A Teachers’ Teacher on Classroom Success – Conversation with Dede Rittman
There are people who show up to work, look for their instructions, act as per the rules and convince themselves that they are content with the “average” results they get out of their work. And then there are those who own their job, take personal responsibility while striving to change the status quo and inspire those around them.
Dede Rittman, a veteran teacher with 37 years experience of teaching English/ Theater, is one among the latter kind. A firm believer in the thought that a teacher must ‘get involved in student activities’, she has always worked closely with her students both inside and outside the classroom.
Even though she has retired from her full-time teaching job, her passion for education hasn’t. She is invited to conduct speaking engagements around the country to share her wisdom with teachers. More recently, she penned a book “Student Teaching: The Inside Scoop from a Master Teacher” which is a fine recipe of classroom success for teachers prepared over 37 years of teaching career. Her teaching ideas and techniques have been hailed by experts all over the world. And now, she’s coming on WizIQ with her free webinar where she’ll discuss her 3Cs for Classroom Success, share some amusing classroom anecdotes and celebrate the spirit of education with the audience.
Dede Rittman joined me over a conversation about her teaching career, 3C’s approach, her book and upcoming webinar on WizIQ.
Me – A teaching journey that’s been going for 37 years! How did it start? How has it been?
“You never know when a moment and a few sincere words can have an impact on a life.”
– Zig Ziglar
I loved school and reading from the moment I began kindergarten at age 4, so it was only natural that I would become a high school English and Theater teacher. I enjoyed the autonomy of the classroom, as well as creating fun and important lessons for my students every day. The relationship between the teacher and the student can be so powerful; as teachers, we have the tremendous responsibility to shape our students by empowering them to believe in themselves and their abilities. I also directed the spring musical for 10 years, the talent show for 15 years, and coached varsity boys’ golf for 33 years. Working with students outside the classroom was just as rewarding as the classroom itself. I highly recommend getting involved in student activities to enhance one’s teaching career, as there is nothing quite like getting to know students, their hopes, dreams, and aspirations outside the classroom . Coaching students to improve and grow in confidence and ability may not pay top dollar, but it is the greatest job on this earth. I loved making a difference for my students every day; helping them to become capable, responsible, and thoughtful people.
I was very sad to have to retire in June, 2011, but my husband. Scott, was dying from stage 4 colon cancer, so retirement was the only correct choice. I always thought I would teach for 40 years, but that could not happen. I am thrilled to be back in Education with my book for student teachers, writing educational articles for many different venues, writing my weekly blog of inspiration for teachers, speaking at colleges, and participating in and presenting webinars for teachers.
Me – A teaching career this long must have brought some great lessons with it. What did you learn about teaching as a profession?
“A teacher must speak loudly enough to command attention, yet softly enough to be heard in the hearts of her students.”
– Dede Rittman
I learned lessons from my students every day! I discovered that students really crave a routine, but they also enjoy learning in new ways as well. Students like to know what they will be working on in class each day, so it is a good idea to have class objectives or procedures on the board. (This is especially true for students with special needs or those on the spectrum.) Teachers have a grave responsibility to be the best teachers possible for their students, and one teacher can make a huge difference in the lives of many students. Teachers must wear so many hats – counselor, parent, teacher, confidante, advisor- but they must always remember that the most important role is that of teacher. Every teacher needs to develop a good “teacher voice”- the one that can be heard above all confusion! Having a teacher voice, along with confidence, good communication skills, and a true sense of creativity are all MUST HAVES for the classroom. No teacher will survive in the classroom very long without a good sense of humor, and teachers must be able to laugh at themselves! To be a teacher is to be prepared for the unprepared every day, and to know that no two days will ever be alike, because no one can predict human behavior. In no other profession can one experience the joy and promise of the first day of school, and the ecstasy and reflection of the last day.
Me- What, according to you, are the most common mistakes which almost all teachers make?
“One important key to success is self-confidence. An important key to self-confidence is preparation.”
One of the biggest mistakes I have seen is that teachers try to be friends with their students. Although a teacher can be friendly, the line must not be crossed between teacher and student. Friendship can lead to inappropriate interactions. I also think that teachers must spend more time on their own preparation and organizational skills, and help their students to do the same. Preparation and organization are two staples of successful individuals, in education and in life. I hope that teachers will clearly outline their high expectations for their students, and continually reinforce the positive strides the students are making toward meeting those goals. When I was teaching, I reminded myself of how it felt to be on the student side of the desk. Respect and consideration by teacher for students will be reciprocated by the students. Teachers must constantly be the role models for the behavior they desire their students to emulate.
Me- Could you please suggest some ideas that can help teachers improve the learning outcome of their classroom?
A truism to carry in your heart every day you teach:
No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.
– Theodore Roosevelt
As outlined in my book, three essential qualities needed for success in the classroom are Confidence, Communication, and Creativity. Teachers are classroom leaders, and every leader must present with confidence to inspire those who are following. If teachers are hesitant or unsure in any realm of presentation, students will recognize that hesitance as fear, and classroom management will become difficult. Teachers must present material in a confident and passionate manner, showing students their love of learning and the importance of knowledge. Project the voice so that every student can hear, and walk with shoulders back, showing confidence through body language. Look every student in the eyes every day to make them feel welcome and to show them your confidence and passion for teaching. Good communication skills are also a must for all teachers. Communicating expectations and directions to students, as well as being open to communicating with parents, administrators, colleagues, and school support staff is essential. Part of communicating requires listening, so teachers must learn to be good listeners as well. I suggest calling parents for “good news”- communicating more positives than negatives! If emailing, choose words carefully to clearly communicate the message, leaving no ambiguity to be interpreted. My third C of creativity is needed every day in the classroom, whether in preparing lessons, dealing with discipline issues, integrating technology, including a student with special needs, teaming with a parent to help a student, or solving a student’s problem. Teachers must constantly use creative strategies and skills to help their students and to keep lessons fun and interesting. No one wants to be known as boring TEACHER!
Students will rise to the expectation you set, so make sure your expectations are set high. You must help students to achieve, especially if they are reluctant learners. Find a way to make a personal connection with students, and let them know that you are for them as people.
Be the cheerleader for the student who struggles; it has been my experience that when a student knows that I believe in him, he begins to believe in himself. What greater gift can any teacher impart than helping a student to believe in his own abilities?
Best wishes in your teaching career! I hope you find joy in teaching every day, as you help others to find hope and joy in learning.