Monday, April 28, 2014

"Effective teaching may be the hardest job there is." William Glasser

I want you to read the title quote again. "Effective teaching may be the hardest job there is." If you are a teacher or in any field of education, you will agree completely with the Glasser, quote.   I would like to add my own sentiment to his thought - it is even harder to teach when you are not feeling well.  I have been under the weather for several months now, and so many mornings when I have awakened and felt very “blah”, I have been extremely thankful that I am now retired and that I did not have to drag myself out of bed and stand up and talk all day, nor did I have to complete all of the tasks and decisions required in the “normal” day of a teacher (if there is such a thing.)  I remember when I was taking Staff Development class years ago, and during the first class, the question was posed:  How many decisions does the average teacher make in a day?  Guesses ranged from 50 to several hundred, but no one was even close.  The answer- and this will astound you- was 5000.  It is difficult enough to make all of these decisions when you are feeling your best during the school day, but just trying to function with a fever and the dry heaves makes the task of decision making almost impossible. During the school day, teachers never have the luxury of truly being “off.”  Teaching is not like other professions, because even if you are really sick and calling off work, you still have to do the lesson plan for the day and the clean up after a day of being off.   Some executive, when ill, simply call their offices to say they will “work from home”; and others may  go to the office, close the door, and have the secretary “hold all my calls.”  Of course, they do not have 30 students waiting impatiently and asking “Mrs. Rittman, what are we going to do in class today?”  I still shudder when I think of being sick and facing all of those classes, but the show did go on!  Sometimes with a movie, but it went on nonetheless!

Please tell your students about appropriate behavior when a substitute teacher has to be in the classroom.  Let them know your rules and expectations, and also let them know that there will be consequences if the rules are broken.  Set your bar high and your students will behave appropriately.

I am offering some advice from the Bunny Teacher to all of you teachers out there:  if you are feeling sick and puny halfway through the day, put something together for the next day and leave it on your desk for the substitute.  Even if you are back the next day and feeling better, you win, as your lesson is ready to go.  If you are sick, the only message you have to leave is “Everything is on my desk.”  Another suggestion is this: in order to make life easier for you when you are sick, you should make a Substitute Folder for any teacher who substitutes for you.  Inside this folder, place a copy of your seating charts, a list of any duties you have, a list of any para-professionals or aides in your classroom who might be able to help out, and a list of any additional information that you think would help the substitute to perform in your classroom.  I remember that I listed one or two students per class period who would assist with attendance, handing out papers, etc.  I also had a bell schedule, along with a “Welcome” letter.  Through the years, the substitutes did a good job because they had a plan to follow as well as the tools to assist them.  Keep the folder someplace safe.

May I also suggest that you always have a one day “Emergency Plan” to use in case the unexpected occurs or if you suddenly must be absent without the ability to plan.  Make it a fun lesson in which everyone can participate, and tell the students it will count as a small grade.  I had to use this type of plan several times throughout my teaching career, and having a fun plan made the day easy for the substitute and fun for my students.  Since I taught English, I usually had some word game planned and I allowed the students to work in pairs.  Learning still happened, along with the relaxation and fun.   I had the Emergency Plan in a safe place in my desk.

Schools are germ factories, and it is almost impossible to be a teacher without getting sick sometimes.  Just try to make things easier on yourself when you do have to take some time off.

Rittman Publishing, LLC

Monday, April 21, 2014

“I never teach my pupils, I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.” Albert Einstein

At North Allegheny Intermediate High School, when the Easter Break was finished and the students came back to school, the teaching process grew even more arduous than at any other time of the school year.  I believe the same is true from year to year.   Why?  The sun is shining, students are yearning to be outside after the confinement of winter, most are no longer interested in learning, and to quote my late, great, former principal, “The sap is flowing.”

Dilemma:  What to do in this circumstance? 
Answer:  Keep teaching!

I advise discussing the student “shut down” with the students.  Be a motivational speaker for them!  Let them know that their work stoppage now will directly affect their overall grade for the year, which is a motivator by itself (or at least it was in my district.)  I always told my students that I had “saved” some of my favorite and most valuable lessons for the after-Easter doldrums so that I could re-ignite their desire to learn, and that for some of the class, these would be their favorite lessons of the school year.

Although this point of the year is laborious for the teacher as well (it is tough to do standup comedy before an audience that isn't laughing), keep your energy level up!  Walk around the room even more to raise each student’s level of concern.  Create some hands-on or pair share activities that allow the kids to interact with each other a bit more than usual and help them to use their energy in a positive way.

You can do it.  YOU ARE A TEACHER!  

I welcome comments, opinion, and feedback, as well as suggestions for topics.

Rittman Publishing, LLC

Sunday, April 13, 2014

“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. We need not wait to see what others do.” Ghandi

This week, the educational world was rocked by a serious incident of multiple stabbings in a well-respected suburban Pittsburgh high school. I, like many others, was glued to the television set as the terrible tragedy unfolded.  The viewing public was left with one question:  Why?

