On the Mat and in her Class: Teacher Bailey Johnson Takes Up Space and Learns of Grace
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. That’s a lesson that shines through the story of Bailey Johnson. She is from the Métis Nation of British Columbia in the Thompson Okanagan, where she was born and raised. In her first year of teaching, she works in a grade five classroom in Vancouver. She shares with excitement how she is getting ready to move back to and teach in her home community.
From high school, she went straight to university. She was functioning on colonial timelines and felt the pressure of the Western system pushing her into higher education at breakneck speed. She didn’t think about it too much and jumped right in. University pressures got to her and her first year in the sciences didn’t go well. She was at a crossroads, unsure of what to do with her life, wondering if university was right for her and if there was a place she belonged. She was in a dark place emotionally, feeling lost and like a failure.
An Indigenous academic advisor told her about NITEP, the Indigenous teacher education program. At first, she was reluctant because her dad is a teacher and she wasn’t sure she wanted to follow his lead. In a moment of desperation, she decided to go for it and never looked back. “Everything about my university experience shifted, and I fell in love with the Indigenized curriculum,” she beams, thinking with gratitude about how the program changed her life’s path.
When Johnson moved into the program, she found a lot of support in finding her way and addressing her needs. Her Western-based university experience moved into a decolonized Indigenous learning journey, something that was instrumental to her success. Having mentors in her program was a game-changer and she learned to manage imposter syndrome. Finally, she realized she could take up space, ask for help and overcome obstacles with the confidence to request the resources she needed. What Johnson hopes Indigenous youth find out is that there are so many available resources to help Indigenous students, from tutoring, wellness practices, space to learn and extra help along the way.
Outside of the classroom, she also teaches yoga. It’s something she picked up in university after struggling with her mental wellness. She took some yoga classes and realized the benefits of being present and in the moment, letting go of her worries about things outside of her control. She was hooked and went so often that she decided to take the teacher training. Even while Johnson teaches school, she’s maintained her yoga practice to stay calm in a hectic, busy career that takes a lot of energy.
Thinking about how she left her small Okanagan community and moved to UBC, she has advice for Indigenous students contemplating a similar journey. Transitioning to a big institution was a daunting, isolating experience, so she suggests finding your passion and pursuing it in a community setting to make connections. The relationships she built made things more comfortable and accessible and she found herself right at home at the First Nations House of Learning, the Indigenous student centre at her school. Spending time with her peers, the university felt safer and less intimidating. It became the community she needed and she hopes they find the same.
If she could give a message to her younger self it would be, “You do not have to have your whole life figured out. … No journey is similar. Do what you need to do to prioritize your holistic well-being … Be open-minded to failure…and use it as an opportunity to grow and allow it to help you find your way on your path because failure is inevitable. Just make sure you persevere and find resilience in that as well.” She would encourage herself to not be constrained by timelines that don’t serve her and that doing things in her own time is more authentic.
To balance her mental health as a teacher beyond her yoga practice, she’s found solace in community, relationships, resources, connection with her home community and talking circles. Having outlets outside of her profession has been helpful and so has finding outside perspectives. Moving her body helps her cope and find work-life balance.
When she needs inspiration, she looks to the educators she’s had in her life. The instructors she had in her teacher training, the work they have been doing and the way they have influenced her motivates her to keep moving forward. “I just strive to be them one day,” she smiles.
One of the biggest lessons teacher Bailey Johnson learned is that if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Her first year in sciences didn’t go as planned but it got her on the path to a new plan: teaching in the classroom and the yoga studio. On the mat and in her class, she’s learned to bend instead of break and to release worries and expectations so she can stretch out and take up space.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
Future Pathways Fireside Chats are a project of TakingITGlobal's Connected North Program.
Funding is generously provided by the RBC Foundation in support of RBC Future Launch, and the Government of Canada's Supports for Student Learning program.