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We explore the alleged phenomenon of teachers getting bad dreams and nightmares, more often than everyone else, starting with several engineering teachers' most memorable ones. Do other teachers really get these dreams? Why do they get them? What should they do about them, if anything? Based on a little reading and communication with experts, we developed some preliminary answers to those questions.

Our opening music comes from "School Zone (radio edit)" by The Honorable Sleaze. Our closing music is from "Late for School" by Bleeptor. Both are used under Creative Commons Attribution Licenses: creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0

Subscribe and leave episode reviews wherever you get your podcasts. Support Pios Labs with regular donations on Patreon, by purchasing digital teaching materials at the Pios Labs curriculum store, or by buying a copy of the reference book Engineer's Guide to Improv and Art Games by Pius Wong. You'll also be supporting educational tools and projects like Chordinates! or The Calculator Gator. Thanks to our donors and listeners for making the show possible. The K12 Engineering Education Podcast is a production of Pios Labs.


Transcript of:

The K12 Engineering Education Podcast


Teacher Dreams and Nightmares

Release Date:



[Pius Wong] This is The K12 Engineering Education Podcast for October 24, 2016.

[opening music]

[Pius]  Who gets nightmares about their work?  Engineering teachers, apparently.  I’m Pius Wong.  Today’s episode is all about teachers’ dreams and nightmares.

[music fadeout]

[Pius]  This last summer, I spoke with Melanie.  She’s an engineering teacher in Seattle and a past guest on this podcast, and she told me a little bit about her nightmares. 

[horror movie strings sound effect]

[Pius]  That’s not a metaphor.  I’m talking about her literal nightmares and dreams that she got when she slept, and they were often about teaching.

[Melanie, in conversation]  A lot of them are nightmares.  Some of them are just dreams that are so ordinary. 

[Pius, narration]  That’s Melanie.

[Melanie, in conversation]  So I think that also makes it funny, that I have very ordinary – just living life, except in my dream, and I’ll go through an entire day of school.  But some of them are really nightmares, in that they’re very stressful, and the worst-case scenario of teaching happening in my dreams.

[creepy instrument sound]

[Melanie]  I had a first day of school nightmare two days after the last day of school.  So I thought I had a break.  I thought I was going on to the summer, but two days after school ended, I had my first first-day-of-school nightmare, and – More of the same.  I was just completely unprepared.  I thought, you know, I went to school on the first day, and I thought I would just use the same lessons as the last year, except I lost all my plans.  I lost all my copies.  I couldn’t remember what I did, and kids were coming into my room.  But it was just funny that I had that nightmare two days after being done with school.

[Pius]  That’s so weird.

[Melanie]   Yes.  The first day of school wasn’t for another two or two-and-a-half months, so I – That was kind of a sad feeling for me when I woke up from that dream, and I realized, no, that was going to be on my mind for months.

[scream sound effect]

[Melanie]  There was another one that was really funny to me, in retrospect.  It was really fast.  This happened toward the end of this past year.  It was mid-June.  So just for context, school gets out on June 22nd at my old district, and this dream happened on Jun 15th.  So I was about a week away from being done with school.  And in my dream, I woke up, and I found out that I time-traveled to May 12th.  My first reaction was that I was so excited, because I woke up, and it was a Saturday instead of a Wednesday.  I was like, “Yes! It’s the weekend!”  Then I realized what day it was, and that I would have to relive the last five weeks of school. 

[Pius]  [laughs]

[Melanie]  And I got sad so quickly.

[Pius]  Oh my gosh.

[Melanie]  And that was it.

[Pius]  And then you woke up.

[Melanie]  And then I woke up for real, yeah.

[Pius, narration]  And it seemed to her that she got these troubling dreams a lot.

[Melanie, in conversation]  It was to the point that I was having them almost every night, my first couple of years. 

[Pius, narration]  Not only that – Melanie also discovered that other engineering teachers were also having these dreams but weren’t always talking about them.  I was shocked, because I never heard about this before.  I don’t remember having nightmares about working as an engineer, so why would teachers have nightmares about their work?  To be fair, they’re not all nightmares.

[Melanie, in conversation]  I was teaching about dinosaurs.  I was teaching a project-based-learning unit about dinosaurs, and…

[Pius]  What does a project-based unit on dinosaurs entail?

