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“The best way to demotivate and lose top performers is by rewarding mediocrity.” Jameson St. Claire

Mental health is such a problem in schools but Dede Rittman argues pupils cannot be wrapped in cotton wool.

They need to experience and learn from competition, success and failure.

I was in the classroom for 37 years, and for 35 of those years, I taught at North Allegheny, one of the best school districts in both Pennsylvania and the United States.  Academic competition was keen, and many of our students gained entry to top 10 universities and went on to great careers  Students worked hard to win recognition, and the quest to achieve the status of senior class speakers was extremely competitive.  Our school district creates and continues to sustain a culture of excellence, and they also continue to recognize excellence in the classroom, in sports, and in all aspects of Education.  North Allegheny continues to prepare students for the competition they will face in the real world, and students benefit from the competition.

I was quite perplexed when I heard that a school district in Ohio has decided not to recognize any student as a valedictorian or salutatorian in the coming school year.  The reason?  Concerns about student mental health, including depression, anxiety, and suicide.

Although I recognize the importance of mental health and stress, I believe the school district is actually hurting the students by removing the competition. Losing and winning small battles through the school years  helps students to learn to deal appropriately with bigger disappointments in later life, and how to win with grace and humility. In the current culture of “everyone gets a trophy”, students need to learn that they are not going to be rewarded for participation, and that competition will become a way of life – in college, in the job search, and in maintaining and advancing in the work world. This should be a lesson learned while in school, but with no stress/no competition values, that lesson is going to be exponentially more shocking when it happens in college or an employment situation. I really believe that removing academic competition in school is doing a huge disservice to the students. When students face true competition, my fear is they will fail and fold, since they will have no real life experience with the inability to make the grade. I believe in encouraging and recognizing EXCELLENCE, not rewarding mediocrity.  Kids need to understand failure in order to understand success.

“The best way to demotivate and lose top performers is by rewarding mediocrity.” Jameson St. Claire

If you have not heard about Mason High School, here are two links to the story.

As always, I welcome your comments and suggestions. 

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The author

Dede Rittman is a 37-year veteran English/ Theater teacher from Pittsburgh, PA, teaching 35 years in the North Allegheny School District, where she also was Varsity Head Boys’ Golf Coach for 33 years, directed the spring musical and talent shows, and contributed to many district initiatives. She was a PA Teacher of the Year semi-finalist in 2011, the year she had to retire when her husband, Scott, was dying from stage four colon cancer. Dede’s book STUDENT TEACHING: THE INSIDE SCOOP FROM A MASTER TEACHER was published in September 2014 and the book has won 8 awards. Nationwide, colleges and universities are using her book, and Dede accepts speaking engagements around the country, with some focusing on education, and some on motivation. She is a guest blogger for educational magazines and was the Co-host of The Total Education Q and A Show, which was heard around the world on 120 stations in 80 countries on Dede gives presentations around the globe on both of her books through and . Dede writes a weekly blog for teacher inspiration at GRADY GETS GLASSES, Dede’s children’s book, just came out in hardcover. The book won Best New Children’s Book 2016 from The Authors’ Zone. Dede has also won two Album of Distinction Awards from Delta Kappa Gamma in 2015 and 2017; the prestigious I AM L.E.E. (Living Education Everyday) Award in 2016; and she was inducted into the North Allegheny Sports Hall of Fame in October of 2017. Dede works very hard on promoting her books and speaking engagements. She enjoys continuing teaching grades kindergarten to college through her books!

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