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What is "joy" for a Black Male Teacher?: the joys & killjoys of 2021-22

Why are you writing this piece?

Educators, I do not have to tell you what kind of year it has been. We do not need to review the events of the past few months (and years) in and outside of our classrooms. Unfortunately, many of us have lost loved ones to the virus and to violence, so we cannot and should not forget the past or the present.

Here, in this piece, I want to create a space and invite you to take some time to reflect on the moments that brought you or kept you in a state of joy or at least saved you from a state of complete despair and despondency. I believe that we have to find and fight for our own state of joy considering the many trials,tribulations, and tragedies that disrupt this state, our well-being, and our very existence.

How do you describe joy? What is the difference between joy and happiness? What is a state of joy?

I am not writing this piece to see if you were happy at any given point this year; I really hope you did have some moments of happiness. Instead, I am writing this piece to make sure that we are teaching and learning how to find, recognize, enable, and protect our state of joy; it is a skill, a discipline, a way of life to remain in a state of joy; with the world today, from tendentious mass media, sensationalist social media posts, and our present-day acts of hedonism, hubris, and hostility, not to mention the not-so quiet omnicidal killer of climate change, many of us have been conditioned and programmed to consume, capture, and crave misery and entropy.

Again, I am not talking about the pursuit of happiness; the feeling of happiness comes and goes. Instead, I am wondering about joy as a state, a framework, a lens to understand and interact with the world inside and outside of me. Within this state, I can find grace, peace, and forgiveness as well as harmony.

Anyway, here are the events that put me back into a state of joy. In talking about these joyful events, I want to point out the killjoys also known as the internal and external threats, insecurities, doubts, fears, phantom pains, or perceptual biases that make it difficult for me to be (and remain) in a state of joy.

7 Joyful Events at School, Academic Year 2021-22

Moment#1: Black Parents, Black Presence, Black Solidarity

Joy: After a few alarming racist social media posts, Black parents showed up to the school to come together, pray together, and problem-solve together. Don't get it twisted, non-Black folks. Just because Black parents are not on campus during the school day does not mean Black folks are absent parents. Back when I was in high school, my mother, who worked long hours, would be the first to call off work if there was anything remotely concerning regarding her child's safety.

Potential Killjoy: I could have been nervous, reluctant, or self-conscious of the white parents who frowned or stared in shock when they saw a group of Black adults and Black students standing together hugging, smiling, congregating, not loitering, committing a crime, or conspiring to commit a crime. Damn stereotypes. That white gaze could have made me miss or misunderstand this moment as a reminder or testament to my state of joy.

So What: I cannot maintain a state of joy if I am lost in the eyes and views of another. How can I monitor my own state if I am so worried about my monitors? What is Black joy? What is Black joy especially when seen through the eyes of whiteness? The social construct of whiteness is based on Black pain, the separation of Black families, and Black death. Black joy and whiteness will never go together amicably. Black joy is diametrically opposed to whiteness.

Moment#2: Balling with my Boys

Joy: During the end of the school day, I took some time to bond with my boys by meeting them in my former office, the basketball gym. Let’s just say I no longer work in the gym; those kids busted my ass. My mind may be quick, but my adult body is just plain slow nowadays. I was no match, and they took it easy on their young-looking aging English teacher.

Killjoy: I could have spent yet again another period grading or barking at some of my boys for even being in the gym when they should have been meeting with me or their teachers about their grades. Of course, we eventually discussed their grades; how often do we, educators, take the time to honor students as kids, especially kids who have been cramped up in their rooms for the past few years, social distancing? A lack of empathy or social awareness could have ruined this moment and my state of joy.

So What: I am not condoning anyone shirking their responsibility or playing all day. For just 15 minutes or so, students allowed us to humanize one another because I, too, was once a boy who just needed to move his body in order to focus or reset socio-emotionally. I hesitate to say “pick and choose your battles” because I am not at war with myself or my students; I have to reassure them that we are on the same team off the court and that they need to show up for themselves and their other teammates– being their families, the folks who sacrifice so much for their education and their future.

Moment#3: Bawling with my Boys

Joy: After a tense exchange at the end of class one day, my student and I cried as two Black men. We barked at one another, and we ultimately hugged it out; at no point was there ever any loss of love or even the thought of animosity.

Killjoy: In the lives of many Black boys and Black men, crying is a display of weakness. We learn that any vulnerability can get you killed, literally. If anything, you are supposed to front as if you are in power, as if you are not scared, as if you are ready to fight at any sign of disrespect or threat. Before we get into cries of “toxic masculinity,” most (mature) Black men understand the importance of keeping a cool head and not allowing your emotions to further escalate a tense situation. There is a time and place as well as choices to be made when considering how, when, and where to show certain emotions. That said, in this case, I could have let terrible habits of emotional (dys)regulation ruin the moment and take me further away from a state of joy.

