Thank You Teachers

A ‘kid magnet,’ McHenry High School teacher earns statewide recognition

Golden Apple finalist known as a ‘constant support’ for his students

Otto Corzo teaches a Spanish literature class Monday, April 11, 2022, at McHenry High School. Corzo was named a Golden Apple finalist this year for his teaching.

It’s not unusual to find McHenry High School teacher Otto Corzo in the hallway teaching students how to salsa.

He’s also known to break dance as adviser to the school’s Subelement Breakdance Club, along with the Latinx American Student Organization.

No matter what he’s doing, students are drawn to him, McHenry High School Principal Jeff Prickett said.

“He’s a kid magnet,” he said.

And, more than that, he’s a mentor.

“Teachers are special human beings, but it’s one thing to be a teacher and it’s a different level to be a mentor,” Prickett said. “When I think of Otto Corzo, I think of the word mentor. He’s someone who influences lives, not just the kids, but their families as well. Parents gush over him. They cry when they think about the above and beyond he’s done for their kids.”

When the school year started virtually during the pandemic, Corzo personally delivered school supplies to his students to make sure they were ready to start learning.

That’s just one of many examples that make the Spanish for Heritage teacher stand out.

Otto Corzo talks with students Monday, April 11, 2022, as he teaches a Spanish literature class at McHenry High School. Corzo was named a Golden Apple finalist this year for his teaching.

Corzo was selected as a 2022 finalist for the Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching by the Golden Apple Foundation, an Illinois nonprofit committed to supporting educators who advance educational opportunities for students. Involving a rigorous and highly competitive award process, the recognition aims to support, motivate and honor great teachers.

Only 30 teachers throughout Illinois were named as finalists, and the selected 2022 Golden Apple Award recipients will be surprised this spring.

“It is a very humbling experience,” said Corzo, who underwent a thorough interview process. Representatives from the Golden Apple Foundation observed him in the classroom and interviewed his colleagues, students and community members.

“I think this entire experience has really been a process of validation of what it is I do as a teacher and the different reasons I do it,” he said. “It’s been an overwhelmingly wild roller coaster of just emotions, getting this recognition and feeling validated. It’s been a nice boost of energy as well.”

A teacher for 15 years, Corzo has taught at McHenry High School for the past six. He previously worked at Warren Township High School in Gurnee.

A Northlake native, he credits one of his teachers at West Leyden High School, Arnavaz Mistry-Mujthaba, with first suggesting he become a teacher.

She’d noticed him tutoring friends and advised him to join a Future Educators of America club. He ended up shadowing a few middle school teachers.

“I discovered this is what I want to do,” he said. “This is exactly where I need to be.”

Otto Corzo teaches a Spanish literature class Monday, April 11, 2022, at McHenry High School. Corzo was named a Golden Apple finalist  this year for his teaching.

Mistry-Mujthaba, now a field service director with the Illinois Federation of Teachers, remembers Corzo as a natural teacher. Her recommendation helped him earn a Golden Apple scholarship for future teachers.

“Teaching is, as many say, an art and a science,” Mistry-Mujthaba said. “It was just a matter of formal training for Otto to be ready to teach professionally. I am so honored that he feels I had an impact on his life and career.”

After high school, Corzo went on to earn bachelor’s degrees in both English and Spanish at Northeastern Illinois University.

Mistry-Mujthaba remembers him as a diligent and kind student.

“Teaching is a noble profession and Otto is such a noble person,” she said. “I cannot imagine anyone better suited to be a teacher.”

Along with Mistry-Mujthaba, Corzo credits his high school English teacher, John Strauss, with pointing him in the right direction. Corzo had Strauss for homeroom his freshman year and for English his senior year.

He specifically recalls how Strauss remembered him as a senior and made him feel like more than just another student in the class. Strauss also would invite his students to an end-of-the-year celebratory barbecue.

Otto Corzo talks with students Monday, April 11, 2022, as he teaches a Spanish literature class at McHenry High School. Corzo was named a Golden Apple finalist  this year for his teaching.


“I loved being there and connecting with him on a personal level,” Corzo said. “I wanted to repeat that, to pass that forward, how wonderful it felt for me.”

Through the years, he said, he’s emulated pieces like this from numerous educators and coworkers as he strives to be the best teacher possible. Along with making sure his students know they’re individuals, he works hard at creating a culture of acceptance for everyone.

Who he is inside the classroom is who he is outside the classroom, he said.

“I do my best to get to know my students, to see them as individuals in my classroom, get to know what their quirks are, what they do outside of school, what their interests are,” he said. “If I don’t see the student, how can I teach them? I’m not teaching a crowd. I’m teaching each individual in the classroom.”

Because of this, students know they’re supported, said McHenry High School Spanish teacher Natalie Alatorre, a former student. A 2016 graduate of McHenry High School, Alatorre has taught at the school since 2021.

She watched Corzo go out of his way to make sure his students are happy and successful, and he became one of the reasons she pursued teaching.

“He’s such a great individual,” she said. “He is one of those people that really inspires you and the things you do. He’s a constant support. He’s always there for you, and he just has a very meaningful impact in your life.”