Sunday, October 26, 2014

"I had many teachers that were great, positive role models, and taught me to be a good person and to stand up and be a good man. A lot of the principles they taught me still affect how I act sometimes, and it’s 30 years later." Kevin James

This week, I encountered some former students from the 1980's, and of course, we talked about our school days together. I know I have said this before, but I really LOVED school! Although I worked very hard at preparing and improving lessons, grading papers, and working with students in groups and one on one, it was my passion, and I enjoyed the work so much that it was not like work at all.  When I see my former students, my heart bursts with joy to know that I was as important to them as they were (and are) to me.  And I realize more and more just how important my behavior in the classroom every day impacted all my students through the years. 

This piece is for the new teachers who read this blog every week and for the veterans who need to be reminded of this lesson.

YOU, as a teacher, make a difference every day.  You do not even realize it, but a kind word, a compliment, or an encouragement from you, THE TEACHER, can completely change a student's mood, day, attitude, grade, or decision-making process, as well as the way that they react to what happens to them each day, because you are setting an example of how adult behavior should be.  Like it or not, you are the role model, every minute of every day.  You, and you alone, cannot control what happens to you, but you can control how you will react to what curve balls are thrown your way. And students are watching.  Elementary eyes, middle school eyes, or high school eyes are on you:  your responsibility is huge.  Students are also watching the way that you interact and react with other students.  And I promise you this:  they will remember.  

Forty years after teaching my first class all those years ago at Penn Hills (1974), I saw a former student from my first year of teaching.  And guess what?  He remembered everything- not what classics he read- but, rather, the ambiance of the classroom.  English was his "favorite" class. Class was fun, and he said  that "I didn't get angry, like the other teachers, when something bad happened. You liked us."  Although I was just 21 and my students were 16 and 17, I was insightful enough to know that they were paying attention to my actions, and that I had the ability to directly impact their lives every day.  Growing up, I had so many great role models as teachers, so I learned the lesson of modeling expected behavior long before I became a teacher.

Sometimes in our society, the "cool" thing seems to be about complaining rather than appreciating, and criticizing rather than praising.  It is up to you, the classroom teacher, to make your space and time with your students a positive part of the day, not a class they dread attending.  You need to step up to be the positive role model for your students.  You may not know it for years, but remember that your positive impact is far reaching, and will stay with your students throughout their lifetimes.  

Teaching human beings is such an overwhelming responsibility, and it is important to try to be the best role model you can be every day.  Someone is watching. . .actually, everyone is watching. Know that your influence goes far beyond your subject matter and classroom, and you are helping young people to shape their behaviors and reactions.  It is an awesome task, but one I know you can handle.  Have a positive day- being the best you can be.  Who knows? Maybe in 40 years, you, too, will see a former student who will remember your class, but who will mostly remember YOU.

As always, I welcome your comments or suggestions.

My new book, STUDENT TEACHING; THE INSIDE SCOOP FROM A MASTER TEACHER, is available at  You can also see my beautiful new press release at my website.

Rittman Publishing, LLC


Sunday, October 19, 2014

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” ― Leo Buscaglia

In thinking about this week's blog, I have spent several hours making notes and reading articles online about EMPATHY.  I believe that although some children are instinctively empathetic, empathy should be taught in schools, and I do not mean just elementary schools.  Being able to show empathy and to extend oneself to others and feel with them is not only a gift, but also a key to successful relationships, both personally and in business. If you have not read Howard Gardner's 1983 book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, it is a terrific book which examines seven criteria which can make a behavior an intelligence, which is more than just measuring an IQ . Gardner specifically mentions Empathy under the Interpersonal relationship category, and he says that those with a high interpersonal intelligence are often successful as teachers, social workers, salesman, and counselors, just to name a few.

When I was teaching at North Allegheny for 35 years, our student body was involved in many worthy causes.  Although our district was quite affluent overall, some municipalities within the district were impoverished.  One of the favorite projects we did every year was called Santa's Stocking.  Each homeroom was given the name of 1 or 2 children- all ages, from babies to 15 years old- and homeroom representatives collected money and/or gifts.  To be on this gift list, families had to meet specific criteria as set forth by the North Hills Food Bank, and I remember that parents had to be out of work for at least two years.  Students were told at the beginning of this project that whatever gift(s) were bought by the classes, that would be all these children received from "Santa" that year, as the parents had no extra money for frivolities like Christmas presents.