Although I do not know that answer, I do know that while listening to KDKA radio a few days after the stabbings, the announcer said that there have been over 500 acts of violence in the nation’s schools since Columbine occurred on April 20, 1999.  I was a classroom teacher that day, and I remember the terror that my students felt as the news was reported.  I remember how many students asked me a seemingly simple question:  “Am I safe at school?”  Although I said “Yes” in 1999, I am not sure that is the correct answer today.

I am 61 years old, and my teaching career began in 1974.  Nothing like shootings or stabbings occurred.  I believe Columbine was the game changer.  Principals and administrators provide anti-bullying programs.  In some cases, the ratio of counselors to students has improved.  And yet, our students are both angry and unhappy.  I am going to venture a reason for this anger and unhappiness.

The world is so fast paced and so expensive, that to support a family, both parents are working full time.  Little time is left for family dinners and conversations.  The personal connection is broken in the family, and I think children want more.  They will say they want more “stuff”- an Iphone, a car, cool clothes, a coach bag, etc.  I am going to venture a guess and give an opinion; one that 37 years in the classroom formed for me. I think students want more of a family life, and more caring and involved parents. Many of the students I knew through the years had what I call a “nodding” relationship with their parents.  They nodded at each other when they saw one another, and sometimes had a stilted conversation of “How’s school?”  “Fine.”  But there was no real connection or caring.  Kids would tell me that they wished their parents would ask them real questions and actually LISTEN to what they had to say.

I will take this one step further, and say that the nation’s children are mirror images of their parents.  If the parents are angry and unhappy, the children are too.  Parents are their child’s first teacher, and kids will copy what they see.  I know that the world is a difficult place to be, but it is also a beautiful place to be.  I believe it is especially beautiful if you are lucky enough to have children.  Think of it; you are giving the world your own personal legacy.

I say that your children are well worth the extra effort to prepare time for a family dinner and conversation a few times each week, and to show them a positive attitude. Home, like school, should be a place where our children feel safe and loved and valued. Ask questions and listen when your children talk.  They love you and desire your attention and love in return.  Just as teachers are role models every minute of their lives, so are parents.  Try to be what you want your children to be.  And give them an extra hug after you finish reading this.  They are a part of you and they deserve the best you have to offer. 

Rittman Publishing, LLC

Monday, April 7, 2014

“Be not another, if you can be yourself. ” ― Paracelsus

                                                                    Quote Fancy

Teaching is really more of a balancing act than most people know or understand.  And as the teacher, even as you perform in front of your class countless times and hours per day, you must be yourself, as it is just too difficult to try to be someone else.  I have always had pity for the teachers who must wear a mask of competence, never lowering the mask to show the real person beneath the mask.  Although you must never cross the line to become “friends” with your students, I have found that self-disclosure is an important part of the teaching process.  Just as you like to have a trusting relationship with the mechanic who fixes your car or the stylist who cuts your hair, personal relationships and trust are also important in the classroom.  Students enjoy being in a classroom in which they feel they know a little about you as a person.  I am not advocating sharing your total life with your classes, but I believe it is a good idea to give students an appropriate peek at your personal life, and to always be yourself.  Students love seeing pictures of your children, your husband, and your pets; family pictures on your desk will generate conversations that would never have happened without the pictures.  Students will see you as more of a “person” and less as just the “teacher,” and you will also notice a difference in behavior.  When students feel that they have a personal relationship with you, discipline problems diminish, as your conversations with them show students that you value them enough to share some personal snippets of your life with them.   All the better if you live in the community in which you teach, as students will enjoy seeing you in restaurants, the mall, the library, or the grocery store with your families, because it helps them to see who you really are outside of the classroom setting.  Meeting the parents under non-school circumstances is also an underestimated pleasantry.  As I reflect upon the chance encounters with students that I had through the years, I remember that I always made sure to say something positive to the parents about their child.  (No matter how old we are, everyone likes to hear praise from the teacher!)  A casual conversation at the mall is a nice way to be introduced to the parents, who will see you as a real person.  Later on in the school year, should you need to speak to parents about a school issue, you will already have met the parent and know a bit about the family, and both will be to your benefit.

Part of this self-disclosure/being yourself is this: students have a strong need to feel that their teacher “likes” them.  When you have a pre-class conversation about going to a movie or seeing a concert or sporting event, that conversation helps the students to connect with you personally.  Be sure to give these conversations your full attention.  Your keen listening will show that you value students’ opinions and care about their ideas, thus making them feel that they are “liked” by the teacher. 

Several times in my career, I used the idea of being “liked” to my advantage.  Through the years, I had many students who were not completing their work and handing it in.  I would see them individually, and ask about the work.  When they would not have a good reason for not doing the work, I would look them straight in the eyes and ask “Don’t you like me anymore?  I am doing all I can to help you to learn, and then you are not doing your part.  I have the feeling that you don’t like me anymore. That hurts my feelings.”  The student would inevitably get upset and say something like “Yes, Mrs. Rittman, I still like you.  I didn’t know you cared so much about this.  I will do the work.  May I have another day or two to finish it and hand it in?”  Of course, I always said yes.  The student/teacher relationship is a precarious one, but handling students with kindness and respect, being yourself, and sharing who you are will help you in every aspect of your classroom. 

Rittman Publishing, LLC

For updates on Dede’s soon to be published book RITTMAN RULES!  A Practical Guide for Student Teaching, please visit