'Passion and Enthusiasm' Ensure Fun, Learning in the Classroom
Teaching has always been a serious business for Otterbein Professor of Religion and Philosophy Charles Zimmerman, but the long-time educator thinks there is also room for some levity in the classroom.
“I like the stories I tell my students to be fun and amusing,” he says. “It gets them laughing and then boom, I tell them, ‘Here’s something (important) you never thought about before.’ It pulls them in.”
That approach, mixed with a love for what he teaches and his enthusiasm for helping students explore the subject matter, continues to drive Zimmerman after 23 years on the Otterbein faculty.
“Passion and enthusiasm for the subject is contagious in the classroom,” he says. “You can’t fake that. I do love what I teach... and if you’re not having fun in the classroom, then how the heck do you expect your students to be enjoying it.”
His excellence at making all that work was recently recognized by the United Methodist Church when its General Board of Higher Education and Ministry awarded him the Exemplary Teacher Award for the 2013-14 academic year.
The honor goes to professors at United Methodist-related schools, colleges and universities in recognition of their exemplary leadership, excellence in teaching, service to students and commitment to education.
Zimmerman, also named Otterbein’s Master Teacher of Year in 2011, says his teaching methods were influenced by some wonderful professors he learned from while studying at Emory University in his home state of Georgia. They have also been shaped by the interest he has had in history since he was a boy when he devoured biographies of Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great and Cyrus of Persia as well as his experiences as a Methodist pastor before becoming a college professor.
His far-ranging academic interests are reflected in having taught Eastern religions and Native American religions at Otterbein. An introduction to philosophy class is a fixture on his schedule, and he also teaches the popular Integrative Studies course “Happiness and the Good Life.”
“The name sells that one,” Zimmerman says of a course about examining what makes us happy and how to have a good life. “Students learn that leading a good life is not the result of just being lucky. You don’t just blunder into it. You make decisions along the way.”
He is also convinced that great teaching doesn’t just happen by happy accident.
“I plan classes in meticulous detail,” Zimmerman says. “I know chapter and verse what we’re doing each day and in what order. It’s crucial to be organized and have a clear-cut roadmap for your students.”
His years in the classroom have also taught him that teachers should be ready to try a new approach when a lecture doesn’t “take off and soar but only taxis down the runway.” In his mind, it’s about finding the best way to present the subject material and connect with students.
“You’ve got to be passionate and excited about what you do,” Zimmerman says, “and make it fun and memorable.”