Former students honor Lawrence High School math teacher Matt Ellis with teaching award

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In the halls of Lawrence High School, math teacher Matt Ellis will always be known for his collection of ties that he features throughout the school year. Now he’ll also be known as the winner of a teaching award that reflects his connection with his students.

Ellis was awarded the Wolfe Teaching Excellence Award as one of three teachers chosen by students at the University of Kansas.


Ellis was nominated by three LHS graduates and KU students. Halle Marett, a senior in architectural engineering, and Anna Parnell and Cole Shupert, both seniors in aerospace engineering, submitted Ellis’ nomination.

“No one gets into this profession for the awards, but it is nice to be reminded that all of the love, energy and struggle that you pour in every day in the classroom is causing a positive impact in the lives of those around you,” Ellis said. “It makes all of the daily struggles seem a little less tough.”

Now in his 12th year of teaching at Lawrence High, Ellis teaches some of the most challenging math classes at the high school, including two types of Advanced Placement (AP) Calculus classes.

The nature of the difficult classes, which lead up to a final AP exam at the end of the year through which students can earn college credit, creates a tight-knit environment as students come every day to learn at a rapid pace.

“When I saw the names of the students, I was instantly transported back to one of the best AP Calculus BC classes that I have ever had,” Ellis said.

Every year is a great group of students, Ellis said, but that particular class included mostly students who had been in AP Calculus AB the year before. 

“We all knew each other,” Ellis said, “all of our quirks, learning habits/strategies, and jokes … We had a lot of fun that year as a whole, but these three students were standouts among the crowd and will always have a special place in my heart.”

Marett, Parnell and Shupert were part of the group that started a Twitter account that sends out a daily quote from Mr. Ellis accompanied by a photo of whichever one of his famous ties he picked out for the day. The account is still posting, featuring ties that range from Disney characters to chain mail — a gift from last year’s students. 

Ellis has stayed in touch with Parnell and Marett, discussing the future and reminiscing on their time at LHS. 

Parnell took precalculus and calculus courses with Ellis as well as assisting as his student aid during her senior year.

“I believe my friends and parents would agree that he is the one who truly inspired my love of math,” Parnell said in a KU news release.


As Ellis continues his second decade in teaching, he isn’t motivated by the awards or daily tie selection. 

“Honestly, the thing that keeps me going the most is the thing that got me interested in teaching in the first place: seeing that spark of light in a student’s eyes when they finally make the connection on a topic we’re covering in class,” Ellis said. “There is nothing else like it; it’s addicting. 

“Also, to see some of my students fall in love with the subject I’m most passionate about is something unique to this profession,” he said. “No other job gets that opportunity quite the same way. When I’ve had a hard day, it’s nice to remember these young adults continuing in areas of study that are so close to my heart.” 

The Wolfe Teaching Excellence Award was created in 2006. 

“For those in the teaching profession, perhaps the highest honor that can be bestowed is to have former students recognize the impact great teachers had on their lives,” said Rick Ginsberg, dean of KU’s School of Education & Human Sciences, said in the university’s news release. “The Wolfe Teaching Excellence Award does just that, arguably the most valuable evaluation any classroom teacher will ever experience.”

Lorranda Baldridge, from Olathe Northwest High School, and Erica Huggard, from Emporia High School, were also selected for the award. Each winner receives $3,000, and their schools receive $1,000.

Recipients of the award will be recognized at KU School of Education & Human Sciences convocation ceremony on Saturday, May 13 and will receive a plaque in their honor.

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Cuyler Dunn (he/him), a contributor to The Lawrence Times, is a student at the University of Kansas School of Journalism. He is a graduate of Lawrence High School where he was the editor-in-chief of the school’s newspaper, The Budget, and was named the 2022 Kansas High School Journalist of the Year. Read more of his work for the Times here.

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