Dede Rittman: The Bunny Teacher

Wednesday, November 30th, 2016 at 10:27 AM
Dede Rittman: The Bunny Teacher by Maddie Wickett

Many people make excuses as to why he or she doesn't have the time for community service. However, Dede Rittman, a member of the Edinboro University graduating class of 1974, and a former Zeta Tau Alpha sister, has gone above and beyond throughout her post-graduate years to serve others, help those in need, and put a smile on her students’ faces.

Since her Edinboro graduation, she received a master’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh, taught secondary English and theatre at two Allegheny County schools, helped students with special needs, coached varsity golf teams, started her own publishing company, became an author, and even beat oral cancer. One of her highlights during her 37 years of teaching was becoming “The Bunny Teacher.”

After earning her master’s degree from Pitt, she began teaching at Penn Hills School District, about 10 miles east of downtown Pittsburgh. After two years, she moved to North Allegheny, where she taught English and theatre for many years, and gained her nickname, as she referred to her students as her “bunnies.”

“My late husband and I had no children, but I always had lots of nieces and nephews,” said Rittman. “Kids like to feel like they’re special, so I would say ‘Okay, my bunnies. I like bunnies so I’m calling you my bunnies.’”

She recalled her high school students bringing in bunny stamps and stickers, and even giving her a live rabbit for her birthday, which she named Binky Rittman. When students stayed home from school due to illness, she would send them their homework with a bunny stamp and a lollipop. These were high school students, which speaks volumes about her character.

“Binky Rittman was so adorable,” Rittman said. “She was a Netherland Dwarf rabbit and we had her for 11 years, and I took her to school sometimes so that the kids could be with her.”

Aside from being known as “The Bunny Teacher,” Rittman could also be found helping special needs or underachieving students. She never called her job “work,” and said she is so accustomed to doing things for others.

Rittman is also active outside of the classroom. She was a member of the New Kensington Civic Theatre, North Allegheny Foundation for Excellence, North Allegheny Strategic Planning Committee, and the Western PA Interscholastic Athletic League, where she was the only female on the golf committee.

After she retired in 2011 to take care of her husband Scott, who died in 2012, Rittman said she became unhappy because she wasn’t doing anything for anyone else. So, she revisited some of her writing she had done in years past, and published a book for aspiring teachers. “Student Teaching: The Inside Scoop from a Master Teacher” was published in September 2015 and is a requirement for some education classes at EU. In the book, Rittman discussed the “Three Cs”: confidence, communication and creativity.

“I saw so many student teachers who came in and were not prepared at all,” Rittman said. “I had a lot of time to observe and…after Scott died I revisited it and said ‘Wow, this writing is really good…wait, that’s my writing.’” 

Along with her education book, Rittman also published a children’s book, titled “Grady Gets Glasses.” Her goal is to make a series of these books in which Grady the bunny learns how to take care of his glasses and how to deal with people who tease him about how he looks. Rittman drew from experiences in her own life for the book.

“I wore glasses since I was a tiny girl and my glasses were so thick and people used to tease me, but there was no way I could take them off because I couldn’t see,” Rittman said.

Rittman hopes to turn the book into The Grady Series, which will include a prequel that explains why he got glasses, and an anti-bullying themed book that includes Grady and three of his friends who all wear glasses.

“I always wanted to write a book about acceptance and glasses,” she said. “For years, this was on my back burner because you can’t be a teacher, director and coach…you can’t do all those things plus be a writer.”

She even wanted to have a toy to go along with the Grady series, so she is now selling Grady stuffed bunnies to complement the books. She said she never thought she would be an entrepreneur after 37 years of teaching.

To further help with the field of education, Rittman also finds time to be a producer for an internet-based radio show called the "Total Education Network." She books guests for the host, Neil Haley, for interviews that surround the topic of education in today’s modern world.

Rittman developed several ways to cope while her husband Scott was fighting colon cancer and after he died. She started a blog website, thecaringbridge.org, where she posted updates about her husband’s condition.

“I would do updates once or twice a week because I couldn’t deal with all our friends calling and e-mailing about how Scott was doing; he had so many complications,” Rittman said. “It became an outlet, a true venue for me to write about our lives together, whether he was dying or not.”

During the time of Scott’s death, his parents also died just weeks after his passing and Rittman was diagnosed with oral cancer even though she never smoked.

“It was very hard to deal with those deaths, as well, but my parents taught me a strong work ethic and perseverance,” Rittman said. “I was able to reach down and keep going even though I didn’t feel like I wanted to.”

She also writes an inspirational blog called “Lessons Learned from the Bunny Teacher” every week for a total of 156 weeks and counting. On Aug. 7, she posted a blog on what would have been her and her husband’s 30th wedding anniversary. She discussed lessons her husband had taught her about both living and dying. 

Tags: news, alumni

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