June 27th, 2012
Christopher Hampton runs his operation from a small, basement level classroom flanked by day student rooms that will, invariably, emit the high-pitched screeching noise that is only made by adolescent girls a minimum of five times per hour. The room is filled to bursting. A large oval table leaves just enough space to squeeze through and the desk, crowded into the back left corner, is stacked three feet high with papers that could be years old. At this desk sits a middle-aged man, the sleeves of his pink button-down rolled to the elbows, occasionally patting at his damp forehead with a handkerchief he keeps in his pocket. As a young man Mr. Hampton dreamed of becoming a priest. He studied, enrolled in seminary, and even got to meet Mother Teresa and shake the Pope’s hand. Somewhere along the line God intervened and redirected him towards raising a family, becoming a teacher, and changing lives.
In a time in which every day there is a new scandal involving an educator, a learning institution, or a teachers union, it is important to remind ourselves that there are still good teachers and professors out there. Mr. Hampton is not just good. As the head of the Miss Porter’s School Ethics Department he guides students, including at one point myself, through the basics of the main world religions, the tools necessary for proper decision making, office etiquette including the perfect handshake, and how to unravel the world issues that fill our news headlines. There is no doubt that Mr. Hampton is good at what he does in the classroom, just take a look at any rating website or talk to any of his former students. What makes Mr. Hampton great is the man, and mentor, that he his outside of the classroom. From inviting students over for hot chocolate on a snowy day to opening up his house to the entire student body to watch the presidential debates – Mr. Hampton does whatever it takes to broaden students perspectives and facilitate intelligent debates.
As a high school student I also had the added privilege of being a friend of his sons and thus got to see him early on a Sunday morning before church flipping pancakes in his PJ’s and slippers. Never one to turn anyone away, the house was never empty and often was filled to bursting with rambunctious teenagers running up and down stairs, sleeping on the couch, and holding bonfires in the backyard. I honestly have no idea how he, his wonderful wife, and hyperactive dog handle the continuous stream of new and energetic guests.
I hope that every student has, at some point in his or her life, the opportunity to have such a teacher. What I fear is that, in reaction to all of the truly terrible things that are being done today, students are being deprived of positive relationships that can shape their academic and personal futures. There are boundaries. As a student at a boarding school those boundaries were more blurry than for a student who doesn’t live a block away from his history teacher or babysit his science teachers kids. When I left for college I did not find it strange to go to lunch with my anthropology professor to discuss the intricacies of the Mbuti tribe or to meet with my Buddhism professor for the fun of it. My fellow students however, upon hearing that I was seeing my teachers outside of the classroom willingly, were flabbergasted and even concerned for my safety.
There are many dangers in society. The exploitation of children is one that has become a hot topic in recent years as first the Catholic church, and now schools, are being seriously brought into question for misuse of power and gross misconduct. I hope that we can deal with these issues and make schools a safer place without closing off the possibility of building healthy, respectful, and life-changing relationships with our educators.
If Mr. Hampton taught me anything is was to have faith in humanity. Be cautious and act smart, but I encourage all students to get to know a teacher for not just a robot who spouts out information and yells at your when you are late. Get to know a teacher as a human, as a mentor, and as a guide. That relationship can develop into one of the most meaningful you will ever have.
Thank you Mr. Hampton and the dozens of other teachers I have had the honor of learning from over my academic career for imbuing in me a love for learning, a desire for adventure, and a passion for cross-cultural education.
The writer of this piece is Pippa Biddle – Bridge the Gap TV Director of Community