Jason Zimmerman (‘12) said he knew early in life that he wanted to be a teacher. It could have been the influence of his family, his elementary school teachers, his deep love of learning or, most likely, a combination of all three. One thing that’s for sure is that his decision to become an educator came from the Lord. “The paramount reason I became a teacher is because of my faith in God,” said Zimmerman. “I believe God has placed a calling on my life to lead and nurture lives. He has blessed me with gifts and talents that allow me to excel in this profession. Each day, He gives me patience, kindness, and love to share with my students.” All of those things are certainly needed in excess to work as a molder of young minds.
Zimmerman, now in his seventh year of teaching, started at Lancaster Bible College in the fall of 2008. He explained that he was drawn to the intimate classes that allow for a deeper learning experience and life on life teaching that LBC professors seem to embody so effortlessly. “The smaller class sizes and high caliber professors drew me to the education department at LBC,” he explained. “I could tell by my first few classes that I was going to be learning and growing as a student. I didn’t want to just sit back and have information given to me. I wanted to participate, create and design, all in order to become the best teacher I could be. LBC did that and so much more!” He was also quick to note that the classes – Bible and otherwise – seamlessly integrated a biblical worldview into them. “The professors provided a quality education that was also centered on Christ,” said Zimmerman. “They taught us to always remember that there is more to our job then the lessons: we are building lives.”
Zimmerman says that the Bible classes he took were crucial to his spiritual formation. “I attended public school for my K-12 education and so I was interested to spend more time studying God’s word,” he explained. “Another reason biblical education was important was because I have been leading worship since I was 15. I wanted to deepen my faith to pour into my passion for music as well. Worship is still a huge part of my life as I continue to volunteer as a worship leader and musician at Victory Church, my home church. I am so thankful that I had life enriching Bible classes that deepened my faith and encouraged me to continue a lifelong relationship with Christ. At Victory, we focus on building our relationship with Christ through small groups and taking our next steps in our faith.” While it might seem counterintuitive to some students to require all of our undergraduate students to take Bible classes – it adds more credits to a student’s workload, and on the surface, doesn’t appear to be related to their end career goals – Zimmerman sees the value for all students. “I think that taking Bible classes is vital to build your foundation in your faith first and allow that to guide everything you do as a teacher or in any career,” he said. “Building the next generation is a huge task and shouldn’t be taken lightly. I learned so much and matured as a Christian from my time at LBC.” While he admitted that earning an education degree is already challenging, he said, “I encourage future educators at LBC to take as many Bible classes as possible!”
Today, Zimmerman is teaching at J.E. Fritz Elementary School in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He’s co-teaching in a fourth and fifth grade classroom with 48 of students. “My co-teacher and I are implementing a structure of personalized learning in the morning and project-based learning in the afternoon,” he explained. “Students are learning math and English Language Arts skills through small group instruction at each student’s personal level instead of whole-class direct instruction. Then, the students apply the knowledge they learn through projects in the afternoon focused around critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaboration.” This approach, he said, allows for students to engage with classroom learning in deeper and more meaningful way.
Zimmerman said he still loves teaching today as much as ever. “One of the things I love most about teaching is the moments each year when you see a student realize how much they learned is priceless,” he expressed. “I try to conduct numerous goal setting conferences with my students. I remember a particular student whose conference was incredible. He was beaming when I showed him the whole year of reading progress that he made. He knew that he grew a lot as a reader, but when I showed him some of his early fluency and reading responses, he was blown away. He even wanted to come up with a summer plan to keep his growth track.” It’s in those moments, he said, that he remembers why he loves teaching so much.
Of course, there are moments when being a teacher feels less than rewarding. “Honestly, teaching can be overwhelming and stressful,” Zimmerman explained. “There is always a student that you could do more for. There is always a better lesson you can write. There is always something more.” But as he explained to us, there’s something more that makes all the disappointments, stress, long hours and wondering if you’re even doing it right that makes it all worth it. “Something I love about teaching is when a student comes back years after I had them to tell me where they are now and how our classroom impacted their life,” he said “If I helped them realize that they have one person that cares about them, I’ve reached my goal!” Zimmerman noted that it’s in those moments that he reflects back on what his professors at LBC taught him. “One thing I remember hearing over and over at LBC is that being a teacher is not just a job, but a lifestyle,” he said. “You are dedicating your life to creating future leaders, musicians, teachers, parents, engineers, pastors and more. It won’t be easy. But I keep doing it because I know how important teaching is to our world. I also know that I have a calling to be an educator right now. We need positive role models and people who love learning in our children’s lives.”
Zimmerman also said that he draws on the word of God when he doesn’t feel up to the task of teaching. “There are many days that I feel overwhelmed or feel that I didn’t do enough,” he explained. “However, there is a verse that I keep coming back to: Isaiah 26:3, which says, ‘You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast on You.’ I remind myself of this verse many days when I feel the pressures of the tasks I feel I need to accomplish each day. It isn’t impossible. It might not be easy, but it isn’t impossible.“ That’s a good piece of advice for anyone working a job that seems to grow more challenging all the time.
Another source of feedback and inspiration for Zimmerman – among many, many others – is his own former professor from LBC, Dr. Julia Hershey. “Dr. Hershey provided a model for effective teaching to me,” he said. “She not only expected the best from her students, but she gave her best in the classroom. She came prepared, showcased her objectives, made learning meaningful and helped us reflect on our learning. Above all else, she invested in every one of our lives. I still communicate with her today to reflect on my teaching and collaborate on new ideas.” It’s clear from their continued relationship just how powerful a teacher’s influence can be on the life of a student.
Zimmerman says he loves that his job allows him to inspire kids to love learning – especially when it comes to science, technology, engineering and math (or STEM for short). “STEM education is my passion, while math and science have always been my favorite subjects to teach,” he said excitedly. “I design lessons that allow my class to participate in meaningful, active teamwork. In many of our science experiments, I teach about and celebrate failure with students. We conclude that sometimes our planned success isn’t gained with every experiment. It might take many more attempts and research during the learning process.” He paused, and then continued. “Each day, I hope that my passion for education and learning will reach every student and create a passion in them as well.” He also said that he uses his role as a teacher as a chance to care for students with Christ’s love. “It is challenging in the public school setting to integrate my faith,” he explained. “It really happens in the small things: I try to be like Jesus. I try to be the person who will listen, who will go the extra mile, who will find strengths in every student, and who will care for them every day. Most importantly, I pray for my students. I pray for me as their teacher. I pray for our class. Prayer is powerful.”
Zimmerman ended with a piece of advice for aspiring teachers: “Being an educator is the best job in the world!” he said. “To future educators, remember to: Inspire. Show compassion. Be innovative. Develop leaders. Educate.”