I’ve asked myself, what is dedication?
Dedication is defined as being the quality of being dedicated or committed to a task or purpose. There are many words that are synonymous with dedication: commitment, wholeheartedness, enthusiasm, diligence, persistence, drive and purposefulness to name a few.
In so many regards, I have been able to tick the box and say that, yes, I have been a dedicated teacher.
If there was a task to be done, I would put my hand up, take it on and go to the ‘nth’ degree to make sure that it was completed to a high standard - a standard that I alone had set for myself. When programs needed to be handed in for checking, I would spend long hours fine tuning every last detail, which in itself is not a bad thing; it was the element of perfectionism that was taking its toll on me physically, not wanting to be open to criticism if something was not complete or missing. On other occasions where our school was being audited for compliance, I was diligent in supplying all documentation, not from a sense of care and respect, more from a sense of not wanting to be the one to let the team down.
There were long hours of preparation for lessons, often trawling through teacher resource sites on the Internet for hours on end. It appeared that I was doing double the work of the students, often arriving to class feeling tired and grumpy. My beautifully prepared lessons often went out the window, as I wasn’t connecting with the students, which they instantly felt, and then responded by acting out with uncooperative behaviour, leaving me to deal with it in a frazzled and overwhelmed state.
Although there were signs of being very committed and enthusiastic about my role, on reflection I can see that this came with a drive and persistence that left me feeling exhausted and often deflated.
Clearly, this interpretation of dedication wasn’t bringing me the personal satisfaction I was seeking, and I was forever questioning my choice of profession and wondering if there was a way out. I knew that I loved being with the students and felt that somewhere inside was a true teacher who was waiting to emerge, once I let go of all of the pressure I was putting on myself and started questioning the never-ending escalation in workload (often self-imposed).
Rather than burning the candle at both ends to make it appear that I had it all covered from a system perspective, I began experimenting with dedicating myself to my own well-being and introducing simple self-care measures into my day. When I was tired at the end of the day, I would dismiss the ‘to do’ list and tend to my own needs instead, which could mean eating a nutritious meal, resting or preparing things that would support me physically at work. This then developed into starting my day in a more self-caring way, making sure that I was fed and dressed with greater attention to detail around my own needs.
My attention also turned towards the people I was working with, rather than the paperwork that I so easily mastered. It was here that I found an area of my job that I had not fully appreciated - how important it was to really relate to my colleagues and the students in my care. Here was an opportunity for me to learn and to be more open to engaging and looking at ways of collaborating with colleagues and getting to know my students better.
My dedication as a teacher has come full circle, as I now feel that there is a purpose that goes beyond ticking the boxes as a teacher. Through my dedication to myself, first and foremost, I am a lot more open, flexible and accepting of whatever comes my way on any given teaching day. Attention to detail is still an important part of my role, and I realise now that it is the quality with which I engage in any task and the quality of care I bring to my relationships in the workplace that is really worth dedicating myself to.