Howard Van Otterloo gives students the chance of a lifetime. 

Howard Van Otterloo makes learning about social studies fun in Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton High School. But more than learning, his students notice that he cares for them – genuinely cares. 

“There have been times I’ve fallen behind in my grades and he’s reached out personally to make sure that everything is okay and that I’m doing okay mentally,” said Lilli, a student of Van Otterloo’s.

Not About a Good Grade

Van Otterloo believes teaching is an art, not a science. “Teaching,” he said, “is about seeing a kid struggle in class and just sit down to talk to them for a while.” Van Otterloo jokes that a few years ago, one of his students told him he was like the ‘school dad.’ Van Otterloo says he’s more than okay being the school dad, because it’s all about relationships.

“Students appreciate his genuineness and authentic approach. The content comes secondary to helping them fulfill whatever dreams or aspirations or goals they want to fulfill for themselves,” says former Superintendent Kurt Stumpf.

Traveling 48 States

Second only to his personal approach for teaching, Van Otterloo is known in his district (and across the state) for his history trips throughout the United States. As a matter of fact, parents join the waiting list years ahead of time to chaperone the trips.

Van Otterloo pours his heart and time into these trips, organizing memorable learning experiences for students. He’s separated the country into five areas, and has found a way to help high schoolers visit 48 states before they graduate if they go on all five of his trips.

Students say the trips help them get a different perspective on life. They see the way other people in other parts of the country live, and they come back with a better understanding and new perspective for their own lives.  “They come away with a much more well-rounded idea of America, and that’s really all you can do as a teacher is try to get people to see things in other people’s eyes,” Mr. Van Otterloo says.

Educator of Excellence

MREA honored Van Otterloo as a 2021 Educator of Excellence for his innovation, collaboration and unwavering commitment to get results for his students. See more stories of Educators for Excellence.