Monday, March 31, 2014

"The most valuable resource that all teachers have is each other. Without collaboration our growth is limited to our own perspectives." - Robert John Meehan

Teaching in a junior high or high school is like teaching inside a treasure chest of information. With every department having its specialties, a person can discover the answer to practically any question.  I remember once when our power went off for almost fourteen hours, and I questioned which foods in the refrigerator would still be good and which ones I should throw away.  I went straight to the Home Economics department for the answer, and of course, they knew.   Another time, I needed the electric plug replaced on a lamp cord, as Binky Rittman, my pet bunny, had chewed the entire cord.  I took the lamp directly to the Tech Ed wing to be repaired.  Additionally, I had a question about one of my sick houseplants. I went to see the biology teacher in charge of the school greenhouse, and the sick plant was cured.  Although all of this shared information was terrific, I found that it was even better for my students when collaborating within my own department.

When I taught at Penn Hills for the first two years of my career, three of us teaching ninth grade English were new hires.  Penn Hills was so massive in the 1970's; the Intermediate High School building had only two grades and over 2750 students.  A curriculum coordinator was responsible for shuttling the books from one teacher to another, so when it was your turn to teach a specific unit, there were no extra days; you simply had to teach each unit in the allotted time.  As three new hires, all of this new material to learn and then teach was overwhelming, so the three of us decided we would divide the preparation and lessons for the units and share our materials with the others.   This really was a great idea.  Because we three came from varied backgrounds in both colleges and student teaching experiences, the sharing of lessons made a great year for all of us and our students.

My third year of teaching, I left Penn Hills and went to North Allegheny, where the building climate was not one of collaboration, and I was the only new English teacher.  Although I loved my colleagues, no one offered me any help or ideas with a curriculum which was totally new to me.  At a department meeting part way through the school year, I offered to share the lessons I was creating and I proposed a sharing forum.  Everyone agreed, and some said aloud that they actually wondered why sharing materials and collaboration was not already happening. Through the years, many in-service days were actually dedicated to the collaboration process, as the education gurus recognized its importance.  Those days were always the very best possible in-service days. The department collaboration continues even though I am retired.  By the way, I am still sharing, too.  I had the opportunity to meet the two new department members at a party, and both were lamenting that they did not know what they were going to do to prepare for the upcoming JULIUS CAESAR unit.  I emailed my study guide, quizzes, test, and fun activities and worksheets to them shortly thereafter, and both were very grateful. I asked only that they pay it forward, and keep the legacy of collaboration continuing.

As a new teacher, you must ask for help if you need it, remembering that sharing means giving as well as receiving.  As an experienced teacher, extending yourself to someone new is a caring gesture, and one in which you, too, will benefit, as you share your strategies and ideas.  I often think of those first years of teaching, and just how overwhelming it was to prepare for hours for a forty minute lesson, and then have to do that same amount of work for the next day, sometimes just staying one day ahead of the students.

Through all my years of teaching, many of the English Department student teachers went on to be gainfully employed in other districts, and I would receive a phone call, letter, or email asking if I could send my stuff to them, because their new district used the NA text book.  I was always happy to accommodate these requests, remembering the difficulty and stress of being a new teacher.  I know that there will be those individuals who do not want to share or collaborate.  I consider them to be insignificant in the scope of education; if they were true educators, they would do anything, including sharing materials and ideas, to enhance the teaching and learning process.

I hope you will give sharing a try.  Collaboration in a school setting enriches the teachers, the students, and the overall work and classroom experience for everyone. 

Please leave me a comment or suggestion about this blog or any other one.  I want to collaborate with all of you, my readers by knowing what topics are important to you.  Have a great week at school.

Monday, March 24, 2014

"No one has yet fully realized the wealth of sympathy, kindness, and generosity hidden in the soul of a child. The effort of every true education should be to unlock that treasure."- Emma Golmam

