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Students showing they care for teacher during cancer recovery

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ROCKFORD (WREX) — John Zuba is one of eight children in a family who has always called Rockford home.

All of his schooling stayed in the stateline going from Boylan Catholic High School to Rockford University and on to Northern Illinois University.

Then he returned to Rockford after school and a few different careers, found his way to the classroom.

"I taught at Harlem for a couple of years, taught at Christian Life for 10 years, I've been in the Rockford district now for 15 years.

The last 11 years have been spent teaching math at East High School.

All of the time spent teaching in the Forest City has helped Mr. Zuba build up a lot of connections.

"Having taught for as long as I have, I know a lot of people in this city. A lot of kids. I'm starting to teach kids of kids so just about anywhere I go, I run into people I know," Zuba said.

As he starts to span multiple generations, Mr. Zuba's teaching style has remained the same.

Some of his students can some it up in one word.

Real.

"I think he makes it harder in a good way. That makes you want to get better so he doesn't just tell you what you did wrong, he makes you figure it out," East High School senior Grant Schutte said.

"It's the hardest math class I've ever taken and I love it."

Mr. Zuba is doing more than helping students.

He's helping them help themselves.

However, his impact goes beyond numbers and equations.

Real life can get in the way and teenagers need help figure out those answers as well.

When that time comes, MR. Zuba is right those who need it.

Kids like Alyssa Delong who was struggling after getting into a bad car accident.

"I had a really bad concussion so he said if I couldn't handle it that day, he could work with me and help me get through it," Delong said.

"He's the best teacher I've ever had."

Mr. Zuba himself is no stranger to health problems.

Last year, he was training to participate in an Ironman Triathlon but on the day of the race, life got in the way.

"I found out I had cancer in my kidney. It's the second time I've had cancer. My kidney was removed last year and my students walked me through that. Chemo, the whole nine yards," Zuba said.

Students in his AP Calculus class created sweatshirts for Mr. Zuba to show their support.

Something he will be leaning on again with another road to recovery underway.

"I started this year really excited for a new year and then the cancer came back in my bladder. I'm currently in the middle of treatment but I'm doing well," Zuba said.

"When I asked my students how many of them had loved ones with cancer, 90% them said they did so it was just another thing that we could relate to each other about."

It all comes back to his teaching style of opening up to the kids and getting to know them personally.

Being real.

"I always say that my students give me life and they do. They keep me young, they make me happy, they make me laugh. I love what I do. I don't like it. I love it."

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Evan Leake

Evan Leake anchors for 13 News Today and 13 News at Noon. Evan grew up in Darien, Illinois, a south-west suburb of Chicago. He came to WREX in 2017 and worked his way to the anchor desk in May of 2019. He coordinates both the Teacher of the Week and Inspiring 815 series for 13 News. You can connect with Evan at eleake@wrex.com or Evan Leake on Facebook.

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