Thousands attend MEA conference full of workshops, exhibitors, advocacy

The 2019 Minnesota Educator Academy conference at the Saint Paul RiverCentre Oct. 17 drew more than 1,500 educators and college students studying to be educators. 

This was the second year the conference was only open to Education Minnesota members and aspiring educators. The union changed the conference last year partly in response to the Janus decision by the U.S. Supreme Court and the national, billionaire-funded, anti-union campaign that has followed it.

This year’s conference featured keynote speaker Dr. Eddie Moore Jr., who spoke about why racial justice work is the work of all of us, no matter where we live or who we know. 

Moore’s session, which took place in multiple RiverCentre ballrooms, was filled to capacity.

“Integration without preparation does not work,” said Moore. “We need to ask ourselves, are we ready to do this work?”

Moore is the co-founder and director of The Privilege Institute and The National White Privilege Conference, which provide opportunities and possibilities for research, publications, speaking and collaborations by those committed to true social and institutional change.

Moore also led a workshop after his keynote address, and met with Education Minnesota members of color.
Jessica Davis, the 2019 Minnesota Teacher of the Year, also spoke during the keynote session, delivering her message of #EveryVoiceMatters.

“Equality is a destination, not a current location,” said Davis. “How do you get there? You move.”

Davis and other Teacher of the Year finalists also held a workshop session for aspiring educators to ask questions about the profession.

The conference featured more than 100 workshops on a wide variety of education issues. A majority of the workshops focused on the content areas teachers need in order to renew their license every five years.

Workshops with the largest attendance focused on student mental health, which is a relicensure requirement but also an area educators have spoken out about needing more resources on at the local, state and national level.

“I come every year,” said Joan Boyenga from Albert Lea. “I am so happy with the change to the conference being for union members only. There are relicensure sessions you can actually get into.”

“The union makes us stronger educators and this conference helps us learn things to make us stronger educators. Hosting this conference only makes me appreciate my union more.”

The conference is also a destination for educators looking to meet and connect with education-related exhibitors, such as colleges who offer master’s programs, field trip opportunities, mental health grant programs, and benefits educators can receive from their union, such as financial planning.

The exhibit hall also offers educators an opportunities to get a flu shot and donate blood. 

This year, the conference included a march organized by Minnesota Educators Against ICE, called “Classrooms Not Cages.” Hundreds of educators marched from the RiverCentre to Rice Park.

Educators who spoke upon arrival at Rice Park said educators have always been on the front lines for their students. Now is the time to be on the front lines for our immigrant students.

The organizers also held two workshop sessions during the conference to help educators better support immigrant students, Political and Historical Conditions Behind Central American Migration and Immigration Detention, Separation and Anxiety.