ETHS teacher Richard Agin wins Edyth May Sliffe Award


Daily file photo by Colin Boyle

Evanston Township High School. After a year of virtual learning, the district will return to in-person instruction in April.

Henry Rogers, Reporter

When Evanston Township High School mathematics teacher Richard Agin (Pritzker ‘88) was selected in late September as a recipient of the Edyth May Sliffe Award for Distinguished Mathematics Teaching in Middle School and High School, the news came as a shock. Agin knew he had been nominated for the award, but to actually receive the award was a surprise.

“I wasn’t sure what the outcome would be,” Agin said. “I don’t really know what their criteria are, but my colleagues and my students really deserve the recognition as much as I do.”

Presented annually to 20 middle and high school mathematics teachers by the Mathematical Association of America, the award honors outstanding educators for their efforts in coaching students through the American Mathematics Competitions. Recipients of the award were nominated by at least two individuals last summer and then selected by an MAA committee.

In addition to teaching mathematics at ETHS for the past 12 years, Agin has also coached the school’s Math Team — and, up until last year, he served as president of the North Suburban Mathematics League.

“Mr. Agin was a great coach to have for the math team,” said James Porter, a former ETHS student. “He had many unique ways of teaching the material.”

Agin participated in math competitions in high school, which he credits for pushing him to work harder and study more while growing up. He then continued to pursue his passion for mathematics at Princeton University, where he graduated magna cum laude with bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and economics.

Uncertain of what he wanted to do after college, Agin explored the possibility of law school and quickly discovered his niche at the intersection of economics and law: commercial litigation. Five years later, Agin received a degree from the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, as well as a master’s degree in secondary education.

Agin practiced law in Chicago for 17 years. At the time, moving between firms was inevitable, as there was an excess of mergers and acquisitions in the legal industry in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Agin said.

After settling at Steptoe & Johnson LLP, a “white shoe” firm regarded for its commitment to pro bono work, Agin decided he needed a change of pace. Citing his satisfaction with his career in law and a desire to work fewer hours, Agin left the firm in 2008 to start teaching at ETHS.

“I had already accomplished a lot as a lawyer,” Agin said. “I felt like trying something different, climbing another mountain.”

Since his start at ETHS, Agin has received numerous commendations for his abilities as an educator. In 2017, he was a recipient of the Joseph B. Whitehead Educator of Distinction Award from the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation, and in 2013, he was recognized as an Outstanding Educator by the University of Chicago.

Praise for Agin’s abilities as an educator isn’t limited to national awards, however. His students share a similar appreciation for his commitment to teaching. Former ETHS student Jacob Finn-Samuels had Agin as a math teacher in both middle school and high school.

“As someone that had Mr. Agin in 8th grade and again senior year, I saw how dedicated he was to his students throughout their time in school,” Finn-Samuels, a McCormick junior, said. “His passion and interest in the math he taught was contagious and refreshing.”

Agin credits his success as an educator to his involvement — both inside the classroom and with extracurriculars — and his commitment to mentoring. None of that would matter, though, without the work of his dedicated colleagues and hardworking students, he said.

“It’s not an easy job, and it helps to have support,” Agin said. “And I get a lot of that where I work, and am certainly fortunate because I get to work with really fantastic kids.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @Hen_Rogers

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