The Heart of Teaching
After decades as a pastor, David Zachrich had a sudden and dramatic reevaluation of his life. A life-threatening heart attack 15 years ago forced him to step back and reconsider his path. Zachrich’s cardiologist challenged him to find something to do that he enjoyed.
Zachrich, who holds a doctor of ministry degree in communication studies, immediately thought of teaching, something he very much wanted to do as a second career.
The last nine years Zachrich has been a part-time faculty member in the School of Communications Studies at Kent State Univeristy where he strives to create personal connections with his students in an inclusive and welcoming learning environment.
“Every day, every class, I go up and down the rows and look every student in the eye and ask, ‘are you doing okay,’ ‘do you need anything,’ not just about my class, but ‘how's life?’” Zachrich said. “I want to engage them, I want to get to know them, and I want them to know that I care.”
Following his health scare, Zachrich continued in parish ministry for several years. With the permission of the congregation, he was able to teach part time at a small college.
“Being hired at the small college was a blessing because I gained valuable experience,” Zachrich said, “and I was able to interact with students, something that energizes me. I was able to learn helpful insights and skills from other faculty members. That experience has proven invaluable in teaching at Kent State.”
Zachrich’s unique experience adds a different perspective, and he hopes to inspire students to be outstanding individuals in and outside of class.
“I work really hard to stress the importance of integrity, respect, truthfulness, high standards,” Zachrich said. “And not going to bed at night with regrets that I cut corners or treated someone in a way I wish I would not have done.”
His passion and caring have earned Zachrich one of three Outstanding Teaching Awards in 2023. This award is sponsored by the University Teaching Council and is the highest teaching award for full-time, non-tenure track and part time faculty members. Recipients are nominated by students for being among the most dedicated, highly effective and motivated professors at Kent State.
“From the very first day of class, it was clear that Professor Zachrich was passionate about teaching and genuinely cared about his students,” a student nominator wrote. “He always made time for his students in and out of the classroom.”
Zachrich believes that being comfortable is one of the most important aspects of communication, but that it is also a skill that students can take with them in the future.
“I do a lot of small group activities and discussions, and when we go to small groups, I tell them they must be in a new group or with people they’ve never been with before,” Zachrich said. “I want them to feel like they know each other, and feel like they belong to the class, that someone knows your name and that someone cares.”
Along with that, Zachrich chooses a random student at the end of each class to talk about a topic that is important to them. Regardless of the subject-matter, he wants students to speak their minds when given the opportunity.
“Professor Zachrich showed us that our opinion mattered by providing opportunities for us to contribute to the class in meaningful ways,” another student nominator wrote. “He often had us talking about random, small topics (one of my favorites was debating Starbucks or Dunkin) and allowed us to branch off into what we were most passionate about. He encouraged us to share unique perspectives and to learn from each other.”
He puts the years spent at college into perspective.
“I want students to know that they have a safe place,” Zachrich said. “Class is not as important as your life, it's not the end of the world. It’s not life, it’s just a class.”
Zachrich and other award recipients were honored at the University Teaching Council’s Fall Celebration of Teaching Conference on Oct. 20.