Michael McCarthy

The Competency of En-joy-ment

Think of something you enjoy. Music! A good conversation! Anticipation of a vacation! Affirmation! A job well done! Coffee on a quiet morning! The blue sky! Reading at the ocean! A game-winning hit! Think of someone who brings a smile to your soul? Your best friend! A child! A lover! An inspiring teacher! A mentor! How would you describe the feelings associated with deep enjoyment? Do you choose to enjoy (a conscious decision) or does enjoyment choose you (comes from external sources)? Take a few moments to look over and “play around” in the following quotes:

  • As long as I can focus on enjoying what I’m doing, having fun, I know I’ll play well.  ~ Steffi Graf
  • Joy is the human’s noblest act.  ~ Thomas Aquinas
  • Knowing is not as good as loving; loving is not as good as enjoying.  ~ Confucius
  • Understand the obstructions you are putting in the way of love, freedom, and happiness and they will drop. Turn on the light of awareness and the darkness will disappear. Happiness is not something you acquire; love is not something you produce; love is not something you have; love is something that has you.  ~Anthony de Mello
  • Enjoy yourself – it’s later than you think.  ~ Chinese Proverb
  • Joy is an intermezzo of gratitude that interrupts the routine motion of life.   ~ Lewis B. Smedes
  • You were made for enjoyment, and the world was filled with things which you will enjoy, unless you are too proud to be pleased with them, or too grasping to care for what you cannot turn to other account than mere delight.  ~ John Ruskin
  • The truly rich are those who enjoy what they have.  ~ Yiddish Proverb
  • Learn not only to find what you like, learn to like what you find.  ~ Anthony J. D’Angelo
  • The fullness of joy is to behold God in everything.   ~ Julian of Norwich
  • These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.   ~ John 15: 14
  • Joy has no name. Its very being is lost in the great tide of selfless delight — creation’s response to the infinite loving of God.  ~ Evelyn Underhill


When I returned to teaching in 2006, I made an intentional effort to enjoy the students. In my first round of teaching in the 1980s, my efforts focused on becoming a competent teacher. I strove to be organized, well-prepared, and knowledgeable in my subject area, and a good communicator with students. These are certainly noble and important qualities for teaching. What has changed for me this time around is not the elimination of these qualities, but a new lens and attitude in seeing the students. The focus is not so much on me as being a good teacher, but on the students as being persons to be enjoyed. I try now not to make students objects of my “good” teaching, but rather experience students as subjects to enjoy. Seeing the young women of The Mary Louis Acdemy through the lens of enjoyment has made a world of difference to me (and I believe for the students as well).

The “enjoyment lens” requires a conscious effort on my part to pay attention – to really pay attention to the individual student. I’ve slowly been acquiring the practice of asking myself the question: How can I enjoy each of my students today? I look to appreciate what each has to offer. I seek to recognize their vibrancy, anxieties, yearnings, talents, sufferings, humor, and beauty. I try to create a welcoming and inviting environment in my classroom. I see the learning process as a mutual and communal endeavor. Each one in the classroom is, in a sense, both teacher and student. Learning is a dynamic interplay between teacher, student, and subject (see Parker Palmer’s wonderful book Courage to Teach).

Another aspect of this new lens is seeing the subject matter as enjoyable. The topic becomes the focal point and springboard of our inquiry, exploration, and quest – whether the subject matter is moral decision making or understanding the grieving process or kinds of loss or healthy relationships or spirituality or reverence or whatever. We see the subject matter as a treasure to unravel. Everything matters! Invite students into the mystery and sacredness of life. The key to enjoyable learning, it seems, is connecting the subject matter to the lived reality of the students. Ask questions and arouse their imaginations on a topic (i.e., How have you experienced grief? How would you describe an unhealthy relationship? What does it mean for you to be spirited? Is there a difference between spirit and hype?) Cherish their responses. Build off of their responses. Help them make associations between their responses. Play “devil’s advocate” with their responses. Show another side to their responses. Expose them to paradox. Bring to the table what the “experts” say. Tell a story. Urge them to go deeper. Have them struggle their way to their own answer. Leave them wanting more. I recognize that not everything in life is stimulating. Not everything is exciting. Education should not be simply about entertaining kids, but it should be about joy – the joy of exploring, grappling, discovering, knowing, and loving.

I’ve come to realize the wisdom of an old insight: “learning can be fun.”


If I was a 16 year old teenage girl today, would I want to walk into room 21 for one of my classes? Would there be an air of anticipation and excitement for the upcoming session? What are the elements of an enjoyable class? Certainly devising creative activities or facilitating dynamic discussions are vital components to an enjoyable class. An effective teacher is continually trying to expand his or her “bag of tricks” by learning new techniques, mimicking the ways of other good teachers, and simply trying something new or different or even a bit nutty. Sometimes these efforts work, sometimes they don’t. Effective teaching is not about getting it right all the time, but about being open, imaginative, and bold. I know that finally I need to go inside and take the plunge. Although scary, I have to trust my own intuition, instincts, and creative imagination. I then step out in front of the class feeling both vulnerable and alive. Teaching is the art of being human. Education is about the profound encounter of human beings connecting with human beings.   And human beings long for love. We, therefore, experience sheer en-joy-ment when we come to a deeper knowledge and appreciation of ourselves, one another, and the world we live in. The “competency of enjoyment” is about joy-filled learning and living. It’s a real skill and the foundation stone of all good teaching.


Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.