So What: If anything, shedding a tear was a sign of growing emotional intelligence and evolution for both my student and me. Also, we have a good rapport, thus my student knew he was safe to be himself and to allow himself to be a real human, a real kid who's just trying to find his place in a world that gives him no space (to be Black or human). Many of our Black boys are (mis)treated as adults by the age of 11 or 12, depending on their size and or environment, so they are robbed of their childhood. In other words, they are forced to grow up fast because the world sees them as an adult, tries them as an adult, and murders them like an adult. As a Black male educator, the job requires a lot from us. We have to be social, emotional, professional, and community role models for our kids. In a state of joy, both my students and I can respect our vulnerability and encourage each other to be self-accountable, loving, and ultimately capable and willing to grow.

Moment#4: Just Dance with my Seniors

Joy: At least once a week, I made sure to give time,space, and energy for my Seniors to physically get up and move around the classroom. In groups, we created original choreography as well as performed some Just Dance routines to Rihanna and Lady Gaga. Yes, I am talking teams, competitions, and full class dances.

Killjoy: Of course, my administration could have walked in and questioned my unconventional teaching practices. I could have given into the corporate desire to work my kids to death in order to show them “what is rigor.” Overworking kids ain’t rigorous. Getting kids to coordinate, especially on unfamiliar tasks, or to step out of their comfort zones socially is just as valuable as that test, that essay, or whatever individual task.

So What: We have to make time to laugh and celebrate with our students. Keyword: celebrate. My students and I usually danced or did some physical activity after having hard but real conversations involving identity politics, school politics, and worldly politics. Educators, consider ways to have a “release” for kids to “run” (do work), relax (rest), and recover. Keep in mind, we are working their minds for eight hours a day. Sometimes, a two-minute wiggle break or a planned silly moment is necessary in order to have an academically and socioemotionally productive, focused rest of class.

Moment#5: Student Talent Showcases

Joy: From the Black Student Union talent show to the school musicals and Spring Senior dance showcases, I love seeing students work together and be in their zone or flow outside of the classroom. Plus, in predominantly white schools, the people of color bring all the flavor and soul through the performing arts.

Killjoy: I am working on saying “no” to more extracurricular activities. Professional boundaries are key to this job being fun and sustainable. Anyway, I could have given in to the voices in my head that say “That kid won’t care if I am there or not.” Our jobs are very time-consuming and taxing, so the kids and I know that I cannot make it to every event.

So What: It is not just about saying “no” but finding opportunities to say “yes” willingly, guilt-free, and eagerly. In a state of joy, I can seek and love both decisions. Plus, when I am out of my joyous state, I am more inclined to dehumanize a student by seeing them only as a student, not as a whole person with many non-academic talents.

Moment#6: Being a Job Reference for a Colleague

Joy: I really appreciate the fact that my younger colleague respected and trusted me enough to be his job reference. It brings me deeper into joy to know that my colleague got the job!

Killjoy: Envy and jealousy are real feelings with real effects and real consequences. I would even say that jealousy is stronger than a feeling but actually an oppositional state of being to that of joy. Jealousy tends to be blinding, all-consuming, and destructive in nature.

So What: In a state of joy, I can be excited and proud for someone else. When I am not in a state of joy, I know I am capable of being a hater or an ill-wisher. Can you enjoy someone else's glow up? Of course. Try it.

Moment#7: Graduation

Joy: Even though I do not have kids of my own, I get overwhelmed with pride when I see my students cross that stage. This year, I had the opportunity to watch some of my Seniors, whom I have taught since they were 6th grade babies.

Killjoy: There is that little voice in my head that says do not get too attached; be a bit stoic because you must fit some stone-cold teacher archetype. I am a real person and a social being before I am a teacher. Of course, I am not their friend but rather a trusted adult who is grateful that his students allowed him to be a part of their academic career and life, no matter how long.

So What: In a state of joy, I can graduate too! Sure, I may not be receiving a diploma or tossing my cap, but I hope I can say I have grown and thus graduated to a better state of being by the end of the school year.

Conclusion: A Call to Action

Educators, if you have not done so, take some time to reflect on the events of joy this past year. Without these moments of introspection, burnout is inevitable. Also, it is imperative to take that time to show compassion, gratitude, and grace to yourself, your colleagues, and your students. Don’t let any killjoy tell you that introspection cannot be academic work. Self-reflection is both an intellectual and socioemotional workout and skill that we must practice and perfect for ourselves in order to grow up and grow into our best selves.

It is just as important to identify and highlight potential killjoys as it is to pinpoint joys, so we know what is a catalyst for our joy and what is a threat to our joy. Dare I say a Black person's state of joy or "Black joy" is one remedy or deterrent to white supremacy, especially in predominately white institutions. Black joy, even the dream of Black joy, is white supremacy's worst nightmare.

Self-Reflection Questions:

  1. How do you know you are in state of joy?

  2. What are clear identifiable signs that you are entering or leaving your state of joy?

  3. How do we teach kids joy?

Again, I write this piece because I want to invite you into meditation and reflection, especially after a long year. Also, potentially earn some pennies for your thoughts by entering the first annual Just Black Thoughts writing contest. Submissions are due by July 15, 2022 11:59pm pacific time zone; three winners will be awarded $500 cash and a feature on the platform.


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