Class is canceled for teachers’ union annual ‘professional development’ conference

Most public school students in Minnesota have the rest of this week off (Thursday and Friday) as the state’s schools continue the tradition of canceling two days of classes for the teacher union’s annual Minnesota Educator Academy (MEA), despite the conference being shortened to one day (Thursday) a couple of years ago.

Districts are not required to observe MEA, but most do, and have the two days off already built into future school year calendars.

Pegged as a professional development conference, MEA is sponsored by Education Minnesota and has been scaled back to a member-only event. Given COVID-19, the conference (that goes all day today, October 15) will be virtual and will feature 31 live sessions for union members and student teachers affiliated with the union to attend via webinar.

According to a MinnPost article, MEA is paid for with union member dues. Attendance in the past has hovered around 2,000 people, which includes student members who are working toward teacher licensure. Compare that to around the 75,000 active teachers and ESPs and nearly 6,000 student members the union represents.

So, what do teachers learn during MEA? And what are union members paying the union to teach? Here is a list of the live workshops.

The keynote speaker will be Dr. Bettina Love, a University of George professor who coined the term “abolitionist teaching” and co-founded the Abolitionist Teaching Network this year. Learning objectives from Love’s talk will include “examin[ing] the impact of America’s racism on Black children and Black families” and “engag[ing] with the ideas of abolitionist teaching to foster social justice classrooms and schools.” According to Love, “abolitionist teaching”

comes from a critical race lens and applies methods like protest, boycotting, and calling out other teachers who are racists, homophobic, or Islamophobic. … [Abolitionist] teachers know how to talk about racism and homophobia in their classrooms; they organize marches and boycotts. … If you’re a white teacher and you have a classroom of white kids, talk to them about their privilege.

Other workshops focus on “anti-oppression work,” how teachers can “become better racial justice advocates,” and how to “talk to young children about gender identity and expression and support our gender-expansive and transgender children.”

It will be interesting to see what MEA attendance is like this year given that the conference is virtual. [UPDATE: Education Minnesota tweeted that around 1,300 educators signed up for the conference.]

Based on past attendance, union members appear more interested in a four-day weekend than attending the union’s politically charged event.

If you are a teacher union member who wants to protect your right to not fund Education Minnesota’s direct political contributions, you can request a refund of the $25 that gets sent to the union’s PAC. Other dues dollars will still be used to pay for political activities and other events that include political issue areas (such as MEA). Should you be interested in learning more about your options regarding union membership and how to no longer financially support the union’s political priorities, please email [email protected].