Top Teachers: Todd Ritter

It was a circuitous path that led Todd Ritter to his job teaching drama and technical theatre at Henrico High.

But after 11 years, he still views it as “the best job in the world.”

Prior to teaching, during his 15 years in professional theatre, he noticed that student volunteers or interns were often the hardest workers at the theaters where he spent time. “Their wide-eyed appreciation for theatre was always so refreshing,” he recalled.

When he moved to Richmond, Ritter was asked to be the guest artist at the Center for the Arts and immensely enjoyed working with the students there. After two years, the previous teacher moved on, and suggested Ritter apply for the job. 

Today, he sees artistic endeavor and study as the glue that holds education together.

“Without art education, we lose perspective. Art can be the spark in a child that brings them back to their desks the next day.” 

In many respects, said Ritter, his job entails helping parents and students understand that “art does not occur in a vacuum,” and that playwrights, artist, dancers and songwriters are influenced by the world and events around them.

“We as artists cannot help but let the outside world mold what we do as artists,” he said.  “Therefore, it is essential to study history and other art forms in order to gain perspective.”

One of his favorite teaching memories, in fact, involved a sophomore who came running into his class many years ago.

“Mr. Ritter!” the student said. “We were talking about the Greeks in history today, and I completely understood what the teacher was talking about because of your lectures last year!”

Another thing he enjoys about the job is working with “my fellow teachers – some of the most dedicated and passionate teachers that I have ever met.” Among the role models who have inspired him in college and beyond, he said, is the center’s past director, Lee Hanchey.

“If I can do half the things that she accomplished as a teacher, I know I will be a success,” he said.  

Parents, he said, have also made his job much easier; some are so “fiercely loyal” that they continue to support and help him years after their child has graduated.

On the other hand, there are many parents he has never met, or has only met at graduation – even though in many cases he has worked with their child for four years.

He can’t help wishing that more parents understood how crucial it is to be involved all the way through high school.

“As a father of two very young children,” he said, “I already understand where they are coming from.  By the time your child reaches high school you have served on enough committees, bought enough wrapping paper and baked enough cookies for two lifetimes. 

“But as a high school teacher I wish they could hold on for just a few more years.”

High school students may be young adults, but they still need guidance and encouragement – as evidenced by the senior whose mind he changed about college.

“[The student] felt that they didn’t stand a chance of getting in, but after much persuasion, they tried and got accepted. 

“Whenever I think back to that moment,” said Ritter, “I know that I made a difference, and I use that feeling to drive me when I get really stressed at work.”
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Nashville-based Americana quartet The Barefoot Movement will perform at 8 p.m. at The Tin Pan, 8982 Quioccasin Rd. Their latest release, “Live in LA,” follows two previous full-length releases, an EP and extensive touring that has taken the band to 43 states, two Canadian provinces and even as far away as Africa. Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door. Doors open at 6 p.m. For details, call 447-8189 or visit http://www.tinpanrva.com. Full text

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