[Melanie]  I’m not even sure.

[Melanie]  In my dream, I was talking to a lot of different teachers about project-based learning.

[Pius]  Dang, were these teachers in your dream-world giving you good advice?

[Melanie]  Yeah, I think we were having really good discussions about PBL.  And I went through the entire planning, teaching, assessment, and reflection process in this one dream.

[Pius]  Wow.

[Melanie]  It was a really productive dream.

[Melanie]  I think I have had a nightmare about teaching music before, but it was unusual.  That isn’t going to be my everyday nightmare.

[Pius, narration]  So overall, there were a lot of dreams about her job, teaching, with a variety of content, but a lot of them were nightmares.  What did Melanie want to know about these dreams?

[Melanie, in conversation]  I just felt like this was something that teachers weren’t talking about, and I don’t know whether I’m more susceptible to these things.  Am I a more stressed person?  Am I thinking too much about my job?  Am I going through problems that are unusual for teachers?

[Melanie]  I think that I would like to know: Is this giving me insight into problems that I’m going through, and is it something that I can start or that we can start to catalog so that we can understand what these problems are?

[Pius, narration]  So I set out to investigate these nightmares.

[music interlude]

[Pius, narration]  First, do other engineering teachers really get these nightmares?

[Joe, in conversation]  Yes, I have.  Yes, I have. Some of them scarier…

[Adrian, in conversation]  Yeah, I’ve actually had nightmares about my work…

[Audrea, in conversation]  So I say I don’t dream about it, but I do sometimes, right before I’m waking up…

[Pius, narration]  That was Joe, Adrian, and Audrea, three engineering teachers with different backgrounds who all say they’ve had bad dreams about their teaching profession, to some degree.  For example, Joe from Houston talked about one of his most memorable ones.

[Joe, in conversation]  I used to teach a robotics class my first year of teaching engineering.  And I had already had an issue with a student who blew up a battery, because they had it on fast-charge, and it just charged really fast.  They forgot about it, and it blew up.  And so literally every night it would – the last thing that would go through my head was, “Did you turn off all the battery chargers?” [laughs]  Because the last thing you wanted was for something to explode, and no one’s there.  So I had a nightmare or two where I’d be going to work the next day, everything’s happy, and there would be a giant crater where the school used to be.  Everyone’s like, “Oh yeah, some idiot left the robot batteries on.”

[Pius]  So you show up, and something was destroyed, and they’re blaming you.

[Joe]  Yeah.  Exactly.  Exactly.  It made me so paranoid that I would make sure before I left every day that I would take a picture of the power strip that the robot batteries were plugged in on, to make sure that it was off.

[Pius]  That actually sounds pretty smart.

[Joe]  Yeah, so when I went to bed I could look at it.  I would go to bed, you know.  Ease of mind.

[Pius, narration]  Adrian in Los Angeles described another type of strong nightmare.

[Adrian, in conversation]  A lot of what is stressed your first year of teaching is just getting simple entrance procedures down so students can understand directions and instructions.  So in this nightmare, I am in the middle of my entrance, and I let all my kids come into the classroom, and so I’m signaling for attention.  “Voices off in three seconds.  Three, two, one.”  And kids are laughing at me.  And some are just out of their seats.  They’re blatantly walking around.  Some have grabbed computers from our computer cart, and I – I echo again.  I raise my voice in this dream, and I say, “Guys, voices off!  Three, two, one!”  Nothing.  Everybody in the classroom is laughing and having – basically ignoring all the directions I’m giving.  As an instructor, I guess, I couldn’t move at the time, so the nightmare felt even more limiting.  I was kind of just stuck standing in place.  It was kind of like my body was stuck as well, so I couldn’t move.  So I was stuck simply using my voice, but nobody was paying attention.  It really freaked me out, because I guess you could say I’m a little obsessive about that sort of thing.  So to give the instructions, I need all their eyes on me, voices off, because I don’t want to have to re-explain instruction.  And since I’m so obsessive about that, that dream was literally causing me sweats.  I woke up, and I was like, “Oh my goodness.  That really wasn’t happening.  How was that?”  I thought I was in the classroom.  I guess that was the more nightmarish part of it, is that I could see that happening, if I didn’t have that sort of structure.

