Interpreting Six Common Teacher Nightmares

roxanna-eldenBy Roxanna Elden

I’m a believer that images from a night’s sleep can provide insight into daytime thoughts, so it’s always been interesting to me that so many teachers report having similar dreams — or, in many cases, similar nightmares.

With the help of my yellowed copy of Tony Crisp’s Dream Dictionary and conversations with a few colleagues, I’ve prepared a completely unscientific, non-research-based guide to six common teacher nightmares. Don’t be surprised if you recognize some of the scenarios here.

1. You show up to work in a bathrobe/your pajamas/the clothes you went out in last night.

Sweet dreams design, vector illustration eps 10.

Teachers usually report having this dream not only in August, but a few nights before the end of any break. According to the Dream Dictionary, being undressed in a dream represents vulnerability and the fear that one’s weaknesses are exposed. Ragged or inappropriate clothes can represent feelings of inadequacy. Both of these relate to the fear that you are unprepared. Whatever you are — or aren’t — wearing in this type of dream, it’s probably your inner teacher clock saying, “Hey, start thinking about whether you’re ready for your first day back!”

2. You are already running late. Then you get lost on your way to school. 

The Dream Dictionary says dreams about being late (whatever you’re late for) can mean avoidance of responsibility, but there is a chance that this one can be taken literally: Maybe you really are apprehensive about being late on an important day of school. As, of course, you should be. Even if you’re sure everything is laid out as you want it, get a head start so you can be there before your first early-bird student.


3. Your subject or grade level has been changed at the last minute.

Teaching requires lots of advanced preparation, but also the flexibility to deal with last-minute changes. It can be tough to deal with this contradiction. After all that work setting up a hands-on biology center for your seventh graders, it’s natural to worry about a sudden change to your teaching assignment.

4. Students show up at your house.

cartoon illustration of teenagers group in a hug

This dream is most likely to occur right after you hit the snooze button. It involves a group of students showing up at your house, sometimes coming inside to help themselves to bowls of cereal from your kitchen cabinets while you try to think of an activity to keep them busy. This dream is probably a sign that you’re worrying about your students even when you’re not at school. It’s also probably your subconscious telling you that when your alarm rings a second time, you better not hit snooze.

5. You are in a physical fight with a student, fellow teacher, or administrator.

On a figurative level, fight dreams can express your desire to defend your honor, values, or personal space. Other interpretations are more straightforward: Violent dreams can show anger and frustration. Or, who knows? Maybe you have a genuine, subconscious urge to hurt the colleague who stole your lunch from the teachers’ lounge fridge, the administrator who criticized you in front of your students, or the kid who WON’T STOP TAPPING HIS PEN WHILE YOU ARE TRYING TO GIVE DIRECTIONS. In fact, in some cases, teachers report that this type of “nightmare” can also show up as a daydream.

6. Your classroom is in the cafeteria, an open field, or an irregularly shaped room where you can’t see all of your students, and they can’t hear anything you say. 

nighmare-manThis is unfortunate, because you often have about 250 students in this type of dream, including every bad kid you’ve ever seen, and even bullies from your own school days. Psychologists in a documentary called “What Are Dreams?” say nightmares are our brain’s way of preparing for situations even worse than our worst-case scenario. This applies here. After spending the night imagining an L-shaped auditorium with hundreds of children, your rectangular class of 30 should seem a little less scary.

Don’t you think it’s comforting to know that even your worst nightmares are just your brain doing its thing to help you become a better teacher? That should be reason enough to get a full night’s sleep whenever possible. If you’re tempted to cut sleep short, remember that dealing with 30 kids on only a few hours of sleep really can be a nightmare.

What are your teacher-anxiety dreams like? Share one (or several) in the comments!

See all of Roxanna’s tips for new teachers


Roxanna Elden (@RoxannaElden) is a National Board Certified Teacher and the author of See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers. More recently, she is the creator of the “Disillusionment Power Pack,” a free, one-month series of the emails she might have sent to the first-year-teacher version of herself. Emails begin with signup and arrive every few days for one month, sharing journal pages, stories, and the insights teachers need on their toughest days.


