Humor, creativity, and perseverance are ingredients for a great teaching career, as told by Calvin College history professor James Bratt. Calvin College is a liberal arts college in Grand Rapids, Mich., owned by the Christian Reformed Church.
History professor James Bratt
Bratt, who is a member of Eastern Avenue CRC in Grand Rapids, is the 21st recipient of the college’s highest faculty honor, the Presidential Award for Exemplary Teaching.
“I take [this award] as a salute to the hard work you must persist in to stay engaged as a creative and helpful stimulator of learning,” said Bratt. “I’m really grateful to have been working at Calvin for 25 years among colleagues who take this job very seriously but with a good bit of laughter seasoning the day.”
Bratt is a teacher of American history and American religious history. He’s also the author/editor of eight books and numerous articles, a scholar on Reformed thinker Abraham Kuyper, a two-time Fulbright Scholar, and a fixture on college governance committees.
“He’s very smart, witty, kindly, restive—that’s a positive term,” said English professor Roy Anker. “He’s curious, wants things to be better, not comfortable and relaxed. When something disturbs him, something he thinks is wrong, he can be very straightforward and direct and brave, even.”
Bratt loves teaching, but confesses, “I’ve never been one for innovative pedagogies . . . I assume that you as a student are able to think and that you want to think. . . . My way of motivating is to show how interesting this is.”
Students respond to this straightforward approach—some by taking as many Bratt-taught courses as they can fit into their schedules. Elissa Leunk Malefyt took four in her time at Calvin.
“When I took my first class from him, I was aiming for a business communications major. By the end of the semester, I knew that history was what I was meant to study,” said Malefyt, who graduated in 2005.