Though recognized in the gothic horror genre as author Charles F. French, he is known as “Doc Chuck” around Lehigh.
The nickname comes from French, who is an English professor, asking his students to call him “Doc Chuck” instead of “professor.”
“It’s to break down a level of formality,” French said. “I’m not a formal guy.”
French said he works to cultivate a classroom environment where his students feel comfortable, and part of that means minimizing his authority.
His approach and teaching methods have made him popular among students.
“Even though he’s our professor, he doesn’t place himself at a higher level than any of the students,” French’s former student Mateo Prieto, ‘26, said. “It makes him very relatable.”
French said it is important to feel connected with his students, and he found the best way to do this is through conversation. He said listening to what his students have to say not only helps him but also helps them.
Many of French’s courses are discussion-oriented, as he said he values the Socratic method as a teaching tool. French primarily teaches first-year English composition but has also taught courses on banned books and horror.
He said he integrates his own work into syllabuses, allowing students to read some of his in-progress novels to practice proofreading and editing.
“I love how he structures his class around pieces that he wrote,” French’s former student Ethan Riester, ‘25, said. “His love of his work really reflects on the class and makes everyone more engaged.”
Prieto said French’s teaching style is interactive and dynamic, which was especially apparent in their final project. Rather than taking a test or submitting an essay, they were assigned a mock trial in which the class brought Dr. Frankenstein to court.
“We all had to think deeply about each of the characters and what their positions were, what their goals were,” Prieto said. “We had to engage with the themes of the text and the minds of the characters. A test doesn’t get you to think like that.”
French said he tries to find ways to help students through the stress of college — the most popular way being the “Doc Chuck paper airplane experience.”
The paper airplane activity started in a night class he taught for adults at Muhlenberg College. Most of the students attended class after a day of work, and French said he could sense their tension was preventing them from engaging with the material.
“I told them to grab a sheet of paper,” he said. “Picture a bunch of people in their 30s, 40s, 50s slinging around paper airplanes outside.”
It worked. He said it was the perfect stress reliever for the class. Now, it’s a teaching tradition he tries to implement each semester.
Riester made paper airplanes with French as a first-year. He said, amidst his college pressures, the exercise came at a great time.
“Students’ lives are so full of work, so full of tension that sometimes you just need something to blow off some steam and celebrate a little bit,” French said.
He said he empathizes with students because of his own unconventional college experience.
French has been an English professor at Lehigh for 28 years, but this was not always his plan.
Though widely known for his writing now, French said he initially wanted to be an actor and participated in theater when he was younger.
His interest in horror and gothic novels piqued early. One of the first “adult” books he read was “Dracula” — a book he often teaches in classes alongside his own published works, “Maledicus” and “French on English.”
After graduating high school, French attended Lafayette College, but only for two years. He dropped out — a decision he said he regrets — and got a job at a nearby steel factory.
After four years at the factory, he returned to Lafayette. It was during this second run that he said he fell in love with English and writing, deciding to pursue it as a career.
Upon graduating from Lafayette, French traveled to Ireland and England to study emerging theater for nine months. Soon after, he worked as a high school substitute teacher, before returning to Pennsylvania to receive his Ph.D. from Lehigh in 2014.
He said he finds having degrees from both Lehigh and Lafayette ironic.
“It makes Le-Laf games very difficult,” he said. “Who do I cheer for?”
Around the time French was writing his Ph.D. dissertation, he also began writing and publishing novels.
“I had always messed around with it, and then one day my wife said to me, ‘Why don’t you just commit to being a writer?’” French said. “I didn’t have a good answer for her, so I did.”
He has published three novels, as well as short stories and non-fiction English books.
While teaching at Lehigh, French said he is also writing a new novel, working on a Master of Fine Arts degree online and hopes to reignite his theater work through voiceover acting.
“I just love being a student,” he said. “I love learning and doing new things.”