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Faculty nightmares (#1233)

Topics/tags: Academia

From time to time, I have nightmares. I suppose we all do. A surprising number of my nightmares have to do with my work. Perhaps everyone who works has the occasional nightmare about work.

If I recall correctly, there’s a rumor that faculty have nightmares about teaching naked. I’ve never had such a nightmare. Mine are more mundane, or should I say usually more mundane.

My latest nightmare was about the first day of class. If I recall correctly, I started out in the wrong room. I was in the room I’d taught in previously [1]. But they’d moved the class to another room. I didn’t realize it until about the time class was supposed to start. So I went online to look for the correct classroom. I went to what I thought was the right room. But the prior class was still going on. It may have been a chemistry class. I don’t know why I remember that. But classes sometimes run late. So I waited a few more minutes. And it kept going on. Eventually, I realized I had gone to the wrong room a second time. So I looked up the room number again, said, Ah, that’s in the CS wing, and then went looking. Why did I have to look? Because I’d been on leave, and things had moved around a bit. Or I’d forgotten room numbers. Or some combination thereof.

Here’s where things really started to get off the rails. First, I dealt with some issues with elevators having different numbers than the floors things were on, or maybe room numbers didn’t match, or something like that. Then it turned out that the College was intermixing classrooms and stores, as if we were an upscale mall [2,3]. I had to ask a few students I encountered in the hallway where the classroom had moved. I eventually arrived about twenty minutes late.

I was amazed that my class was still there. Perhaps the ten-minute rule is a twenty-minute rule on the first day of class [4,5]. I also found myself amazed at how many students were in the classroom. It appears that it was of my more generous semesters, and I had more than forty students. And, as I said, they were still there.

I don’t remember what I taught. It feels like it was our data structures and algorithms course, and I’d suddenly discovered that the prior courses had changed their language and format while I was on leave. I do recall that it was a traditional SamR class, with me calling on people randomly and making the occasional sarcastic comment. I had class mentors helping out. And I needed that help because ITS had decided to make it a Windows-only classroom, so I couldn’t use either my MacBook or any of the Linux software I’m accustomed to using. What’s especially scary is that I recalled [6] being in a similar situation in my prior classroom and that I’d had to spend a lot of effort resolving the issue. It’s sad that ITS haunts my dreams, too. I found myself asking why they’d moved me to another classroom. Then I realized that I needed a larger classroom to accommodate the number of students who wanted CS. Sadly, our enrollment issues haunt also haunt my dreams.

Then things got worse. I showed up for the second day of class. Only a dozen students were there. Yes, it appears that I had managed to scare off about 3/4 of my class by how or what I taught on the first day of class. That’s not a good sign. That, plus some confusion about technology, plus some other scary stuff [7], woke me up.

I’m on leave. Why am I having nightmares about teaching? I’m not sure. But this isn’t the only one I’ve had of late.

What other teaching nightmares have I had? I had one in which I was supposed to give an exam in class, but hadn’t written the exam. I’d thought I’d prepared one, or had one prepared from the prior semester, or something like that. But when I tried to reuse questions, I realized that I’d changed the structure of the class, so the old questions no longer worked.

I had another nightmare during spring break in which I was just returning from spring break and I needed to restructure the class and didn’t have nearly enough time to cover all the remaining material. How had I fallen so far behind? Why hadn’t I planned ahead? What chance did I have to recover the class? The questions haunted me throughout the night.

Lack of preparation. Lack of planning. Bad class materials. A consumerist society. Classes that fall apart. Technology (or technology failures). Those are the things my dream nightmares are about.

What actually goes wrong in my classes? I forget proofs that I should know. I accidentally say inappropriate things. My students fail to treat each other with respect. No one laughs at my jokes. No one even realizes that they are jokes. My students struggle in unexpected ways. I type the wrong thing into Google search. Students get closed out of my classes. I forget student names. I forget my class mentor’s names. I forget my colleagues’ names. I forget what else goes wrong. Oh, that’s right: Technology can also be a nightmare in real life. Perhaps more than anything else, technology goes wrong.

Ah, the joy of nightmares, both real and imagined.

[1] But not Science 3813, where I’ve taught most of my classes.

[2] I don’t think Grinnell could support an upscale mall.

[3] I also realize that upscale malls don’t have classrooms.

[4] That’s what I thought in my dream.

[5] The ten-minute rule is a legendary unofficial rule which states that if the professor doesn’t show up after the first ten minutes of class, then the class is canceled. The more appropriate version is that if the professor doesn’t show up after the first ten minutes of class, the students should start teaching each other.

[6] That is, I dreamed that I recalled.

[7] Even though I no longer needed a large classroom, all of our other classrooms were full when I was teaching, so I couldn’t switch to a more appropriate space with working technology.

Version 1.0 of 2023-05-12.