[Pius, narration]  Then there’s the last engineering teacher I mentioned, Audrea from Austin.  Relative to the other teachers, Audrea has the most teaching experience at about fifteen years.  She said that she didn’t really get a lot of teacher nightmares, but after she thought about it a bit, details came back to her.

[Audrea, in conversation]  And it’s usually before school starts.  And it’s usually stuff like: school’s getting ready to start, and there’s a foot of water in my room.  Like, hard-core, crazy infrastructure problems that are going to keep me from being able to teach.  But I think I posted to Facebook about this dream I had, like in the summer.  And it was way before school had started.  Normally that’s like a – school’s getting ready to start, and I get these visions of, you know, like, “You’re going to switch rooms!”  You’re trying to teach, and some infrastructure problem happens.  “There’s no electricity, but teach your class!”  You know?  Nothing like that has ever happened to me, but I’ll have those teacher-type dreams.  When I posted it on Facebook, all my friends and family who were former teachers started sharing, “I still have that dream!”  Or for some people it’s grading.  A lot of people are like, “I have the dream of, grades are due, and I haven’t graded anything for the whole semester.”  I said, I guess I don’t worry about grades.  Mine is never about grading.  Mine is always like, physical impediments to teaching my class.

[Pius]  Things on fire and whatnot.

[Audrea]  Yeah.  I come to school, and they’re like, “You’re in a new room today!”  And I’m like, how can I teach my class?  You know, stuff like that.

[Pius, narration]  So far, Melanie, Joe, Adrian, and Audrea described a variety of nightmare topics.  Altogether, their stories suggest that maybe they got these nightmares when they were less experienced or when they were more anxious about their jobs in real life.  But even Audrea, a very experienced teacher, can still get them sometimes.  So why did they think they got these nightmares?

[Joe, in conversation]  I don’t know.  I think everyone has that kind of fear, of wanting to perform well and create a really good environment.  But everyone also, you know – In education you always have these scary things, like, if you do this wrong, they’re going to come get you.  The education agency is going to come get you.  And so it’s kind of like, you know – There are some fears, especially with like testing.  Different types of testing, your standardized tests…

[Pius]  Oh OK.  I was thinking engineering testing, like with things breaking.

[Joe]  Oh no, just like standardized stuff.

[Pius]  You mean paper tests.  That actually gives you nightmares.

[Joe]  Yeah.  Yeah, because you never want to have a – If a student cheats or something like that, then you’re the one who’s held responsible.

[Adrian, in conversation]  I think my dreams in general are trying to ingrain the day’s memories, and when I have these nightmares, I think it’s that I’m still trying to improve in that aspect. 

[Audrea, in conversation]  I think most people have that student dream of:  My math final is tomorrow, and I haven’t been to class all semester.  This is the teacher version of that.  So I don’t get the student version of that anymore.  I don’t get the:  I haven’t wrote that.  I haven’t been going to English class, and now, whatever.  I don’t get that.  I get the teacher version.

[Pius]  You’ve graduated.

[Audrea]  Yeah, I’ve graduated to the teacher version now.

[music interlude]

[Pius, narration]  Rehearsing the worst-case scenario.  Fear of performance.  Manifestation of real-life worries.  The teacher version of classic student nightmares.  These all sound like reasonable theories.  To pinpoint a better answer, I wanted to find out if non-engineering teachers get these nightmares, too, and if they did, find out if they got them for similar reasons.

[Pius, in conversation]  Have you ever dreamt about your work in all that time?

[Rachel]  [laughs]  Yes.  Many, many, many times.  It’s a given.

[Pius, narration]  That’s Rachel, our past podcast guest, who’s taught a variety of subjects from elementary music to high school physics, mostly.

[Rachel]  Some of the dreams were horrifying.  There were dreams of being pulled into the superintendent’s office and instantly fired because I was doing instructional damage, because a student didn’t like the method that I was using to teach.  There were dreams of parents [laughs] doing drive-bys on my house.

[Pius]  [laughs] What?  Not like with a gun or something.

[Rachel]  No, with a gun. 

[Pius]  What the.

[Rachel]  This was a dream.  That’s not the reality.  Let’s be clear about that.

