A Legacy of Barend Kamphuis: For Teachers as School Commences

It didn't make the headlines of any newspaper I read, but Barend Kamphuis, the long time professor of systematic theology at the Theological University in Kampen, has retired.

Why should you care? I'd be lying if I claimed to know Barend well. My acquaintance with him is actually quite shallow. In the month I spent at the Theological University in Kampen, NL, I did enjoy a couple of conversations with him and immediately recognized in him exactly those qualities you would want in a theologian--a sharp mind and a gentle heart.

My admiration for Barend, however, exists largely for reasons outside of those few interactions. I spent considerable time with students at the university, and in a late night conversation with some I asked who was the most loved faculty member and why. With little hesitation, they quickly agreed that it was Barend Kamphuis.

But why? I was curious. Was Barend the most engaging lecturer, brilliant thinker, inspiring example, captivating speaker? Though the students agreed that his lectures were as interesting as they were informative, they supplied a reason for his appeal that has not since escaped me. Dr. Kamphuis, they told me, was an empathic teacher, a professor who took an interest in students and cared for them.

Their answer is especially relevant for teachers today, for instructors of millennials. Teachers can no longer be satisfied simply to play the role of purveyors of knowledge. We live in the information age, and thus the value of knowledge has diminished. Do you want to know about a particular subject? Google it. Teachers can no longer be satisfied simply to play the role of motivational speakers or inspiring examples. You can hardly compete with those who fulfill this role online, those dynamic youtubers who attract followers in the thousands.

How can a teacher distinguish herself for millennials? By being empathic. By purveying knowledge and inspiring youth, to be sure, but mainly by demonstrating personal interest in each student. It's nearly impossible for such a teacher to get a bad grade from this generation.

I do think that empathy has its limits. Some students can over time, having enjoyed the charity and patience of a teacher, become parasitic and cancerous in a classroom culture and need to be removed. In his characteristic brilliance, the late Edwin Friedman has written about this in convincing ways in his last book, published posthumously and titled, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix (Seabury, 2007).

The delinquency of students and their failure to comply with standards or expectations, has any number of sources, including fear, anxiety, intimidation, pressure from peers or parents, shame, guilt, unrest in the home, broken relationships, distrust, ADD, ADHD, illness, etc. Do you care enough to talk to irritable students, to pray with and for them? Do you have enough time to lend them a listening ear? What does it say to listen? It says: you are important, and I want to hear what you have to say.

I'm quite sure that Barend Kamphuis has multiple legacies now that his teaching career has reached its terminus. I also know that for years to come his name, in the minds of countless students, will be associated with empathy. That's a legacy of Barend's, and it's a great legacy for a teacher.  

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