UPPER EAST SIDE —Eliza Kuberska's students made her cry on Thursday.
They were tears of joy and emotion, as the algebra, geometry and statistics teacher from Hunter College High School sat on stage to receive an award given to the seven best math and science teachers in the city.
Kuberska, who hails from Poland and has been teaching at Hunter for six years, is already a legend at this highly selective school. She's known for pushing her students — who she affectionately calls "munchkins" — and making them feel it's possible to tackle the most difficult problem sets.
"She makes it less about the competition and more about the love of math," said Meena Boppana, 17, captain of the junior/senior math team that Kuberska heads. "She has this amazing ability to look out in a room of 40 students and make it feel like she's having a personal conversation with every one of them. "
Eric Mannes, 17, also a senior on the math team, said she "gets to the heart of math itself."
But, like others, he said Kuberska brought something even greater to the classroom.
"She gets to know her munchkins as more than mathematicians," he said. "She really puts her soul into her work."
Already Boppana and Mannes are decorated math stars in their own right, with Boppana recently winning an international math award and Mannes recently getting one from a Florida competition.
"Without you the math team wouldn't exist," Kuberska told Boppana, Mannes and Aaron Landesman. "They prepare lectures," she said. "They worry about everything."
She gushed over how her students find time to do their work in between science competitions, volunteering to help others, "writing proofs for the sake of their beauty," writing for the school's math magazine called "Radicals" and "intimidating Columbia students."
The students said she was demonstrating her trademark humility.
In a school like Hunter, which has a 99 percent graduation rate and 25 percent of its students going to Ivy League schools, there was still an aversion to taking risks and giving up on problems that seemed too difficult, Kuberska noticed.
Students said she pushes them out of academic complacency.
"It's acceptable in this country for people to say, 'I don't like math,'" said Hunter College President Jennifer Raab at the assembly at the high school on East 94th Street.
"It's people like Eliza Kuberska to challenge people to not feel that way and really love math."
Mary McCormick, president for the Fund for the City of New York, said Kuberska and the other teachers, which included a calculus teacher from Stuyvesant High School and a science teacher from the High School for Environmental Studies, were nominated by students, parents and colleagues and selected by a prestigious panel.
When McCormick presented Kuberska with the check, "She said she was going to buy you all excellent ice cream," McCormick told the students.
"You hold her to it."