Overheard chatter in the classes sounded like this:  "How could you NOT have Christmas presents?  That is so sad"  or  "I would cry if my mom and dad could not buy me new skis (or a car or a snowboard)." Perhaps  the greatest moment came when a favorite Social Studies teacher spoke to the entire school.  He told the student body that he did not remember what he received for Christmas last year, or a few years ago, but that there was one toy that he would always remember.  He was the son of a single mother, and there was no money for Christmas gifts at their house, because they did not even have enough money for food.  His name was given to a charity group, not unlike our Santa's Stocking, and he received a gift, the most important gift he had ever or would ever receive.  Just knowing someone cared enough to feel his pain - that he would have nothing for Christmas without their empathy and generosity, filled his heart with joy.  I think it takes a big man with big courage to share a personal story like this one, but this man is a teacher, and he knows he has a lesson worth teaching.  He still talks to all of the students every year, and the classroom discussions and the new feelings that the students shared because of his disclosure made, and continue to make, our school better.

If you are a teacher, perhaps you can ask your principal to partner with a group like the local food bank, for a canned food drive, Christmas gifts, or even a mitten tree. (I found out after all of the years of working with the food bank that gloves are the number one most requested item.) You could introduce the idea by having a student discussion or brainstorm some words to describe the emotions they think they would feel if they could not have Thanksgiving dinner, a winter coat and hat and gloves, or any holiday gifts.  Sometimes, just imagining such a scenario is impetus enough to help others.

There are so many great causes in our communities, and teaching our young people to show empathy for others is so important.  I always loved the day we wrapped the gifts for our "children" and then the entire class walked them down to the auditorium, which was filled with rows and rows of shiny new bicycles, giant stuffed animals, new winter coats and boots, and a most wanted toy for each child.  On the walk back to our now-empty classroom, students said things like "I hope she will like our presents" or "I wish I could see him when he sees the bike!"As the teacher, I always wrote a letter to the parents and asked them to send us a note about the gifts.  We usually received a thank you note, and sometimes a picture, and for many students, the warmth of that good feeling of helping someone and feeling their pain and joy was reignited.  I believe that although sometimes our classes gave simple gifts, there was nothing simple about the learning to feel empathy that happened.

We are coming up to a special time of year, which for some, will not be festive. 

Maybe you or your classes could make some magic happen for someone who is not expecting any, and they, too, can learn the lesson of empathy and the good feelings associated with giving.

As always, I welcome your comments or suggestions.  Best, Dede

Rittman Publishing, LLC

My press release just came out for STUDENT TEACHING: THE INSIDE SCOOP FROM A MASTER TEACHER.  Jason Price at Word Association Publishers designed it, and it is beautiful! You can see it at and click on Media and the download press kit.

ALSO- I made a new Facebook page for my book!  Please visit my page and like it at 

Monday, October 13, 2014

"You should never retire FROM something; you should always retire TO something." Dr. Paula Calabrese

Years before I ever knew I would have to retire from teaching in June of 2011 to take care of my darling husband, Scott, who was dying from stage four colon cancer, I had a luncheon meeting with my good friend Dr. Paula Calabrese, who said to me the words I used to title this piece, "You should never retire FROM something; you should always retire TO something." Paula is so bright and so capable, so I always listen when she speaks. She has so much to teach, and I am a very willing pupil, so I thought about my next focus.  When I retired from teaching, it was to take care of Scott and his parents.  For a year, I was never without a focus.  Then Scott died May 8, 2012; Dad Rittman died July 18, 2012; and Mom Rittman died September 26, 2012.  However, I still was not without a focus!  I  had all of the house fixing and clean up to do before it was put on the market; there was much time spent looking at condos; and for the first time in a long time, I was the only one I had to take care of- definitely not the norm for me!

I always wanted to be a writer. In fact, here is a secret I will share with you:  I think every English teacher wants to be a writer!  All those credits in prose and poetry- appreciating the singular beauty of similes and metaphors, modifiers and qualifiers, precise word choices and action verbs- is just too much to bear, and we see ourselves enveloped in these beautiful words and images, and we want to be a part of it, just as it is a part of us. But there is no way an English teacher working full time can ever have the luxury of time needed to compose and reflect and edit. 

