How nightmares about teaching could make you better at your job

19th February 2015 at 16:00


The class is in revolt. Your headteacher is peering in through the window. And for some unfathomable reason, you are in a clown suit. You are about to ask what’s going on when…

…You wake up. Each time it's slightly different. Sometimes it’s the staff revolting. Sometimes it’s your class peering in through the window. And sometimes you have no suit on at all. But the visions always revolve around the classroom: these are teaching dreams and they are a menace that stalks the precious sleep of many teachers.

But what if, rather than an unwelcome guest, dreams were actually useful? The cover feature in the 20 February issue of TES explores this issue and finds that dreams may actually make you a better teacher.

The feature highlights the theory of Finnish academic Antti Revonsuo, professor of cognitive neuroscience at the University of Skövde. He argues that dreams have a “preparative” function – in other words, they help us to function better in our waking lives.

In a landmark paper, Revonsuo explains that “if flight simulators are used in order to train pilots to handle dangerous events that might arise during a real flight, perhaps the brain trains its own survival skills in a fight-or-flight simulator, specialised for extremely dangerous events that might be encountered in nature”.

“Could it be that teachers are actually training themselves at night for confrontation?” asks the writer of the feature, Loic Menzies, a former teacher. “Although Revonsuo’s theory focuses on primeval threats such as lions and bears, it could explain the prevalence of behaviour management scenarios and the sense of threat that dominates teachers’ dreams.”

Menzies goes on to reveal that many teachers do find that dreaming about work improves performance. One feels dreams are a useful dry run for lessons, while another says they hone behaviour management skills.

Other teachers are not so sure. And there is disagreement, too, among researchers.

But even if these night-time frights are simply simulations of our worst fears, one teacher reflects that, at least it’s “reassuring” to wake up and find that things are “actually OK”.

Read the full article in 20 February edition of TES on your tablet or phone or by downloading the TES Reader app for Android or iOS. Or pick it up at all good newsagents

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