MEA fall conference is good for students, families, educators
Recent conversations with 30 Minnesota educators about the MEA fall conference, Oct. 20-21, convinced me of several things. First, the traditional fall conference is a good deal for students, families and taxpayers. Second, the meeting has considerable value for many educators.
Chris Williams, Education Minnesota press secretary, pointed out that the teachers’ union makes approximately 110 workshops and speakers available at no cost to educators and parents. The union spent about $175,000 on the MEA conference last year.
The conference offers a vast array of workshops on practical issues. As several educators pointed out to me, teachers can pick sessions on subjects that they’ve identified as priorities, such as improving math or science instruction, discipline, working with gifted students or helping youngsters with eating disorders. So teachers from all over the state are learning how to be more effective. More information about the conference is available here: http://bit.ly/2dVHAgN.
The sessions don’t cost educators or their schools anything. This represents a huge savings for educators and taxpayers. Moreover, as each district or charter leader I talked with pointed out, teachers are not paid to attend the conference.
Traditionally some families have used the four-day weekend to take a mini-vacation. It is a useful break for many students and families. Some districts provide child care over the two days for families that need it.
John Schultz, Hopkins Public Schools superintendent, and Paula Klinger, president of Hopkins Education Association, spoke for many in saying that the conference provides participants with “exceptional opportunities to connect with educators from across the state, listen to keynote speakers, visit vendors focusing on educational opportunities and products, and participate in the many sessions/presentations/workshops offered.”
Williams pointed out, “In a typical year, there are between 7,000 and 8,000 people at the conference.” Most of them are educators, but some are parents or others interested in learning more about schools. That compares to about 86,000 members of Education Minnesota. Some educators use the (unpaid) days to refine their curriculum, attend other meetings held at the same time or do other professional tasks. Some educators supervise their own children.
Might more people attend if the conference were held during the summer?
Donald Sinner, president of Education Minnesota-Lakeville and a board member of Education Minnesota, told me: “(The conference) is perfectly placed in the fall; it is early enough in the school year that attendees can implement learning into their classrooms immediately. Attendance would not be as robust in the summer.”
Allison LaBree Whittlef, Forest Lake Education Association president, explained: “While summer may seem like a better time for the conference, many educators fully immerse themselves in graduate programs, complete curriculum writing for the upcoming year, and continue to teach in summer school or other enrichment options. And, quite often, many teachers take on other employment opportunities to make ends meet. “
Cam Hedlund, executive director of the Lakes International Language Academy in Forest Lake, pointed out that other groups also meet at the same time. “Each year the Minnesota Council on the Teaching of Language and Cultures holds their conference over this break, and every four years, the Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition hosts an international conference in Minneapolis. Both of these are of great value to LILA teachers. We also sometimes send staff to required out-of-state International Baccalaureate training. They are welcome to attend MEA trainings.”
Williams told me that Minnesota teachers have been meeting in the fall since 1861. He continued: “The tradition of giving teachers the day off from school to attend goes back to the 1960s or even earlier. In the early 1990s, the modern conference with its focus on professional development began. That’s when union business, including officer elections, was moved to separate meetings in the spring.”
The conference formerly was hosted by the Minnesota Education Association, which merged in 1998 with the Minnesota Federation of Teachers to form Education Minnesota. But the term “MEA” had become part of Minnesota culture. The conference is again called MEA – Minnesota Educators Academy.
Overall, the fall MEA conference seems like a timely, valuable tradition.
Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, is director of the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome at email@example.com.