When Scott was dying from colon cancer for those 30 months, I wrote a weekly blog on a free site called The Caring Bridge.  This free site is for those who are seriously ill, and the caregiver or a family member or close friend can post updates on the patient's progress.  I remember discussing this site with Scott.  He was not sure that he wanted any part of it, but he agreed it would be easier for me to write a weekly update than to answer 50 plus emails and phone calls per week.  

And so my journey as a writer began, and at the time, I did not even know it.  I did know that I liked the feeling and the process of writing for an audience.

The first entries of The Caring Bridge were tentative.  I did not want to disclose too much information, as Scott was so private, but I did want to thank all who cared enough to log in and check on him. Gradually, Scott and I worked out a pattern of behaviors which was almost like a dance: we focused on discussing what was important to share, giving a glimpse into our daily life together  (which we still tried to enjoy as much as possible despite his diagnosis), and saying thank you to all who visited our site.  

The writing was cathartic for me.  I tried to write when Scott was not in the same room, as I always cried while typing, as I attempted to compose and present everything in a positive manner.  I  read each entry to Scott before posting it to the Internet, because it was his site as much as mine. We both enjoyed the positive and uplifting comments posted by friends, and our site became an extension of our real life friends, in an  Internet  friendship venue.  In 30 months, we had over 15,000 visits, a true testament to the loyalty and faithfulness of our friends.

Besides missing Scott terribly, I really missed writing on The Caring Bridge after Scott died.

I revisited a book I started years before, liked what I read, and decided to finish writing the book.  


And the timing was so right.  This past week, I also retired from 33 years of coaching golf at North Allegheny. I retired FROM coaching TO full time writing, just like Paula advised me to do all those years ago.  And now it feels right.  I enjoy writing this blog every week. I am starting a new book. And right now,  I am on the wings of a flurry of publicity for my new book, which is available on amazon, Kindle, IBooks, Nook, and at    

I was even lucky enough to get some good press and free publicity from Kevin Gorman at the Tribune Review.  If you did not see his article and blog about my career as a coach, teacher, and writer, here is the link.  (It is quite flattering).  

I share all of this with you because I have found that it is important to have something to look forward to each day and to continue to contribute, even after retirement.  Each person is blessed with many talents, and I am happy to share my talents and ideas with others. I suppose that the cliché is true:  Once a teacher, always a teacher. 

Thank you, Paula, my good friend, for your words of wisdom.  Thank you, my friends and readers, for allowing me to share my feelings and ideas with you.  

I am looking to advertise my book. I bought a book called 1001 WAYS TO MARKET YOUR BOOK, and I have already begun to implement some of those strategies. One line in the book struck me:  MORE BOOKS ARE SOLD BY WORD OF MOUTH THAN BY ANY OTHER VENUE.  So, I am asking for your help.  If you can help me to spread the word and need more information, please visit . You can read an entire chapter on my website.  I will share this with you- a bus driver who took the NA team to a golf match read the book while we were playing in the tournament.  She told me that it was not just for teachers, but that my book was a blueprint for how to be successful.  I promise you that it is a fast and a fun read.  Any ideas or suggestions would be welcomed. I need to get into colleges and universities, and would appreciate any help from all of you.  Thanks in advance for caring! 

Best,   Dede

Rittman Publishing, LLC

A note about The Caring Bridge- it is a free site.  Go to to set up your own site. This takes a lot of the stress off the caregiver, as updates can be written on a schedule or as needed. If you would like to visit Scott's site. log in to  In the site you want to visit, type scottrittman as one word.  You will be prompted to enter and email and to create a password to use (they never send you any email).  I posted many pictures and updates, plus you can look at the Guestbook and see the many messages that were left.  My final entry in the site is the eulogy I wrote and gave at Scott's funeral.  I read it to him before he died, along with his obituary, which I wrote on my IPad as he lay dying.   The Caring Bridge was a wonderful vehicle for us to use to keep everyone in the loop. If one person benefits from knowing about this site from my blog, my writing/editing time was worth more than gold.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Success in golf depends less on strength of body than upon strength of mind and character. Arnold Palmer

This past week, I had a great opportunity to be with golf legend Arnold Palmer.  This was not our first meeting; indeed, we have spoken on many occasions through the years, mostly on a golf course, but not always. This week's blog is about Lessons the Bunny Teacher Learned from Arnold Palmer. 

The WPIAL Boys' Individual Finals were held at Latrobe Country Club on October 2, and Mr. Arnold Palmer  was to make a guest appearance before the tournament and provide a photo opportunity for all of the players and the WPIAL Golf Committee, of which I am a member. People over the age of 50 know about the contributions Arnold Palmer has made to the golf world; the young people know the Arnold Palmer drink in a can. What everyone was to find out is this:  Arnold Palmer is a man who honors his commitments. 