[Pius]  [laughs] But you knew that they were parents doing the drive-by?

[Rachel]  Oh yes.  They were very clear.  There were lots of dreams about losing colleagues for illnesses or broken bones.  I never dreamed colleagues dying, but I know that friends of mine have that – They would wake up in a sweat thinking that one of us had died, and then they would come to school the next day and just be so effusive.  And you would ask them, “Gosh, you’re kind of lovey today.  Is everything OK?”  And they would say, “Oh my God.  I had the worst nightmare last night.  You died, and so-and-so died, and so-and-so died, and it was terrible, and we had to hide in the library!”  These are typical dreams for educators.

[Pius, narration]  The nightmares that she had as a teacher also ran the gamut of topics.  The content might not have sounded exactly like the nightmares of our engineering teachers, but the emotions in the dreams certainly sounded similar.

[music interlude]

[Pius]  Other non-engineering teachers I spoke to confirmed it.  Elementary school or high school, theater or engineering, I’d ask about teacher dreams and nightmares, and one flippantly told me immediately, “Oh yeah, of course I know what those are.”  The specific content of the nightmares varied, but the connection to fears, anxieties, and stresses were consistent.

[music interlude]

[Pius]  All these stories are nice, but the engineer in me wants data.  How common is all this, really?  Unfortunately it’s hard to find published research on teachers’ nightmares, with all the numbers and graphs that I’d want, but there is, at least, a good body of research on the nightmares of people in general, not specific to teachers.

[music interlude]

[Pius]  When you look at the psychological research, the first thing to note is that you have to be a stickler for definitions.  A lot of researchers distinguish nightmares from bad dreams, saying bad dreams are disturbing, but don’t wake you up in the middle, while nightmares are so disturbing that they do wake you up.

[sound effect of snoring to surprised gasp]

[Pius]  One study that focused on nightmares defined this way was published in 2010 in the European  Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience.  Dr. Michael Schredl of the Central Institute of Mental Health in Mannheim, Germany, ran the study on over 2000 people from 14 to 92 years of age.  He looked at how often they said they had nightmares, the kind that wake you up.  And he found that a big majority, 80% of the sample, never or very rarely had these nightmares.  Only a tiny 2.4% of the sample said that that they did have these nightmares once a week or more often.  Even a nightmare once a month was uncommon at about 4.3% of the 2000 people.  So to any teachers that are having a freaky nightmare that wakes you up every week, I hate to say it, but it sounds like you’re pretty rare compared to the general population.

[music interlude]

[Pius]  In another interesting study in 2014 in the research journal Sleep, Dr. Genevieve Robert and Dr. Antonio Zadra of The University of Montreal looked at the bad dreams and nightmares of 331 adults from the general population, and they wanted to know:  What usually happens in people’s negative dreams?  What are the themes and emotions?  They found that the most common themes were physical aggression and interpersonal conflicts between two people.

[sound effects of fight and argument]

[Pius]  Now, that’s notable, because that seems to differ from the most common nightmares of the engineering teachers I spoke to.  Remember how they mostly told me about failing to control their classroom, or everything flooding or catching fire?  According to Robert and Zadra’s study, failure or helplessness was the third-most common theme of negative dreams in the general population.  While accidents and physical disasters – like your classroom catching on fire or flooding – those were the eighth- and ninth-most common themes.  In other words, the engineering teachers I spoke to seemed to have slightly more unusually content in their nightmares, compared to people in general.  Whether that’s good or bad, I don’t know, but it’s certainly interesting.

[music interlude]

[Pius]  That said, without hard data on teachers’ dreams specifically, I can only assume that teachers as a group have the full, horrible rainbow of nightmare themes and emotions, based on what teachers told me.  I contacted Dr. Antonio Zadra and Dr. Michael Schredl for their opinions.  Neither were surprised about teachers having nightmares about teaching, since other professions have nightmares about their own work, too.  Dr. Schredl introduced me to the “continuity hypothesis” of dreaming, which says that we dream about things related to our real lives.  Well, that certainly seems to be the case for our teachers to some extent.  Fear and stress in the classroom to fear and stress in a dream.

