Each year, leaders in education, business, government and the nonprofit sector select 10 finalists for the Minnesota Teacher of the Year program. A local language arts teacher, Woodbury Middle School’s Lanka Liyanapathiranage, was one of the 10, nominated by Robyn Madson, an English teacher at Forest Lake High School. The two educators met at the Minnesota Writing Project’s Invitational Summer Institute. “[Talking with Lanka] about our vocation [has made me] a happier, better teacher,” Madson says. “His energy and concern for kids and education is contagious and invigorating.”
Not only does his commitment to academics set Liyanapathiranage apart, so does his engagement with the school community. At Woodbury Middle School, he’s very involved: student council, the superintendent’s advisory council, diversity council and documentary club; he also serves as PTO vice president.
Just days before the May honoree banquet, Liyanapathiranage received yet another reward. The seventh graders of tsunami house threw him a surprise pep fest, complete with a chorus of “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.”
“I don’t know if I’ve ever smiled so much,” he says. “They really went above and beyond. I’m surrounded by great people, and [this recognition] is a testament to the support they’ve given me.”
In the end, Liyanapathiranage was relieved not to take the title, which went to Amy Hewett-Olatunde of St. Paul’s LEAP High School. “The Teacher of the Year has a lot of responsibilities that require them to be gone from the classroom” Liyanapathiranage says. “Sure, it would be cool to meet the president, but I’d just be one more person he spent five minutes with. I’d rather grab coffee with someone I could actually have an impact on.”