>Sarah Lancaster, a first-grade teacher at Onamia Public Schools District in Onamia, Minnesota, has been named the 2023 Minnesota Teacher of the Year. Lancaster is the first teacher of Asian Pacific Islander descent and the first from the Onamia district to win the title.
Sarah Lancaster’s commitment to her community and her students is evident in everything she does. She has been coaching students in athletics and arts programs for over 20 seasons, directing three annual high school musicals, and volunteering with local youth groups and her church. She is also the president of the Onamia Area Civic Association.
The Teacher of the Year’s passion for teaching was sparked at an early age, as a kindergartner in Onamia, Minnesota. Her love of reading and learning was instilled by her teachers, who also created a safe space for her to grow and learn. Now, as the only licensed teacher of color in a district that serves a large population of Native American students, Lancaster aims to do the same for her students.
“I think about what kind of backstories these students have,” Lancaster said. “What are they carrying, and how can I help them address those barriers to be who they are?”
Lancaster’s fellow first-grade teacher at Onamia Elementary, Cynthia Martin, wrote a letter recommending Lancaster for the award. “No matter the age of the students she is working with, Sarah displays an unrivaled amount of passion for student education and improvement,” Martin wrote.
The 2023 Minnesota Teacher of the Year has also shown remarkable adaptability during the pandemic. When she taught a distance learning class of first-graders, she sent whole pineapples home to each student for a lesson about Hawaii. The experience pushed her to find creative ways to engage students virtually.
“I think it’s about meeting them where they are and getting creative with your approach,” Lancaster said. “It’s really about letting them lead the way.”
In addition to her commitment to her students, Lancaster is also passionate about addressing the lack of diversity among teachers in Minnesota. The percentage of teachers of color in Minnesota falls far short of mirroring student demographics. According to a Star Tribune analysis in 2018, about 5% of the state’s teachers were people of color.
“I want to be part of the change,” Lancaster said. “I hope to use this platform to help recruit and retain more educators of color and address the mental health needs of our students.”
Sarah Lancaster’s dedication to her students and her community is truly inspiring. As the 2023 Minnesota Teacher of the Year, she will certainly lead by example. As she continues to teach and lead, she will undoubtedly leave a lasting impact on the lives of those around her.
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