[Pius]  I did find a single, brief article on teachers’ nightmares from 2012 in the magazine Educational Horizons.  That’s a professional magazine for early-career teachers.  The article was written Roxanna Elden, an English teacher from Miami, and it was subtitled “Your unscientific guide to interpreting teacher nightmares.”  In it, she talks about several teacher nightmare scenarios, like you show up for work in a bathrobe, or your subject or grade level has been changed at the last minute.  Some of the scenarios she wrote about sounded like the nightmares teachers told me about, and, like a good English teacher might do, she dissects the symbolism of what these nightmare scenarios might mean.  But what motivated her to write about this phenomenon in 2012, if there’s not a lot of specific research on it?

[Roxanna Elden, in conversation]  I knew this was an issue because in eleven years of teaching, I had all of these dreams.

[Pius, in conversation]  OK. [laughs]

[Roxanna]  I should start with that.

[Pius]  Yeah.

[Roxanna]  I had all of these dreams multiple times.

[Pius, narration]  That’s Roxanna over Skype.

[Roxanna, in conversation]  The reason that I’ve talked so much on this topic is I’ve interviewed hundreds of teachers from around the country for my book, which is called See Me After Class: Advice For Teachers By Teachers, and I also run a few email series to help teachers through different parts of the year.  So I have way more conversations about the teaching experience than the average person.  As I would talk to teachers, you just have these conversations about the teaching experience.  It was not a subject that I interviewed teachers about, but there are certain things that come up when you have many of the same type of conversation.

[Pius, narration]  So in talking to so many teachers to write her book, she confirmed anecdotally that she was definitely not alone having these nightmares.  Why did she think teachers got these nightmares?

[Roxanna, in conversation]  They always link back to a fear of being unprepared, so that’s just – It’s not necessarily that teachers are unprepared.  It’s more that that’s their worst-case scenario, and one thing that a lot of psychologists who study dreams seem to agree on is: Nightmares are your brain’s way of preparing you for your worst-case scenario.

[Pius, narration]  That sounded like what Melanie thought in the beginning, too, remember?

[Melanie, in conversation]  Some of them are really nightmares in that they’re really stressful and the worst-case scenario of teaching happening in my dreams.

[Roxanna, in conversation]  So I thought that it was pretty interesting that your engineering teachers – They have the engineering twist on the worst-case scenario, right?  Most of us don’t deal with batteries.  I’m an English teacher.  I don’t deal with anything where I have to rewire electricity, but if you do [laughs], then yeah, you’ll have a dream where the kid burns down the school or throw the robots on the floor.

[Pius, narration]  In fact, Roxanna partly formed this view based in her own informal investigations.  As one resource, she recommended the 2011 PBS documentary What Are Dreams?, which talked to leading dream scientist.  Dr. Antonio Zadra from Montreal is actually in it, and another scientist in that documentary, Dr. Antti Revonso from Finland, suggested that, quote, “Bad dreams and nightmares are a good thing.  They force us to be prepared for similar events in the waking world.”  If that’s true, then why don’t some workers, like engineers, seem to have these nightmares?

[Roxanna, in conversation]  It seems like they don’t have that performance aspect that teaching has.

[Pius, in conversation]  Right.

[Roxanna]  I guess you have to think about what is the biggest nightmare that – I mean I guess that the biggest fear that engineers have.  Maybe something like working on a project for ten years and then having someone get a patent on it right before you are able to bring it to market, right?


[Roxanna]  Is that something that – Maybe in the nightmare, it’s your, you know, twin brother that you always competed with, and he did that.

[Pius]  These are like great stories.


[Roxanna]  I’m dying for you to ask some other engineers if they’ve had certain dreams.

[Pius]  I’m so curious.

[music interlude]

[Roxanna]  More recently, I mentioned the teacher dream to somebody who wasn’t a teacher, and when I described what they were, they said, “Oh, you mean the high school student dream.” [laughs]  And they just told me, like, every year before school started, as a student, they worried about showing up in their underwear.  They worried about getting lost on the way to school.  So I mean I think there’s just that kind of fear of exposure that isn’t just unique to teachers.

[Pius, narration]  There’s that word again: fear.  Fear of performance, fear of exposure.  We can speculate that some teachers just have more stresses, anxieties, and fears in their real jobs, and their brains are trying to prepare for it while they sleep.

