Harry Wong
Dec 2017
Vol 14 No 4

Teachers, Keep Your Eye On What Your Work Is

By Dede Rittman


 Teachers affect eternity; no one can tell where their influence stops. ~Henry Brooks Adams

eye smallerTeachers may never fully realize the impact – positive or negative- they might have on a student’s life.  I want to tell you a true story about positive influence, one that will melt your heart.

First, I must say that I am so fortunate to have so many friends from North Allegheny Intermediate High School. Our faculty- all departments- ate lunch together in a common lunchroom, shared classrooms and study hall rooms, worked on student projects together, and worked as a team to help students in trouble.  I was at the same building for 35 years, and all of us, from those who are over 80 years old now and have been retired for years,  to those who just retired last year, stay in contact with each other and retain our friendships.  I know that not all schools are like this, but we were friends and supporters who helped each other through school, home, and family crises through the years, and we continue to support each other.  It should come as no surprise that I have limitless stories of great inspiration to share with you from so many talented teacher friends.

One of my extraordinary North Allegheny friends, and perhaps the best teacher I have ever known or seen, always went the extra mile for her students.  She did supplemental tutoring before and after school; she helped every student in her classes and study hall students with difficult projects; she answered questions on semantics and grammar that stumped the rest of the faculty; and she consistently showed her students that she cared about them as individuals, not just as students in her class.

One September, many years ago, a young 9th grade student walked into my friend’s classroom. This student was not American, but was from a different ethnic background. This girl wanted very much to fit in, but her mother did not understand modern American ways or culture.  This adolescent girl needed a American female role model, and she found it in my friend, her teacher. Having a positive female role model was a godsend for this young lady who was stuck between two cultures, especially when a family emergency took her real mother away for an extended period of time and she needed a female and maternal influence.

The student and the teacher saw each other in class every day for grades 9 and 10, and when the student moved on to attend the high school for grades 11 and 12, my friend continued to be not only her teacher/friend, but also her mentor.  They discussed and dissected issues from class projects to boys and dating to cliques and friendships. My friend realized that their relationship was shifting, and she was becoming more like an American mom than a teacher.

For over twenty years after the young lady graduated from high school, the two women met for coffee, talked on the phone, and exchanged cards and emails.  My friend continued to mentor her former student and helped her to navigate life.  Recently, my teacher friend received a gift in the mail from the young lady, with a beautifully written card, thanking her for all the time and guidance that was lavished upon her at a time when she was growing up and really needed adult concern, affirmation, and direction.  She expressed the hope that her own daughters would find a mentor as special as she had. My friend was touched to the core by this unexpected gift and note, and she shared this poignant story with me.  We rejoiced together that something so wonderful was recognized and appreciated, after all those years.

Perhaps the best part of this true story is this:  the young lady is now a teacher.

Is there any higher compliment than inspiring one to become a teacher?  I feel sure that the scared 9th grader of yesteryear has become a beacon of light for her students, paying forward all that she received from her teacher, my friend.

I share this story with a happy heart, and with the thought of giving hope to my readers who are struggling with the problems within the teaching profession.  Sometimes, being a teacher can be so overwhelming. (Remember that I was a classroom teacher for 37 years, and I have not forgotten what it was like.) With all of the stress and anxiety about test scores, not to mention the administrative and parental pressures, teachers can lose sight of what their real work is. Focus on the students and what is best for them. Teachers are in school to help each student to achieve and to be the best he can be.  And maybe if you are lucky, some of your students will remember your guiding words and kindness, and choose to become teachers, too.
Dede Rittman bookAbout the Author

Dede Rittman is the author of Student Teaching: The Inside Scoop From a Master Teacher, which has recently been awarded an Honorable Mention by the New England Book Festival in their “How To” books category. Dede’s new book Student Teaching: The Inside Scoop From A Master Teacher  is available at or from



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This entry was posted on Sunday, March 1st, 2015 and is filed under *ISSUES, Dede Ritmann, March 2015. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
Teachers.Net Gazette Vol.12 No.3 March 2015
Harry & Rosemary Wong: Effective Teaching
Teacher Effectiveness and Human Capital
Cover Story by Dede Rittman
Teachers, Keep Your Eye On What Your Work Is
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