It was obvious. From distance, anyone who watched her could see that she was dreaming. Her eyes were closed. Her bag was zipped up shut and propped on the chair next to her. Her legs and feet, both stretched out in front of her torso, weren't moving and her arms were folded in tight over her chest. Most noticeably, Dolores' eyes were strenuously bouncing around inside of their lids without hesitation. It was obvious to anyone who paid attention that she was in the rapid eye movement phase of sleep. Sleep. She had fallen asleep. From a distance, anyone could see.
But that's now how it felt to her. To Dolores, the most vivid dream anyone could imagine, looked, felt, sounded and smelled as though it were actually happening to her. It felt real and, as far as Dolores was concerned, she was really living it. To the outside world, Dolores Polonius was just catching a quick nap on her lunch break before heading back to teach her last two classes for the day. But Dolores was in a completely different reality than the outside world.
She was on the subway heading to work. She was concerned about her safety during her morning (or was that afternoon?) commute. It was ,fuzzy, you know? Like a dream. But she left so early each day and returned so late that whole months went by where her entire commute ended in the dark. And riding the subway in the dark had long since become a concern for Dolores Polonius. She just didn't feel safe. And none of the other teachers at work did, either. So she forgave herself for being confused.
And then, in a flash, she was in the hallway just outside of her classroom. There was a kerfuffle of some sort and she had to address it. Her high school students (though typically polite and respectful), had taken to laughing at the mere suggestion of facing any consequences for poor actions at school. This all boiled over when they laughed at Ms Polonius when she asked them to please move along or to keep it down because she was teaching. Ms. Polonius wasn't the type to be laughed at. She was the nice teacher. But when they laughed, she pointed her index finger straight up toward their chests and gave them the biggest, boldest "Hey!!" that a five-foot-one-inch woman could possibly give.
"Hey!!", she pursed, as her eyes bobbed around inside of their lids. There was a brief moment of silence in the hallway just outside of Dolores' classroom. And then the group of students burst out into laughter and told her to get back into her room.
And then, in a flash, she was all alone. It was just her, in a dark room. Sitting. Thinking. Reflecting. And it occurred to her that, for the first time in her career, there were students who refused to work in her class. There were students who refused to respond to the counselors or deans and who declined to attempt any effort at all to exceed or to even pass. She wasn't a judgemental teacher. She had just never seen any student simply decline to do work for her, let alone whole groups of students. This was new. They no longer cared about the zeros that they would get for not completing class assignments. Just last week she had been greeted with a jovial student who jokingly refused to do any work."What's the point, miss? They're just going to make you pass me anyway!".
To Dolores Polonius, this was all spectacularly peculiar. From a distance, one could see her murmur "powerful dream" under her breath, as though reassuring herself that this wasn't really happening.
It was widely understood by the students that teachers would be harrassed, bullied, terrorized, observed by multiple administrators or worse if they issued a failing grade for students who refused to do any work in class. All of this was intentionally done, according to the widely held understanding, in front of the students so that the students could see what happens to a teacher who issues more than just a few failing grades. It was an issue over which some students felt sympathy and other students felt a sense of buyer's remorse so severe that they cared not to think about it. But it was widely understood and quite widely held by students all across the city. And that was the reality within which Dolores had to teach.
I mean, who would think you could go to a school, not do much for four years, watch your teachers get intimidated if they failed you and then walk out with a NYC diploma? Clearly! Dolores was dreaming! 🍩 But, within that dream, was the reality that she alone had to navigate.
And yet it felt so real! It almost felt as though a high school aged student could face no consequence for anything at all, unless one became violent toward another person (and even then, it was only a standard ("principal") or extra strength ("superintendent") suspension). For Dolores Polonius, it just felt so real.
And then she heard something. She couldn't identify it at first, because it was so muffled. But, as the sound came slowly into focus, she recognized it as the voices of two giggling students sneaking out of their favorite teacher's classroom next door to her. "Such great kids", she murmured to herself. "I teach them soon". This was all followed, of course, by the sound of a teacher calling 'please don't leave until the bell rings. Come away from the door, please'. And then, finally, the sound. The bell.
Dolores Polonius woke up in a flash. Before her eyes had fully opened, she had grabbed her bag, her coffee and checked for her classroom keys. And, as it slowly dawned on her that the lunch break had ended, she smiled at the thought of having just two of her favorite classes to teach before being able to launch out into the warm Spring afternoon.