[music interlude]

[Pius]  The next question, then, is:  When are these fears and anxieties are too much for teachers, and what can they do about it?  I tried to find people with practical experience helping others cope with stress, anxieties, and fears.

[music interlude]

[Pius, in conversation]  I’m recording outside, so if you hear crickets, if listeners hear crickets, it’s because of that.  And this is appropriate, because this is the Halloween episode, so we might as well be speaking in the dark.  First of all, can you introduce yourself and what you do?

[Mary Henderson, in conversation]  Yes.  I’m Mary Henderson, and I’m a licensed marriage and family therapist.  And I see clients with a variety of different issues and situation.

[Pius, narration]  My friend Mary happens to be a therapist who treats patients with anxiety from time to time, and she used to be a teacher many years ago, so I asked her what she thought about all this.  She explained that different therapists work from many different approaches, but for her…

[Mary, in conversation]  When someone is having a troubling dream or even repetitive dreams, what seems to resonate the most is, I’ll ask them, what was the feeling in the dream?  What was the core feeling they were having?  For some it might be anxiety, terror, worry, and we’ll then explore where in their life are they feeling that.  Because what I find is that in dreams, what’s often the most true is the feeling their having.  They have that in their real life, and then the dream, they’re attaching various random situations or people, but the thing that is playing out is that core emotion that’s from their life.

[Pius, narration]  So since we know that the particular content of teachers’ bad dreams and nightmares vary a lot, maybe it makes sense that a therapist wouldn’t focus on that as much.  Instead, the emotion may be easier to think about and discuss.  When should a teacher even be concerned about these dreams in the first place, and what can they do about them?

[Mary, in conversation]  One of the general rules of thumb for getting some kind of help is if it is impairing our overall life in some way or our relationships.  And so I’m thinking if the dreams and the emotional core of those are really impairing a person in their daily life, and in their – or relationships, that would be their signal to go get some, you know, counseling help, maybe a support group?  Sounds like it may be great to have a support group for teachers where they could just talk about things.

[Mary]  If they go to a church or synagogue, they could talk to their leadership, someone in that kind of a guiding role.  So I’m not saying they always have to go to counseling.  Sometimes finances don’t allow that, but there may be someone already in their sphere that’s kind of a thought leader, that they can go to.  And a lot of times, too, what we need, really is just supportive people in our lives that are safe, that we can just talk to.  And I would also just in general advise them to proactively seek and develop those kinds of relationships, because when we have those, often our anxiety and our emotional reactivity just goes down.

[music interlude]

[Pius, narration]  For more insights, I also spoke with another counselor who specializes in anxiety.

[Janna Greeson, in conversation]  So I’m Dr. Janna Greeson, and I work at The Anxiety Treatment Center of Austin.  I’m a post-doctoral fellow here.

[Pius, narration]  She also used to be an elementary school teacher, so she empathized with the subject.  Dr. Greeson talked about the transactional model of teacher stress.

[Janna, in conversation]  And the idea is that our stress is based on if we feel like we have the resources to meet the demands of us.  So when thinking about teachers, do teachers feel like they have the classroom and school resources to meet the many demands made of them?  Unfortunately, I think a lot of the times, there are more demands for teachers than resources, so dreams about school make a lot of sense, in the – just considering that there’s often going to be a high level of stress for teachers.

[Pius]  Like my therapist friend Mary, Dr. Greeson saw a logical connection between real-life stress and the negative dreams.

[Janna]  Dreams, there are sort of the stress dreams I mentioned, and there’s what starts to feel more like nightmares.  When I think of nightmares in my clinical work, when I hear clients talking about nightmares, that’s usually more related to trauma, of some sort.  For instance, like a violent act in a school.  If those start to come up in dreams, it’s often a sign that the trauma needs to be sort of processed and get some support around the trauma.  That’s a little more of a rare case.  The other thing I’m thinking is, if someone is starting to notice that those dreams are happening more nights than not, they’re kind of recurring, it’s probably a sign that their stress level needs some attention.  And it’s easier for me to say that than it is to be in the situation and do something about it, so I’ll acknowledge that, but yeah.  It’s usually an important time.  It’s like our body and our mind gives us information and signals, and I think dreams are one way our mind lets us know, “I’m stressed, and I need some sort of a break here.”

