It's the first day of class and my first-year writing students are tearing around the room behind my back while I hunch over the computer at the front of the classroom frantically trying to finish writing the syllabus in time to e-mail it to our department's administrative assistant so she get the photocopies to me before the class ends, but I keep getting distracted by the rampaging imps in the room until I finally have to turn around and warn them: "If you hit me with that squirtgun one more time, you're outta here!"
I know it's a dream for three reasons:
1. Squirtguns? This isn't third grade!
2. My department doesn't even have an administrative assistant anymore!
3. Showing up on the first day of class without a syllabus? I'd rather walk in naked!
It's way too early to be suffering from new-class nightmares, but I've had some variation of this dream three nights in a row. The squirt-guns were a new touch, startling enough to wake me up. I'm always hopelessly overprepared on the first day of class: Classes start four weeks from today and I've already completed three out of four syllabi, while the fourth one just needs some page-number tweaks to account for a new three-meetings-per-week schedule. So these nightmares clearly aren't expressing anxiety over syllabi; instead, they're probably channeling some other anxieties:
What will we do without our beloved administrative assistant? Who will order those special green pens she used to keep hidden in the drawer just for the two of us who love them?
How will I deal with three first-year classes, including one that meets three days a week at 8 a.m.?
How many new students will actually show up this fall? How will the campus respond to the enrollment figures? Are more staff cuts in the offing, or have all those voluntary departures bandaged the gaping wound in the budget?
How will I cope with the stress of serving on Faculty Council? I've already fallen behind on some important online discussions because I don't have a smart phone and I haven't figured out a way to respond to e-mails while getting a root canal. Who expects an academic to respond instantly to e-mails in the middle of July anyway?
There's more--a lot more. When I think about it calmly, I'm quite sanguine about my class preparations and the challenges I'll face in the classroom; the challenges outside the classroom, on the other hand, make me want to pull the covers over my head and go back to sleep.
But only if those guys will put away the squirtguns.