right? Except…it was a spectacular visualization (with audio) of how I’ve been feeling these last weeks. I’ve felt like I’ve been wearing a flimsy ballerina costume in armored battle, like I’ve been baking sugar cookies for people who want raw, bloody meat, that I’ve been reading poetry to torturers, or potential torturers, that I’ve kissed the good-looking boy next door many times over a lifetime only to learn that he has a portrait in the attic of his true image, corrupt, greedy, sadistic, and bigoted.

Nightmare notwithstanding, I enjoyed my years as a teacher in Florida and Maryland and am grateful that I got to spend so much of my working life among schoolchildren. The other day my mood was lighter and I’m sure (almost sure) I’ll rally from the dark place I’m in this morning; I gave in to my compulsion to watch Dick Cheney with Chuck Todd on Meet the Press yesterday, even though I was already down, even though I was pretty sure he’d act exactly like he acted and say what he said.  I wrote this on Saturday when I was still sort of coping:

A Reflection on Repression

The teacher shouted, “Quiet!”
The nine-year-olds hushed,
Arthur’s joke forgotten.
“Close your Arithmetic books,
fold your hands on your desk 
and put your heads down,” she said.
Quiet classroom.
Tense children.
Order restored.
Teacher pleased.
 Minutes ticked.

Then, Suellen’s nose itched.
Quickly she risked a scratch.
Ben’s foot, the right one,
the jigglely one, jiggled.
Arthur’s best friend Harry
grinned, face hidden
against his knuckles,
because the joke
had been a good one.
In the back row,
Mary Margaret turned
her small head, caught
Arthur’s eye, puffed out
her cheeks and blew,
and Arthur wiggled
his eyebrows.

And even if Mrs. Foote delayed lunch, 
kept them in at recess, wrote notes
to go home, gave extra extra homework,
made them sit like that forever, 

she’d never have the complete
control of her fourth grade class she craved, 
never win her battles, only make them 
hate her and tell their friends about her when they were free. 
The children would rally and the tyrant would always lose.


david coyote said...


Stop watching the crazy TV stuff - it can give angels nightmares! I think you got right at it with the 'control' issue ... that's the tough onion to peal. Makes me cry.

Keep writing poetry - and Peace surround you.

cuz coyote

Mathew Paust said...

I loved this poem on Fictionaut, Nonnie, and now with the backgrounder...whew! Your nightmare description is awfully close (in spirit) to the real thing I confront as a sub teacher in the local school system.