Education, Literature

Saying Goodbye to An Inspirational Teacher

“How will your students have changed?”

That question, once posed to Professor William Vande Kopple, is now one I will ask myself every day for the rest of my teaching career. Not “What did I teach?” or “What did they learn?” but “How will your students have changed?”

Professor Vande Kopple, co-chair of the English Department at Calvin College, passed away suddenly last week, shortly after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. A loving tribute to him was published in Calvin’s student newspaper, The Chimes, yesterday.

Today, his family, friends, colleagues, and former students gathered for his memorial. As with any event that includes an English department, it ran longer than the usual memorial.

Then again, Professor Vande Kopple wasn’t your usual professor.

My words cannot do the man justice. I never even took a class of his. Instead, I got to know Professor Vande Kopple from hosting many of his student teachers in my classroom. What fun it was to see his towering presence coming down the hall during passing time, watching dozens of high schoolers turn and stare at this man. What fun it was to hear his bellowing laugh while observing a student teacher. What an honor it was to listen to him talk with those student teachers about their work.

What an honor it was to know him in some small way.

During today’s memorial, I learned that Professor Vande Kopple was like so many of us in the teaching profession. In the classroom, he was full of energy and enthusiasm, he radiated excitement for what he taught (English grammar!), and his students soaked it up. But at home, he was a quiet, unassuming man, content with the blessings given to him, especially his loving wife and sons.

After I said farewell to my most recent Calvin student teacher, I thought I’d take a break from hosting another. But after today’s memorial, I talked with another Calvin professor, James Vanden Bosch, who spoke so eloquently about their working relationship. I told him I’d look forward to working with another Calvin student teacher next year.

I suppose, like Professor Vande Kopple, I consider teaching, and teaching future teachers, a calling.



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