Monday, February 20, 2012


While I was sawing some old limbs in the yard this morning, I remembered something my dad told me years ago – that I should always let the tool take the burden of the work – and it brought back some old wisdom about teaching. I remembered being down in the basement sawing boards with Dad, exasperatingly pushing the saw back and forth, and he would occasionally say, in his tasteful and easygoing way, “Just let the saw do the work, Ham.” He was reminding me that saws are made to slide through wood with a certain ease and evenness, but they won’t work so well if we struggle and shove as we do the sawing. “Easy does it”, Dad would say, and then, if I loosened by grip and slackened my desire to be the boss of the saw, suddenly the work was easier and the slicing of the wood seemed to proceed almost effortlessly. Sometimes, as I’m struggling in the classroom to be the best teacher I can be, I recall those days in the basement with Dad. I can be shoving my way through a lesson or pestering my students to polish their essays, when suddenly Dad is by my side, softly suggesting a mellower way. “Let the ideas in the lesson take charge of the teaching,” he might say, or “Relax and allow the plans to point the way.” In those long-gone days, sometimes, after seeing my scuffles and defeats with the saw, he would take me outside to show me how clouds carried themselves across the sky with effortlessness, or how the winds worked among the trees with style and ease, not with struggles and confrontations. He said nature doesn’t know how to strive and wrestle, but only how to flow and follow the easiest way, and that’s what I should always do. Occasionally, after a series of setbacks in the classroom, I think of Dad and those carefree clouds above our house, and those winds that never seemed to work hard, but simply passed along their course with simplicity. I sit back in my chair and look out at the way the trees beside the school always let the sunlight land on their limbs the way it wants to, and I think, Yes, Dad, that’s the way I will teach tomorrow. 

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