“My classroom is a place where my students can come and be themselves. My goal has always been to create a learning environment where students feel safe, are not afraid to answer a question, are not afraid to take chances, remove any fears and allow learning to take place.”

Dan Van Boxtel is an automotive instructor at Kaukauna High School in Wisconsin. Born and raised on a dairy farm, he learned from his father how to care for machinery and the value of the skilled trades. After taking several skilled trades classes in high school, Van Boxtel knew he wanted to share what he had learned – which he has now done with nearly ten thousand students in his 40 years of teaching.

Van Boxtel earned his associate’s degree in Automotive Technology from Fox Valley Technical College, his bachelor’s degree in Technology and Engineering from University of Wisconsin – Stout, and his master’s degree in Educational Administration from Marion College. He is also ASE-certified, which allows him to teach a dual-credit course that exposes his high school students to college-level skilled trades curriculum. In Van Boxtel’s multi-year program, students begin by learning basic skills in vehicle maintenance and progress to working on their own vehicles as well as those belonging to the high school staff. Students communicate with staff, troubleshoot problems, and provide maintenance as well as vehicle repair.

“You cannot believe the looks of pride my students have on their faces when they can give the keys back to staff members whose cars they have worked on,” he said.

In his classroom, Van Boxtel instills a culture of learning and leadership in which students set personal goals, regularly share their knowledge and experiences with each other, and take on increasing responsibility for the learning process. He takes his classes on field trips to local business to learn about skilled trade careers, invites professionals to speak to his students, and works alongside the school’s guidance counselor to organize job shadowing. Senior students can participate in a work-based learning program, working at auto dealerships and repair facilities.

Forty years after he became a teacher, Van Boxtel still has the same passion for sharing knowledge and inspiring others. While he briefly served as an associate principal, he found he missed the classroom and returned to teaching. He remains motivated to improve his classroom through learning opportunities and professional development, implementing at least one new strategy or technique each trimester. His former students continue to share the positive impact he has had on their lives, from technical skills training and problem solving to finding confidence in themselves and their abilities.

“My hope would be that most students would say I taught them to be honest, to believe in themselves and to work hard to be the best in whatever job they are doing. Being a teacher is not just about teaching a curriculum; it is about helping my students become the best versions of themselves.”