URBANA – Elizabeth Jockusch's students know their calculus, and their performance on national tests has earned a top citation for their teacher.
Jockusch, a mathematics teacher for 26 years at University Laboratory High School, was named a winner of the Edyth May Sliffe Award for Distinguished High School Mathematics Teaching, one of 24 teachers in the country to earn the commendation from the Mathematical Association of America.
"She's a good teacher who does a good job of trying to give everyone a deep understanding of the material," said Alex Zhai, a sophomore who's scored high enough in the national Math Olympiad to be picked to attend a training camp in Nebraska this summer and, if he qualifies there, to attend a July international math competition in Ljubljana, Slovenia.
"She enjoys the material and her kids," Alex said.
Jockusch gives credit for the honor to her students for their ability and enthusiasm.
"I fell into this job, and I just loved it," she said. "It's the interaction with the students. They have the ability and you can prompt them to think and learn. Some really enjoy math and see it as useful to their future."
Jockusch's students participate in a series of national math exams, starting with a multiple-choice test with 25 questions. Students who do well on that exam take the American Invitational Math Exam, competing with the top 1,000 students from all over the country.
"We typically have 12 to 15 students invited, but this year, we had 32 students invited," Jockusch said. "That shows how good our students are this year."
After that exam, 200 top students, including Alex, were invited to the Olympiad round. Alex was one of 12 national winners, one of only two sophomores on that list and one of only two students from Illinois.
Early in the competition, winning students nominated teachers for the Sliffe Award, teachers they think helped them be successful in math. Alex and Uni students Mo Kudeki and Yuzi Nakamura nominated Jockusch.
She receives a cash award, a letter of recognition, a pin, a certificate, a one-year membership in the Mathematical Association of America, 20 subscriptions to Math Horizons for the school and a one-year membership in the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
Jockusch said she started her own career as a mathematician at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, completing most of her work for a doctorate.
"It became clear my career was going to be here," she said of the family move to Champaign-Urbana.
The award comes just as Jockusch's career in the classroom is ending.
"I'm retiring at the end of the year, and this is a wonderful way to end a career, to know the kids think highly of me," she said. "I know when they go to college, they'll appreciated their math preparation. Not all students appreciate a rigorous course, but this group has. They've been a joy to work with."
In their application for the award, the students wrote that Mrs. Jockusch's class is infamous for being the most rigorous and homework-intensive in the school.
"Saying, 'Gotta study for that Jockusch test' elicits hums of sympathy from all other students," they wrote. "We are happy to have had her for the past three years because, frankly, she's just awesome."