[Pius, narration]  So what does she recommend teachers do to deal with the stress?

[Jann]  So I worked in rural Arkansas and Mississippi when I taught, and a lot of my students were behind grade level, and I had a lot of pressure to help them meet grade-level standards and basically do well on the tests that they took.  And I noticed feeling really, really stressed, and to be totally honest, I actually had a panic attack and didn’t even know what it was at the time, because I’d never had one before.  That was a sign to me, just like recurring dreams or nightmares might be, that I was having a lot of stress that I wasn’t letting go of in any way.  So some of the things I did – I forced myself one day during the weekend to take the whole day off from work, like not do a single thing related to work.  It’s kind of sad that I can’t say I took both days [laughs], but I’m being totally honest here.

[Pius]  It’s a teacher job.  I get it.

[Janna]  Yeah.  I said I’m taking all of Saturday, and I’m not going to do anything related to work, and that really was a helpful boundary.

[Pius, narration]  Then Dr. Greeson gave out a list of tips that everyone probably already knows but has to be reminded of: eat regularly, drink water, exercise.  And if anything gets to be too much, or your nightmares are affecting your life, don’t be afraid to reach out to someone.  She also had a tip for an online resource: teacherpop.org, a website and blog for teacher mental health.

[Pius, narration]  After all this, I now had to speak to Melanie, our original teacher.  It was now a few months later in October, and I had to report what I could.

[music interlude]

[Pius, narration]  First, I told Melanie that, compared to other teachers, she wasn’t that unusualy in getting nightmares.

[Melanie, in conversation]  I’m glad to hear that.  I’m also not too surprised.  I imaging that other teachers were feeling stress from their jobs and having these dreams or nightmares about their jobs as well.  So I can’t say I’m surprised, but I’m really glad that you had a dialog about it.

[Pius, narration]  Then I told her about the research that I found, and that compared to the general population or non-teachers, it sounded like she was getting an unusually frequent number of nightmares, especially in her first year’s teaching.

[Melanie, in conversation]  That’s really interesting, about what most people have dreams about and the frequency of bad dreams, and I actually want to report back.  So this year I switched over to a schedule that’s a lot more healthy for me.  I’m working part-time at a school I really enjoy, and I’m not having as many teacher dreams at all, as a I used to.  I’m probably hitting the once-a-week, you know, the ordinary person benchmark for nightmares now.  It’s gotten so much better for me.  So I imagine that I was a lot more stressed last year.  I was having much more frequent dreams, and I agree with – yeah, failure and helplessness as being a common theme in those dreams.

[Pius, narration]  So there you go.  Maybe less stress really means fewer nightmares in Melanie’s case.

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[Pius, narration]  Finally, I told her all the suggestions for dealing with stress and anxiety as a teacher, if that’s what’s causing your nightmares and bad dreams.  Take care of yourself, enjoy your time, get social support, like Dr. Greeson and my friend Mary both said.  Maintain your sense of humor, like Roxanna recommends in her book and email support series.  And like Joe, take photos of your equipment that you unplugged, so you’re not thinking about it at night.

[Melanie, in conversation]  Sounds good.  And it really makes me think I should reach out to some of the new teachers in my school, now. [laughs]

[Pius, narration]  I think that’s a good conclusion if nothing else.  Help out your new teachers how you can, and that will prevent nightmares all around.

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[Pius]  Thank you to all the teachers, researchers, and clinicians who communicated with me for this show.  If you’d like to find the specific resources mentioned in this podcast, like the research articles, Roxanna Elden’s book, the PBS documentary she mentioned, and others, just check out the show notes.  You can also email or Tweet me a message.  Find out all that contact information from the website: k12engineering.net.  There you’ll find links to subscribe to the podcast on your favorite platform, like iTunes, SoundCloud, and Google Play.  If you’re on Reddit, you can also post thoughts in the subreddit r/EngineeringEducation.


[Pius]  The views expressed in this podcast are not necessarily the opinions of any schools, companies, or other groups with which we might be connected.  Our opening music comes from “School Zone” by The Honorable Sleaze.  Our closing music is from “Late for School” by Bleeptor.  Both are used under Creative Commons Attribution Licenses.  Thank you all for listening and sharing the show, and look out for more soon.

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