Unfortunately, while teachers constantly remind students to work smarter, they often don’t take their own medicine. Stephen Covey observes this keenly in the seventh of his celebrated habits for Highly Effective People. The last habit is “Sharpen the Saw.” That’s right. It comes from the story of a man sawing back and forth until dusk to cut down a tree. “How long have you been at it?” a friend asks. “Five hours,” the other replies. “Maybe you should take a break for a few minutes and sharpen that saw. Then the work would go faster.”
Aha! Sometimes we must force ourselves to take time to sharpen our saw. Covey recommends physical activity, such as exercise, nutrition, or stress management; mental activity, such as reading, visualizing, planning, or writing; social or emotional activity, such as volunteering; or spiritual activity, like reading, study, or meditation.
Think about what you have done for yourself lately. (It reminds me of my father’s sage advice about how not to go into debt. “Pay yourself first,” he would say, reminding me of the importance of saving.)
The way I “pay myself” is genealogy, and it fits perfectly with being a writer, historian, and teacher. After all, history is stories. And there are few greater rewards than finding interesting information about the ship my Danish grandfather boarded for his crossing to America, or about my great-great grandfather who marched barefoot for a hundred miles from Murfreesboro to Chattanooga during the Civil War, a great-grandmother who encountered “Indians” along the Oregon Trail in 1853, or another brave ancestor who fought in the Revolutionary War. (These are all true stories.)
Not only am I reliving history through my own ancestors, but I’m finding many friends along the way through Ancestry.com who have given me tips about how to look up pension files through the National Archives or unraveling pedigrees when that great grandfather you thought only married once had in fact married several times. Yes, the plot thickens.
Sadly, too many teachers suffer from burnout and leave the profession. If they would only work smarter, not harder, and take time for themselves, perhaps they’d come to class more refreshed and eager for the day. I’m certainly going to continue trying to ‘pay myself first’ so my battery reserves are always there for my students.