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MEA is more than just a long weekend for teachers

MEA Week is something most kids look forward to, and something their parents are not necessarily as excited about. It's a long weekend for students and, presumably, their teachers.

There seems to be a general impression that teachers get a few extra days off. And for some, that's true. But there are quite a few misconceptions out there, too.

Farmington High School social studies teacher Todd Karich plans to head to St. Paul later this week to attend some of the annual teacher's convention. He's looking forward to it, because he'll meet up with some colleagues from other school districts and share ideas with them.

As one of the past presidents of the Farmington Education Association, Karich is one of only a few Farmington teachers who will head to the convention. That's not uncommon, he said, since it would be "a bit overwhelming for 70,000 teachers to converge on St. Paul."

First off, the convention isn't really called "MEA" anymore in the education circle. MEA, Karich said, stood for the Minnesota Education Association, which was a teacher's union. But there was another one out there, too - the Minnesota Federation of Teachers. In 1998, the two groups blended resources and formed a single group to assist teachers of the state: Education Minnesota.

"So the term 'MEA' itself is really pretty antiquated," Karich said.

Still, it's how most people refer to this week's convention. For the record, it's now called the Education Minnesota Professional Conference.

At that conference, teachers from around the state are welcome to attend whatever classes or sessions they would like. Some teachers need to attend certain sessions to earn credits for their continuing education program. Some attend sessions and bring back information for their colleagues. No two reasons are the same, Karich said, nor do any two teachers get the same benefit from the sessions they attend.

"There's a lot of informal dialogue that goes on. It's just not relevant to everybody. An elementary teacher and a secondary teacher aren't going to get the same things out of it," Karich said. "That's what makes it such a valuable tool."

But that's not to say teachers are getting a couple paid days off from work. For many, it's quite the opposite. Even if they attend the convention, it's optional. Teachers aren't paid to be there - they just go because they want to learn something new. And many of those teachers who do not attend the convention still work on those days - maybe reading through essays or filling in grades on the computer - but unless they're attending district-run workshops or having students in their classrooms, their days off from school are unpaid, Karich said.

So if it's not mandatory, and teachers aren't getting paid to go, why do kids get two days off from school?

Because, Karich said, Minnesota teachers take a lot of pride in their craft. Minnesota is regarded as having one of the best education programs in the state, and a lot of that reputation comes because teachers want to jobs well. For many, that means they want to learn about new programs, curriculum and technology. And teachers can get that information and more at the convention.

"It's about professional development," Karich said. "That's why we're a strong education state. We're people who care, the teachers that are attending. There's no money involved in that."

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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