I really loved being a classroom teacher for 37 years, and I still miss being in my own classroom every day.  In fact, if my husband had not been diagnosed with stage four colon cancer in 2009, I would have taught for forty years, with this school year, 2013-2014, being number forty.  Throughout those 37 years, I always made the effort to be compassionate and considerate to every student, especially those students who were not kind to others.  I always felt that they needed some extra special attention.  Many times for those students, my attempt at kindness took a Herculean effort, but it was an effort that I felt was necessary. Part of my philosophy of teaching has always been that standing in front of a classroom is not about teaching a subject; but rather, about teaching human beings, and to get the best from human beings, teachers must show students that they are valued.  I believe that we, as teachers, lead by example, and I do believe that the maxim “Actions speak louder than words” is especially true where young people are concerned.  As I wrote in my book Rittman Rules!, students are constantly scrutinizing the teacher – what you wear, how you look, your body language, your mannerisms, and your actions. Teachers share many lessons every day without even realizing it.
I have been very fortunate to have my many kindnesses returned throughout the years I taught.  I probably have hundreds of great stories, but I am choosing to share one with you today that is very close to my heart.  I want you to see and feel the kindness and generosity and sympathy that I felt from my students, and you will understand why I chose that particular Emma Golmam quote to introduce this blog.

My late husband, Scott, was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer on December 12, 2009, a few weeks before the Christmas vacation.  Many students knew Scott from our years of co-directing the school talent shows and musicals, as well as from Scott’s volunteer assistant coaching position on the Varsity Boys’ Golf Team, for which I am the head coach.  Additionally, Scott would stop by the school and my classroom occasionally, and I always introduced him to my students at the football games, track meets, library, or wherever we happened to bump into students.  Additionally, I showed some clips of Scott on stage in my Theater classes, and Scott and I worked on a recorded oral presentation of the trial scene in To Kill a Mockingbird, so all of my students felt like they knew him, at least a little.

After Scott’s seven hour surgery and ten days in the hospital, he came home to recuperate two days before Christmas.  School had been out for several days, but I was not able to go to school and have any interaction with my students, except to email my substitute and ask her to tell my students that I missed them.  All educators know that in sickness and in health, the teacher’s responsibilities never stop. A teacher friend called to say she was going to stop by to drop off a few papers for me to grade; after all, I had not been in school for almost two weeks.  Upon opening the bag of  what I thought were essays, inside were at least two handmade cards from every one of the students in my five classes - a get well card for Scott, and a Christmas card for the two of us, or a card of encouragement for me.  The messages were heartfelt and sincere (I am crying as I am typing this, just thinking about it), and they were exactly the lift we both needed after Scott’s long stretch in the hospital.  They wrote letters, made up funny poems, and collaborated on both long and short notes of encouragement.  Unbelievably, some of them wrote the very words that we had said to them earlier in the school year!  One boy wrote to Scott:  “Mr. Rittman, you told me not to give up when I was trying out for the golf team, and you were there to cheer me on.  Well, I’m telling you not to give up just because you have cancer, and I am here to cheer YOU on.”  One of my more difficult students wrote “You were really nice to me even when I wasn't nice to you.  I am sorry that your life is so sad now, and I hope it gets better soon.”  We were stunned by the generosity of spirit, the sympathy and love, and the true sense of kindness and caring that we received from all of the students.  All of the kindness and concern that Scott and I had shown the students as role models was reflected in these earnest and genuine notes and letters.  These gifts of cards and letters were exactly what we needed to help us through the most frightening time in our marriage.  We both cried with joy as we read the notes aloud to each other.  I have these precious manuscripts tucked inside a box filled with classroom memories, and I will never throw them away.

Kindness inspires more kindness, and in the relationship between teacher and student, kindness and caring are of the utmost importance. Scott and I were so fortunate to receive such a wealth of sympathy, kindness, and generosity from my students.  And so, the lesson is learned.  

Monday, March 17, 2014

“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.” - Charles Dickens

It is virtually impossible for students to learn when they are dealing with painful issues at home.  As teachers, we cannot control the events and relationships in the student’s family, unless abuse is suspected, which must be reported immediately to your principal.  I urge you to care enough to ask a student why he or she is not performing in your classroom.  Of course, you must first gain that student’s trust, and you must not be afraid to show your concern for his or her well-being.

