Where’s the joy?

I can’t remember when I noticed that one of my blogging buddies, Jess, has an interesting little paradox between her blog url https://wheresthejoy.wordpress.com/ (“Where’s the joy”) and her blog name “Where There’s Joy”. I think about it at the oddest moments, and I’ve thought about it a lot this week.

On Thursday, Sept 30, Canada recognized its first National Truth and Reconciliation Day. I spent the week sharing various videos and articles about Indigeneity, trying to give my classes enough to make them think but not so much that they ignored me completely. On the day itself, our school board shared video opening and closing remarks by Monique Manatch, Knowledge Keeper Algonquin of Barriere Lake. Her remarks, along with the remarks of our Director, Camille Williams-Taylor, highlighted the ideas of belonging and of school as a place of joy and love. 

My students were incredulous – to the point of nervous laughter. “Joy? In school?” “That is not how I would describe school.” When Ms Williams-Taylor said, ““Let’s use this land for sites where… all students’ learning spirits are set free to develop and soar,” someone snorted. After a brief discussion, I let it go, knowing we would return to this later.

This week, thanks to our less-than-stellar Covid scheduling, I have an entirely different group of kids – in a class called “Understanding Contemporary First Nation, Metis and Inuit Voices” (aka grade 11 English) which I am teaching for the first time. As they trickled into the classroom on Monday afternoon, I scrambled to remember all of their names – after all, we’d been apart for more days than we had been together. When I asked, they let me know that they hadn’t done “anything much” the previous week in honour of Truth and Reconciliation Day and, as they slowly settled in to read their books, I realized that I didn’t even need to ask them if they found joy in school: I could tell that the answer was no, at least not in this class.

In her opening, Monique Manatch told us, “The Indigenous paradigm is based on relationships. Our whole reality is based on relationships…and with relationships comes reciprocity.” Can I be in relationship with people whose names I can barely remember?* Can I use this course to build relationship? What about joy? I honestly don’t know.

Honestly, I feel wildly underprepared for this course. Oh, I’ve read a lot of books by various First Nations, Metis and Inuit authors – quite a few, frankly. I’ve participated in a virtual book club with Indigenous speakers and attended trainings with our board’s Indigenous coaches. I went to the various PD sessions, and I have done a reasonable amount of research, watching, listening, learning. In fact, I think I’ve done just the wrong amount: I know enough to know exactly how little I know. Now, I’m trying to teach English skills and Indigenous voices, and I’m pretty sure I’m failing at both. It’s humbling.

More than humbling, it’s horrifying. I don’t want to get this wrong; I can’t get this wrong. I don’t want these students to leave the course with only a surface knowledge of these important voices. I don’t want their eyes to glaze over during the Land Acknowledgement, their phones to come out when we speak of treaties and teachings. I feel caught between what I know (English skills, the curriculum documents, the trappings of our white society) and what I don’t (enough about anything outside of my own narrow culture, really). 

I want this class to be joyful – though, like Ursula LeGuin, I am stuck with the question, How is one to tell about joy? What does joy look like in the classroom? What would it mean for these students to experience joy in this classroom on this day? How do I show them that they can do hard things, learn new things, work in new ways and experience joy? How do I convince them that the joy matters as much as the grades?

I don’t know. I just don’t know. But I keep thinking about the question/answer that I find in Jess’s blog.

“Where’s the joy?” 
“Where there’s joy.” 

Wish me luck and learning and maybe love and joy as I muddle my way through this course for the first time. May I do justice to the Algonquin people on whose lands I teach and to all others whose lands were stolen in the name of nation building.

Many thanks to https://twowritingteachers.org/ who host bloggers each week.

* As someone who regularly forgets names, I would argue that I can, to some extent: I chat regularly with neighbours and coworkers whose names I have forgotten. Often I know quite a bit about them. Usually my partner or a kind colleague can enlighten me once I work up the courage to ask.