Mr. Palmer arrived, and he looked so sick.  Turns out, he was not only sick, he stopped off at the course on the way to see his doctor.  Why did he come to the course when he was ill?  He told the players he would.  Simple, honest, and true, his Western Pennsylvania values superseded his illness. Near the close of the competition, he even came back! (Looking and feeling better, I should add, after an adjustment to his new pacemaker, he told me.)   He was his affable self, shaking hands and allowing photos with anyone who asked.  When a playoff ensued, he drove out to watch the drama and congratulated the winner, remembering the times when he was the WPIAL Champion in both 1946 and 1947. 

I had the chance to spend more than an hour with Arnold Palmer, my favorite golfer.  I told him that when I was a little girl (and the Steelers were terrible), Daddy and I would sit in the same overstuffed chair (we were both painfully thin) and watch golf.  Daddy would say "That Arnold Palmer is going to change golf.  He makes it fun and exciting, and it won't be just a rich man's game anymore."  (Daddy was right.  Arnold Palmer did change the face of golf forever, and his legions of fans know that he is the man behind the exponential growth of the game all those years ago.)  I shared this story with Arnie, and he looked at me with such seriousness and such humility, then looked down, almost embarrassed, and said "Thank you."

Arnold Palmer is one of the most successful businessmen who ever lived.  His name sells everything from cars to drinks to memberships in the USGA. Yet, he is a very real person. We discussed many topics,  from my late husband's death from cancer (I cried because of the empathy he showed me as he patted my hand, remembering the loss of his wife, Winnie) to the importance of coaches in young people's lives. We talked about his grandsons (I know both) and about pacemakers (Daddy had one.) We walked down memory lane as I shared that I walked outside the ropes with him on 18 at Oakmont in 1994, his last US Open, and that I cried every step of the hole.  He humbly looked down and murmured a low "Thank you."

But this piece is about neither adoration nor adulation. Arnold Palmer is simply a man who never forgot his roots and his core values.  He is successful because he worked hard his entire life, and he continues to work several days a week, even at age 85. His philanthropy is legendary, with medical centers and wings from the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando to the Arnold Palmer Pavilion at the UPMC in Pittsburgh to the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies and the Arnold Palmer Prostate Center in California. He is the spokesperson for the USGA, and the "King" of the Golf Channel, as well as the designer of worldwide and world class golf courses.  Yet, Arnold Palmer still lives in Latrobe, and continues to make his hometown better, through his support of the Latrobe Excela  Hospital and the Winnie Palmer Nature Reserve near St. Vincent College in Latrobe, just to name a few. 

I had a great day with Arnold Palmer.  With all of his accomplishments, he was interested in me, as both a person and as a coach.  He thanked me for my 33 years of service to the youth of North Allegheny as a coach.  Very humbling, I will say, and a day I will never forget.  

Arnold Palmer confirmed what I already knew about him as a person, and what I would like to share with you.  It is important to remember your roots.  Those are the people who liked you before you were famous.  Giving back is the way to go.  No need for fanfare, just do things quietly, and make the lives of others better, just because you can. Appreciate what you have. Humility is key.  Remember who you are and where you came from.  Be yourself.  Don't let the adulation of millions of people change your persona. They like you for who you are, so why change?  Don't let success go to your head.  If you are good at something, share it with others.  Arnold Palmer has taught countless others to play the game (including his grandsons.) Remember the lessons your father taught you, as they will serve you well for the rest of your life.  Here is the link to a recent and short video in which Arnie remembers his childhood lessons:

There will never be another Arnold Palmer.  The word GOLF is synonymous with his name.  His passion made the game exciting and fun and available to everyone on a world stage.  His charity and compassion for others exceeds that of any other athlete, which is why he received the Congressional Gold Medal  in 2012, one of only six athletes to receive this honor.  

Thank you, Arnold Palmer, for being you, and for teaching all of us what success, grace, and humility really mean.  You are a national treasure who just happens to be from Latrobe.  And one more time, I will say what I have always said to you every time we have met through these many decades and years :  "I still love you, Arnie."  And your answer (with the twinkle in your eyes) is always the same:  "I know, honey. you told me last time." 

Rittman Publishing, LLC