Abby Starkenburg — Staff Writer
After a year of teaching experience under her belt, Julie Van Otterloo, an Instructor of Social Work at Dordt University, has returned for a second year.
Last year held its fair share of challenges for Van Otterloo. After accepting a job as a professor at Dordt in February 2022, she received a breast cancer diagnosis in March of the same year. Many thoughts ran through Van Otterloo’s head but mainly, “How am I going to balance this?”
After a lot of counsel and consideration, Van Otterloo decided to continue forward in this career path. Her pastor told her that it was important to trust God’s timing in her life.
Being at Dordt during her cancer journey turned out to be a blessing for Van Otterloo.
“I was in the right place going through that,” Van Otterloo said. “God could use that.”
The support has gone both ways between Van Otterloo and her students. She has used this experience to aid students who have been impacted by difficult cancer diagnoses of people they are close with. She has had students reach out to her to meet and talk about what they were going through, which means a lot to her to be able to make a difference. She expressed gratitude for the many encouraging words received from students.
Even without a difficult cancer diagnosis, the first year of teaching at the collegiate level has a
lot of challenges.
“The first year of teaching is very hard,” Van Otterloo said. “It is a lot of work because you have to prep everything.”
Even though social work professors in previous years had a lot of material to pass down to Van Otterloo, it can still take a lot of time to go through the material and prepare individual lessons.
Regardless, Van Otterloo made it through her first year of teaching successfully.
“I don’t know how I did it,” Van Otterloo said. “Now going into year two, it’s so much better.”
One of the greatest things Van Otterloo has experienced about returning to teach this year is being more comfortable with the material that she covers in class. This allows for class sessions to look more flexible, and Van Otterloo feels more confident about going with the flow rather than sticking strictly to her presentations.
She isn’t as hesitant to bring up controversial topics anymore because she has come to realize that not everyone will agree. Sometimes this is a blessing, even, because of the diverse perspectives represented. Many of her classes now include ample time for discussions among students.
Before teaching, Van Otterloo practiced social work at places such as adoption and hospice centers. She has found while teaching that her experience in the field has really helped her to get a better and more genuine perspective to bring to the classroom. She feels as though this asset allows her to give her students more applicable information that they can use in real-world experiences.
While the prep work and grading take a lot of time, Van Otterloo is confident that the load will get lighter with the more years of experience that she has acquired.
“Teaching is a calling that’s always been in my heart,” said Van Otterloo.
When she attended Dordt as a student, she began as an education major and graduated as a social work major. In her social work papers, she always wrote about how she would like to return to a formal education setting to teach. This opportunity has always been at the back of her mind, especially when she got her master’s degree.
Van Otterloo’s favorite part of being a teacher is the relationships that she gets to build with her students.
“The greatest thing about her is you can tell she wants a relationship with students,” Dayna Perkins, a sophomore currently in Van Otterloo’s sociology class, said. “She really cares about the individual.”
Now, she has been declared to be in complete remission. Even with the cancer gone, the support that she showed her students will leave a lasting impact.