My fright in the night

Stephen Petty

I fired my musket into the wall display just to the left of Tyler's rat-like little face. It was meant as a kind of themed warning shot, not only illustrating how said Civil War weapon was activated but also reminding Tyler and his ilk of who was really boss of that classroom.

The gunshot was, understandably, met with a stunned silence from the room. I, too, could not believe what I had just done. I had plainly "lost it". Young faces were gazing at my quivering self, more in sympathy than fear. Among them was the Duchess of Cornwall, sneering at me with contempt.

At this point my morning alarm clock went off. My teaching career had been saved by the bell - and not for the first time. It was a variation on a dream all too familiar to a great many teachers: the one where everything in the classroom goes horribly wrong. Dreams about our teaching are rarely positive. There is a column in this magazine called "What keeps me awake at night", but the teacher in a state of sleep is often having a far worse time of it.

Raw emotions take over. The daytime teacher will usually respond to troublesome behaviour with a measured, "That's disappointing from you, Tyler. Sort it out. I expect better." But the night-time teacher is a different animal altogether.

Unsurprisingly, most of us prefer to forget about our other self. If our dreaming self were to trade places with our conscious version, even for just two minutes, I am not sure how many of us would remain employable. Ofsted's "inadequate" does not capture the calamitous scenes that would unfold.

The only grain of comfort is that we do tend to perform much better when we feature in our colleagues' dreams - something that seems to happen astonishingly often in my case. Admittedly, I never seem to land the role of romantic lead in any of their night-time fantasies, but I do seem to come across quite well in other ways. I have apparently revived a colleague's knackered car by suggesting some kind of homeopathy treatment. In another person's subconscious I have taught his tutor group how to float slightly above the ground.

My only slightly worrying appearance in another teacher's dream involved her apparently taking a shower in our staffroom. Despite there being no such installation, she emerged from it naked in front of me, forgetting where she was. She told me that I had responded by simply shrugging my shoulders and carrying on reading the staff newsletter. Even though it was her dream, she harangued me in real life for not displaying more awe and appreciation. But the most disturbing aspect of this was that, completely unknown to her, something uncannily similar had actually happened to me at my previous school.

This is not to suggest that there was some supernatural link between those real and imagined shower scenes, but I do nonetheless think that the gulf between our dream-world and our so-called "reality" is perhaps not as wide as we would like to imagine. Just pause for a moment and consider to which parts of you this article is really speaking. To all parts, surely?

Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams's School in Thame, Oxfordshire.

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Stephen Petty

Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams's School in Thame, Oxfordshire. 

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