It was Corey Bulman's high school English teacher who helped inspire him to pursue a career in teaching.
"We read Shakespeare, we broke down Beatles lyrics, and I ate up every single minute of it," Bulman said Sunday, minutes after he was named 2017 Minnesota Teacher of the Year.
Bulman, 41, has taught literature and English at Mound Westonka High School in Mound for the past 17 years.
He was chosen from 132 candidates, 27 semifinalists and 11 finalists. He is the first recipient from the Westonka district and the 53rd overall to be honored with the award, presented by Education Minnesota, an 86,000-member statewide educators union.
Bulman said his students remain a constant source of inspiration.
"I'm so incredibly proud to be their teacher," he said. "They make me think every single day, they challenge me, they keep me young, they keep ideas fresh and vibrant. I'm very fortunate to be their teacher."
The award means Bulman is in for a whirlwind year. He will visit the White House, attend the college football championship ("I think my father's going to be very happy about that," he quipped), attend a weeklong class at Harvard University, go to NASA Space Camp and be tapped for speaking engagements statewide. He'll also be a candidate for National Teacher of the Year.
Bulman, who lives in Golden Valley with his wife and two daughters, ages 2 and 4, grew up in Horicon, Wis., a town of about 3,800 between Madison and Milwaukee. He came to Minnesota in 1994 to attend the University of Minnesota, where he fell in love with a woman and with the Twin Cities.
Bulman said his early school years were a struggle. "I was one of the younger students in my grade," he said. "I received special services in reading and I'm an advanced placement English teacher at this point in my life. Dedicated teachers early in my life opened up doors for me and showed me how important it was going to be in my life."
In his Teacher of the Year portfolio, Bulman wrote, "I was fortunate enough to have teachers that helped foster my curiosity and sense of wonder. I have tried to provide this for my students as well. Test scores and quizzes are important factors for tracking progress, but they are not the only markers of learning.
"I believe it is important to have students consider the world that exists outside the walls of my classroom," he wrote. "I want them to wrestle with complex issues vexing our society and articulate their ideas both in discussions and on paper."
Bulman succeeds Abdul Wright, who won Minnesota Teacher of the Year in 2016. Wright reflected on his past and on his year in the spotlight before introducing Bulman to those gathered at the Radisson Blu Hotel at the Mall of America in Bloomington.
Wright, 30, teaches at Best Academy in Minneapolis and was the first black man and the first charter schoolteacher to win the award. He grew up in a violent neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago and struggled with family issues and homelessness before graduating from Concordia University in St. Paul.
"What I do is bigger than me, bigger than anybody in this room," Wright said in his reflection. "I will change the world. Let's be a part of that change. It's what the future deserves."