Many years ago, I had a very bright young woman in my tenth grade English II class.  During class time, she participated, she was interested, and she led the classroom discussions with fresh ideas and a insightful perspectives.  I saw a huge red flag in her behavior, however, because she never handed in one assignment.  Never. Not even a partially completed assignment. I asked her about her lack of work on several occasions, but she was never able to look me in the eye with a straight answer.  During the next few weeks, I continued to give her kudos in the classroom, but her grade was suffering.  I asked her to stay after class one day, and I sat in a student desk and invited her to sit at the desk next to me. (I wanted her to know that we were on the same level, which is why I did not sit at my desk and ask her to stand. I wanted to communicate to her that I cared for her as a person, not just as my student, with no “I am the teacher” body language.)  I leaned forward and earnestly asked “Are you ready to tell me why you can’t do any homework at home?”  I was flabbergasted by her disclosure, and you will be, too.  I have never forgotten the look on her face as she summoned the courage to speak through her tears:  “My mom leaves for work when I get home from school.  I gather my baby sister and her diaper bag, and my mom drops us off at the mall.  I walk around carrying my sister in my arms until my mom picks us up when the mall closes.  If I stay home, my dad will sexually molest me or my sister, and I don’t want him to touch my sister and ruin her the way he ruined me.”

I cried with her and told her how much I appreciated her honesty.  I let her know that I would speak to her guidance counselor. She was okay with that, as she had been bearing this terrible secret for a long time. I notified the Guidance office and the Principal, who notified Children and Youth Services.  Teachers are not permitted to know what actions are taken, but her name was taken off my roster and marked “moved”, so I can only hope that she was removed from the unsafe environment and placed in foster care, or that she fled with her mom and left the dad behind.  I just hope she went someplace safe.  She felt safe in school, and excelled while she was there. I hope she became a teacher.

Students have problems that you and I can never even imagine.  The learning process is difficult enough without having the added burden of problems at home.  Be open to student needs. Seek help for students who need help.  Students bring their baggage from home to school every day.  Be the kind of teacher who helps them to store it, rather than carry it. 

Rittman Publishing, LLC

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

"The eyes are the window to the soul." William Shakespeare

Week of March 10, 2014

Communication in teaching is paramount.  As a teacher, you must constantly apprise the students in your classroom.  Imagine my surprise at an in-service day twenty years ago when a not so exciting guest speaker with pie charts and flow charts and statistics stopped his presentation and shared this simple statement:  "Some students go through an entire school day without ever being looked in the eyes."  This concept had never even occurred to me, but the following day when I asked students about the veracity of that statement, many concurred.  

After that revelation, I made even more of an effort to look at and communicate, at least with my eyes, if not also though speech,  that I was happy to see every student in my classroom every day.  

Students want to be connected to their teachers.  Help them to know that you want to be connected, too. 

Rittman Publishing, LLC

Monday, March 10, 2014

Book cover design for Rittman Rules!



Practical weekly advice for the classroom teacher brought to you by:

Rittman Rules!  L.L.C.
Confidence   Communication   Creativity

Dede Rittman, a classroom teacher for 37 years, shares her ideas, expertise, and lessons learned with all teachers, both new and experienced.   Dede believes that every day learning, as well as learning about teaching, are two life long processes for educators.  Each day, Dede will share a “carrot of wisdom” with you from her days as a classroom educator, focusing on the three C’s of Confidence, Communication, and Creativity.  Because of the person and teacher she is, Dede will also add a fourth C to this web site, Compassion, which is a must for all teachers.  Dede believes that teachers are each others best resources, so many of the “carrots” will address staff relationships.

By the way, Dede’s teaching days are not over, as she is continuing to educate both teachers and students through her company Rittman Rules!  She will soon be publishing her ebook RITTMAN RULES!  A Practical guide to Student Teaching.

The name “Bunny Teacher” comes from Dede’s former grade 10 English students.  As a teacher, Dede set very high expectations in the classroom, but delighted in the learning process and often praised her students and called them her “bunnies” as a term of endearment.  In 1989, her third period class bought her a bunny for her birthday, and the saga and legend of Binky Rittman was born.  Binky Rittman was a Netherland lop who lived for 11 years- a long time in “bunny years!”  She was litter-box trained by Dede and her husband Scott, and Binky had full run of the house.  When asked how she could litter-box train a rabbit, Dede always answered “I teach 10th grade; I can tame anything!”  Binky went everywhere with the Rittmans- on vacation to the beach, on weekends to the mountains, on long drives in Dede’s convertible, to the nursing home to comfort patients, and sometimes to school- and Binky gave love to everyone she met. Binky died in August of 1999 from cancer, which had spread from the year before, when she had a hysterectomy and complete mastectomy in 1998.  When Dede sees former students, they continue to remember Binky Rittman and they still consider themselves to be “One of Mrs. Rittman’s Bunnies.”

An entertaining speaker, Dede is available to address your faculty on a variety of topics. 

Dede can be reached at or