Like Father, Like Daughter: Teacher, freshman daughter bond over common interest in Debate class

Gennifer Geer, Managing Editor

Arguing with parents is a part of life. You usually don’t win, but you can try — but your parents generally don’t condone it. But imagine a world where not only does your dad encourage you to argue, he teaches you how — just not against him. Freshman Caitlin Riffer enrolled in Debate this year, fully knowing she would be sitting in her father’s classroom. Debate teacher Chris Riffer said he enjoys having Caitlin in class, and he strives to treat her like his other students.
“It would be different if she wasn’t such a good kid and such a good student,” he said. “She’s in a class with a bunch of good kids as well. They all are very fair, and it hardly ever comes up. She’s just another student that’s in there. I’ve tried to work hard to go out of my way to not [treat Caitlin differently].”
Caitlin said she joined Debate because of the performing arts aspect, not only because her dad taught the class.
“I felt like I probably should [take Debate] because he’s my dad,” she said. “Also, I’m really interested in Performing Arts. I thought maybe it’d be awkward in class — and it is at points — but I still took it because I wanted to more than I felt like I had to.”
Caitlin said her heredity brought increased pressure to succeed in Debate.
“If I wasn’t doing well, I feel like it would be very embarrassing because people expect me to do well since it’s ‘in my blood,’” she said.
For future goals, Chris said he will support whatever Caitlin chooses to pursue.
“I let the students pick their goals, and that’s the same with her and whatever she wants to achieve,” he said. “I see myself as a facilitator trying to help that.”
Caitlin was one of eight novices chosen by the Debate coaching staff and anonymous advanced Debaters to compete in the Sunflower Novice tournament, the equivalent of State for first-year Debaters. There, she concluded her Debate season, finishing in third place with partner sophomore Alexis Vance.
“It’s been unbelievable,” he said. “She’s had an incredible novice year, and I think that’s more in part to all of her classmates. They’ve all had great novice years. They’ve lifted each other.”
Though some students assume Caitlin gets extra help in Debate at home, Caitlin said she and her dad discuss normal topics.
“I think a lot of people think he helps me, but it’s not like we sit at the dinner table and talk about Debate,” she said. “We sit and have a regular conversation. When I talk to him about Debate, it’s at school or at a work night when I’m working with him. I get just as much help as everyone else does.”
Caitlin said it can sometimes get awkward in class.
“When people ask questions about our personal lives, it’s weird because usually your dad doesn’t sit and talk about your personal life to a ton of your peers,” she said. “When he does in class, it’s a little awkward. Usually it’s funny, so it’s a plus. He also tells stories of my friends. It’s awkward for them because he’ll tell stories of them being over at my house and weird things we’ve done.”
However, Caitlin said attending school with her dad’s students makes his relations to them less strange.
“I’d say it was more weird for me when I wasn’t one of his students because I felt like he had a ton of other children than just me and my sister,” she said.
She said she’s grateful Chris is a well-liked teacher, which reduces potential tension.
“I feel if he was a bad person, it’d be awkward for me to be at school with teachers and students not liking him, but, since he’s such a good guy, I don’t really get a lot of people who don’t like him,” Caitlin said. “I think he’s just a great guy. He’s funny. He’s considerate. He’s really compassionate. I feel like the students see that.”
Chris said his relationship with his daughter benefitted from having her in class.
“It’s made us closer,” he said. “We have more in common now to talk about after school. [In regards to] things that went on at school that day, I’m a little more in tune to those since I’m here.”
Caitlin officially learned Policy Debate this year, but Chris said he isn’t worried he taught her ways to debate him.
“If I ever teach her a way that’s she’s better than me, then I’ll know I can retire, but I don’t think that’s going to happen,” he said.