There it was again, The Dream.
It comes back every so often in various forms. But it is always The Dream – the one that has haunted me for the past four decades. Will it ever end?
This time The Dream took place at the USC Aiken campus in North Augusta. (No, North Augusta does not have a USCA campus, but it is dreamland!)
I find myself walking to this fictitious campus looking for my math class. It is the middle of the semester, and I realize that I haven’t attended this class a single time. And this is essential for my master’s degree program. (No, I am not working on a degree; this is dreamland.)
I can’t find the building, much less the room where the class is being held. I have a feeling of panic when I realize I don’t have a book and have not turned in any work in the class. And the mid-term exam is coming up. That is the basic premise of The Dream.
Sometimes the setting is middle school or high school. It is as though I have been dropped from outer space onto a campus in the middle of the year and don’t know what my schedule is or where I am supposed to go, I have no books or supplies, and quite often it is time for the final exam. I am totally unprepared in The Dream.
Recently The Dream changed from an educational setting to the Navy. I was back on active duty, preparing to go to my duty station, but I had no uniform. The Navy is quite specific about its people wearing uniforms. It frowns on those who show up in civilian attire. The trouble I could be in without my uniform. That’s The Dream.
My wife has admitted having similar dreams. They are about school and not having all that is required. It might be about an exam for which she has not studied. For many of us, that might not be a big thing, but for a Type A personality who likes to do everything the right way, she finds it unheard of not to study for an exam.
School was an important part of life for most of us growing up. We were expected to do our best, complete our homework assignments, study for tests and do as we were directed by the teacher. Getting to class on time with our books and supplies was a given. And for the most part I did those things.
So why now am I having dreams about a time in my life long past? The Dream seems to be relentless. My wife says these are anxiety dreams. She has hers at anxious times in her life. I can’t put my finger on any stresses that bring about The Dream for me.
I do know that I feel anxious when I am in the middle of The Dream and can’t recall what my next class is or I come to the realization that there is a class that I have failed to attend all year. I hope there is no psychiatrist out there who is determining my entire personality makeup based on The Dream. That might be scary.
Perhaps during my school career I wanted to be in the good graces of my teachers. I had some great ones and didn’t want to disappoint any of them. One of those wonderful teachers was Mrs. Courtney, who taught me as a fifth-grader at Millbrook Elementary.
Mrs. Courtney and I attend the same church and often see one another. I still see her through the eyes of a student. We sat together at a church dinner a week ago and laughed about the memories of the fifth grade way back when.
“That’s D writing,” she would say when handing back a paper to me.
Although I never got a D in handwriting on my report card (yes, back then we were graded on how well we wrote), I made more than enough C’s to displease my mother. She had beautiful handwriting. My dad didn’t care so much since his writing paled in comparison to my poor efforts.
To be able to sit as an adult with one’s elementary school teacher is a real treat. The stories she has are enough to fill several volumes. Yet she always tells me what a treat it was to teach our class back then. How she did it with 35 or more in the room, I don’t know.
Mrs. Courtney was one of the reasons that I went into teaching for a period in my life. I wanted to emulate her and the other great teachers I had. My efforts fell far short.
Teachers, however, impact students in many ways – sometimes beyond the academic side of school. One of my former middle school students is now a teacher in a middle school in Aiken. Shana Ryberg Pearsons is a science teacher at Kennedy Middle and recently got in touch with me.
She asked if I could come to her class and teach an exploratory class with her. I was honored.
“Wow, I must have taught her a lot,” I thought to myself.
“And what subject do you want me to help you teach?” I asked, thinking about all the math-science connections there might be that would work into her courses.
That’s when I got the distressing news.
“Juggling,” she said.
Shana said one of the things she remembers most about my class was learning to juggle. Just for fun, I used to teach some of my classes how to juggle. It is not that hard, and it is something most middle schoolers can pick up easily.
At Kennedy, students get a chance to sign up for an exploratory class that is held three times during February on successive Wednesdays. Shana and I have now worked twice with a group of about 20 who have gone from the “I can’t do that” stage to the “Wow, I can juggle” side of the ledger.
It’s interesting to me, at a time when The Dream continues popping up, that I am getting to see two sides of the student-teacher relationship. Our teachers leave a mark on us, and it is not always the one that is intended.
With Mrs. Courtney, I often associate fifth grade with her reading to us the books “Penrod” and “Penrod and Sam.” She taught me lots of other things.
With Shana, she remembers the guy who taught her how to juggle. I really did teach a lot of math in that class.
Teachers – good, bad or in the middle – always leave an impact on their students. It may not be the one they intend, but that imprint is always there.
School also leaves its impact on us. And sometimes that leads to The Dream. Will it ever end?
Jeff Wallace is the retired editor of the Aiken Standard.