MiddleWeb is all about the middle grades, with great 4-8 resources, book reviews, and guest posts by educators who support the success of young adolescents. And be sure to subscribe to MiddleWeb SmartBrief for the latest middle grades news & commentary from around the USA.

11 Responses

  1. Susan Curtis says:

    I still remember one of my August dreams that featured desks all neatly nailed to the ceiling. Fortunately they weren’t yet occupied by eager eighth graders.

  2. arielsacks says:

    I love this article! I always have #6, combined with somehow not having a lesson plan and having to truly wing it. You’re right–the good news is that the real deal is never, ever that bad.

  3. Stephen Briddon says:

    I have the ones about being late, having the badly laid out classroom, disruptive children etc. One recurring one I have is that I am teaching in the school I went to myself and that I am transferred to the school that was across the road (needless to say, all the other things happen). But like the article says, after a month of these horrors there isn’t anything can phase me.

  4. Maria Afr says:

    I have had teacher nightmares ever since I graduated many years ago. I am currently having them every night even though I am in the middle of my summer break. They usually comprise of being really late, not being able to get ready for work due to cant find clothes etc, not being prepared for students, can’t find my classroom, students being disorganized, other teachers preventing me from teaching through meetings and never knowing the time. I am also dreaming of being in intense bushfires. I am exhausted and totally over it!

  5. Jenny says:

    I’ve been teaching high school science for more then five years. I just dreamt it was the first day of school. They changed my schedule last minute and I didn’t notice so I took my lunch out. I didn’t realize until the period was almost over that I was missing class. It’s a double period lab for science; so I have them twice in a row. Rushing back to school I find I have the roughest class ever. I’m talking over them while they laugh at me and talk to each other. Everyone is vaping; big puffs of smoke arise as I introduce myself. The room is an infinity shape with a book case in the middle. So I can’t see everyone and no one can hear me talking. Everyone looks like they are in a gang and they want to hurt me. Can’t wait for the real thing, kids being disrespectful and talking over me. Administration doing whatever the hell they want. Big thug looking students who vape in class.

  6. Kaileb says:

    I’m going to be starting a PGCE in September, but currently work as an unqualified teacher. I had a dream last night where I was teaching a new class, and none of them could see! I had been explaining things using the board and asking them to read from books and I had no idea. Was an awful feeling.

  7. kendria says:

    What about the one where a student tells you you forgot to give the homework so you panic then realize you did towards the end?

  8. MiddleWeb says:

    It’s probably time to collect Teacher Pandemic Nightmares. A special category! If you drop by, be sure to share one of yours…

  9. Vbuzz says:

    Omg!!! It’s reassuring to see I’m not the only lunatic teacher. It’s just the first week out of school and 2 nights in a row having those “can’t find classroom,” “missed first 3 periods,” “school is totally unrecognizable” and “colleagues are being jerks” dreams…

  10. Tree says:

    My best one was that I was assigned to teach a Spanish 1/ swimming class. Told the kids “okay guys, get your desks in the pool and write an email to your pen pal describing your school schedule!”

  11. As we all know, the past few years have NOT been kind to teachers. I’ve been doing this for 30 years, inner city, and NEVER have I had more issues than last year and the year before. I left in June completely on empty!!! I was mentally, physically and emotionally done. I have tried very hard to relax, regroup and just chill this summer, then out of no where I have 2 school related nightmares in a row! This has never happened to me before. The first one had to do with rude, unsupportive admin being massive jerks (which they really aren’t) and the most recent was about a classroom full of misbehaving middle schoolers that I COULD NOT CONTROL TO SAVE MY SOUL!!! I literally woke up crying. It had been 36 hours since the dream and even talking about it brings me to tears. I honestly don’t know what to do, or how to feel, other than I am DREADING going back this August. I’m even having anxiety about it. I feel completely depressed too. What should I do???? 😣😔😔😔😔

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