Following a familial path to teachingFor Lanka Liyanapathiranage teaching is a family trait.
By: Amber Kispert-Smith, Woodbury Bulletin
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third in a series of stories on the recipients of the Woodbury Chamber of Commerce award for educators, business organizations and citizen of the year.
For Lanka Liyanapathiranage teaching is a family trait.
His mother was a teacher. His aunt was a teacher. And his stepmother had her teaching license.
“I’ve actually always really liked school,” he said. “But I also like working with youth, so I didn’t know if that was the direction I wanted.”
Liyanapathiranage apparently made the right decision as the Woodbury Chamber of Commerce recently named him the 2010 “Secondary Educator of the Year.”
“You work so hard, and you don’t even know why you deserve it,” Liyanapathiranage said. “I feel like I’m doing as much as everybody else.
“It’s rewarding and humbling because you know what you are doing is effective or touches someone.”
Liyanapathiranage will receive his award at the Woodbury Chamber of Commerce’s annual gala Jan. 21.
Building strong character
While Liyanapathiranage was a student at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, he said he debated between pursuing a teaching career and working with youth in the community in some other form.
It was on the last day of his student teaching semester that he decided that education was the right path for him.
“I decided I wanted to teach because of the amount of community my mentor teacher was able to build with her students as well as push the academics,” he said. “She did a really good job of balancing academics and community within her classroom and that was really powerful because character is really really important to me.”
Liyanapathiranage, a Woodbury resident, received his teaching degree from the University of St. Thomas before beginning at Woodbury Elementary School four years ago.
Liyanapathiranage spent two years at Woodbury Elementary School before moving to Woodbury Middle School.
Liyanapathiranage said he decided to make the shift from elementary to middle school because he felt it gave him another opportunity to help his students define their characters.
“I work really hard so that I can relate to them,” he said.
Liyanapathiranage said he enjoys being able to weave in character-development and the various things that his students are dealing with into his subject area.
“I wouldn’t say I’m passionate about language arts, I’m more passionate about kids and their character,” he said. “I get to use language arts as a vehicle to instill character and morals.”
Liyanapathiranage is also heavily involved with his students outside of school with student council, the school’s video yearbook, a book club, WEBB, the anti-bullying committee and the advisory committee.
“You get to know your students on a different level,” he said. “You see a whole other element of your students.”
A trusted adult
Liyanapathiranage said the biggest contributing factor to being seen as a trusted adult rather than just a “teacher” is catering to the students emotionally and socially, rather than just academically.
“Doing that gives you so much more freedom into the academics because they trust you, they trust that you want what’s best for them,” he said.
Liyanapathiranage said he take sfive minutes every day, in all of his classes, to talk with students about what’s going on in their lives, what types of things are they seeing and how they are feeling.
“They don’t always get the opportunity to discuss these things,” he said. “They have so much to say, so much wisdom.”
On the academics side of things, Liyanapathiranage said he tries to keep his class periods moving by not spending more than 15 minutes on any one topic, but continuing those topics all throughout the year rather than by unit.
Liyanapathiranage said the component of his teaching that is most effective, at least according to what he’s heard from parents, is that he holds his students accountable in everything they do
“I hold my students to high level of accountability, but not just academically, but also in their lives,” he said. “I am making sure that I’m doing the best for these kids.”
The Woodbury Chamber of Commerce’s “Lets Paint the Town” Annual Gala will be Jan. 21 from 6-10 p.m. at the Prom Center in Oakdale. For more information or to purchase tickets visit www.woodburychamber.org