COVENTRY — In the American Meteorological Society's latest monthly newsletter, Tiffany Risch shares her thoughts on the importance of showing her students that they’re supported. While distance learning has presented plenty of challenges, she added last week, Risch is pleased with how her students and her fellow educators are handling this unprecedented time.
“We want to hear positive things right now,” said Risch, who for the past few weeks has been teaching her classes from her home in Narragansett. “And what we’re doing as teachers across the state and across the country — we’re always doing what’s best for kids. I’m just so proud of us.”
A physics, oceanography and forensics teacher who’s worked for 15 years at Coventry High School, Risch is also a member of the American Meteorological Society (AMS) and a teacher mentor for the organization. When she was asked last month by the society to submit a short piece detailing her experience teaching remotely, she saw it as an opportunity to share a bit of positivity during such a trying time.
In her discussions with teachers from school districts nationwide, Risch said it’s been interesting to see how others are coping with distance learning. Each seems to be taking a unique approach to the situation, she said.
“And really, what is the end goal?” she added. “The end goal is to try to push out the best for kids and to do what you can, the best way you can, with the resources you have.”
Risch reflected in her submission to the AMS on what it was like to be given just a short period to grab whatever she could from the school before spending a week of “vacation” creating lesson plans that could be taught remotely.
“I really just kind of jumped at the opportunity during that week of being at home to learn how I was really going to teach physics effectively using the tools that I had at my house,” she recalled.
Risch strove to recreate her classroom in her home as best as she could using tools like her Chromebook and stylus and the Google suite. She has a lot of what she needs, she added, but what can’t quite be replicated are the in-person interactions.
“Being with them is the part you really miss the most,” she said of missing her students, most of whom are in the 11th and 12th grades.
Risch said she’s tried to maintain normalcy as best she can. She’s continued, for example, with her Phun Physics Phriday tradition, encouraging her students to have a little fun.
“It’s just one way to continue a routine with the kids,” she said.
Risch doesn’t follow a set schedule for her classes, she said, since students may be watching siblings or helping around their homes.
“Especially the older students,” she said. “They could possibly be supporting their families at the moment, so we’re understanding of that.”
Risch has been teaching her classes using an online whiteboard, and has been giving them various readings to do from virtual textbooks and assigning labs using online platforms. She’s also had her students view videos through organizations like Khan Academy, although she prefers to have them watch videos that she’s made herself.
“Kids like hearing their teacher talk to them and explain things,” she added. “So, even though I like [Khan Academy], I would rather be able to make my own and teach them myself.”
Risch records herself giving lessons, she said, and posts them online so that her students can tune in when they’re available. She’s also invited her students to reach out to her any time.
In addition to teaching her own students, Risch works as a proficiency-based requirement coordinator at the high school, helping students school wide manage their graduation requirements. While some seniors have already met all their graduation requirements, she said, there are others who haven’t yet.
“Obviously, we have a bunch of anxious seniors who are wondering where we are in terms of the graduation process,” Risch said, adding that she, herself, is waiting on the state Department of Education to learn more.
“Right now we’re just kind of at a standstill until we hear more ,” she continued. “That’s not always the answer the kids want to hear, because they want to know what’s going on.”
Risch lauded her students for embracing the unexpected circumstances.
“I’m really proud of the students who are doing their part to help make the teacher aspect of this a lot easier,” she said. “And parents, too… we’re half of it, but the parents are also doing their part in terms of helping us out and being teachers at home.”
For many teachers there’s been quite a learning curve, Risch added.
“It’s been a process,” she said, “but, as teachers, I think we adapt quickly and we’re very good at triaging things and trying to figure out a way around everything quickly.”
Risch added that she feels good about how she and her colleagues have adapted. Still, for herself and many of her fellow educators, it’s been somewhat difficult to “find the happy medium” while balancing home and school.
“That has definitely been a struggle,” she said. “We, as teachers, have been trying so hard to be there for our kids and that collectively, amongst myself and my colleagues, has been a true challenge.”
With each other’s support, however, they’re managing.
“Educators, I think in general, form a very tight-knit community of being able to help each other, because we are helpers,” she said. “We help each other, we help kids, we try to help families and parents — that’s just what we do.”