Lake Zurich teacher honored for high level math courses

Dan Ellis's school year started and ended with big surprises.

In the fall, another Lake Zurich High School teacher who specialized in advanced math left the district. Suddenly, Ellis had to take on new responsibilities that included teaching more high-level courses and learning how to teach a new math course harder than any the school has ever offered.

“Teaching a five AP courses is tough,” fellow advanced math teacher Keith Bullion said of Ellis's year. “And then, on top of that, learning the Calculus III curriculum, it's a really time-consuming, mentally-demanding challenge he took on.”

In February, Ellis's Calculus III training began. The course, which he took online through the University of Illinois, was very difficult and required a lot of coding.

“There was no lecture, which is the way I grew up learning,” said Ellis, 39, of Volo. “It was a challenge to try to keep pace.”

Ellis's second surprise was far more pleasant. In recognition of his efforts, his colleagues voted Ellis the Gary W. Robillard Educator of the Year Award, the district's highest honor for a teacher or administrator.

“I was really shocked,” Ellis said, recalling what it was like hear to Superintendent Kain Osburn introduce him. “I kind of blacked out, I'll be honest. And then I was like I got to listen to what they're actually saying because I want to remember this.”

Bullion nominated Ellis for the award and was very pleased his colleagues agreed he deserved it after a very tough year.

“The amount of work he's done was noticed for what it was,” Bullion said.

Ellis will teach Calculus III next school year. Around 35 students have already signed up for the class, which is around 7 percent of incoming seniors.

“In our district, you'll get kids who are in seventh grade taking high school math,” Osburn said. “So by the time they get to us, they're in their third year already.”

Osburn said those students used to have to turn elsewhere in their senior year because they'd done all the available advanced math courses at Lake Zurich High. The students would either have to take a college-level math course online or through the College of Lake County. Now, they can take Ellis's class instead.

Ellis said the class will be tough, but the students are up for it.

“If I looked at their schedules right now, most of them are really in college,” he said. “Let's be honest, they're taking seven AP classes, they're in college right now, and it's not too hard for them to make this transition.”

And if the students complete Calculus III, they will get four credits from the University of Illinois that Ellis said can pretty much transfer everywhere.

Bullion said Ellis's qualities as a teacher mean more students can understand the rigorous courses.

“The kids absolutely adore him, they almost revere him, because the topic is so hard and he can make it seem easier,” Bullion said.

  Dan Ellis, an advanced math teacher at Lake Zurich High School, works with Namita Johri on a problem in Calculus BC class. Gilbert R. Boucher II/
  Dan Ellis, an advanced math teacher at Lake Zurich High School, shares a light moment with his Calculus BC class. Ellis's colleagues say his students adore him because he makes hard topics seem easier. Gilbert R. Boucher II/
  Thomas Yun works on a problem in Calculus BC class taught by Dan Ellis, an advanced math teacher at Lake Zurich High School. Ellis will be teaching an even harder Calculus class for the first time next year. Gilbert R. Boucher II/
  Dan Ellis, an advanced math teacher at Lake Zurich High School, won Lake Zurich Unit District 95's highest honor this year, the Gary W. Robillard Educator of the Year Award. Gilbert R. Boucher II/

Tips from a great teacher

• Teaching is an art. You'll always get better at it. Every single year.

• To be a successful teacher, you need to have high expectations for yourself, and even higher expectations for your students. And if students respect you as a teacher, they will work as hard as possible to live up to your expectations.

Curriculum vitae

• 2000, graduated from DePaul University with double major in mathematics and secondary education

• Fall 2000, taught math at Roosevelt High School in Chicago

• Fall 2003, began career at Lake Zurich High School

• 2008, earned a master's degree in teaching and leadership from St. Xavier University

How to nominate a teacher

Email us at or send a letter to Best Teachers, Daily Herald, P.O. Box 280, Arlington Heights, IL 60006. All levels of teachers are eligible.

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.