At the MEA Winter Conference last week, Sarah Conklin – vice president of the Bridgman Education Association – signed up for a session on a topic she needed to learn more about but dreaded at the same time: Understanding School Finance.
“I was most intimidated by this session, and it’s the one where I learned the most,” Conklin said of her experience attending a packed presentation by MEA Economist Ruth Beier.
Discussing mills, categoricals, and capital projects is not her favorite thing to do, “but this was empowering,” the high school English teacher said. “Now when we go into negotiations and start talking dollars and cents, I will have the language, the tools, and the information I need to feel confident.”
Hundreds of members rotated between sessions on bargaining, professional development, member engagement, legal issues, and legislative updates – among a large array of topics covered at the annual conference in Detroit.
“I got a ton of ideas for member engagement that we could implement straight away,” said Taryn Loughlin, a high school liaison and bargaining team member in the Grosse Pointe Education Association.
Oxford EA membership chair Andrea Chalut learned so much at one session of last year’s MEA Winter Conference that she came back this year and repeated the same class with the same presenter: “Becoming an Influencer” with Hartland EA President Kim Evans.
“She’s witty, she’s funny, she’s no-nonsense, and she knows the ins and outs of how to get her local out there and noticed in the community,” Chalut said.
The positive energy buzzing around the conference also infused the Thursday lunchtime address by MEA Vice President Chandra Madafferi, who urged educators to help turn around a 70 percent decline in enrollment in teacher preparation programs in Michigan since 2009.
She called her speech “a loving smackdown” of educators discouraging young people from entering the profession – something she admitted doing in the past despite having played out her own childhood dream by becoming a teacher.
She said she was “livid” at hearing President Donald Trump describe public education as “failing government schools” in his recent State of the Union speech. Her frustration only made her more determined to “take back the profession” from those who would privatize, profiteer and destroy it.
“It’s been tough for the last few years, but it’s getting better,” Madafferi said. “Now is the best time to get into education—there is such a need! So find your magic, tell people your why, and be part of the solution. The best therapy is collective action!”
Madaferri shared the stage on day one of the conference with Brittany Perrault, vice president of MEA’s student organization – Aspiring Educators of Michigan (AEM) – and a student at Michigan State University eager to join the ranks of educators.
Standing with AEM President Spencer Tenney and member Rachel Rodenhouse, both of Ferris State University, Perrault described the growing network of 19 statewide chapters and 859 student members of AEM who are among 50,000 university-level union members across the country.
“Even as fewer people are joining the profession, more people are joining the union,” she declared to cheers from the crowd of conference goers. “We are not only the future, but we are the present. We are here right now.”
The conference’s Friday keynote speaker, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, also revved up the crowd with a speech – alternately rousing and contemplative – describing his continuing commitment to public education. On the same day, MEA announced recommendations of Peters for the U.S. Senate and candidates for eight Michigan Congressional districts.
All of the candidates were screened and recommended by committees comprised of MEA members from the districts (or from across the state, in the case of Sen. Peters). This process will be conducted in other Congressional and State Legislative districts as we continue through 2020.
Peters told the conference crowd what’s behind his admiration for educators and commitment to strong public schools. His late father was an MEA member who taught middle and high school English and social studies over 30 years in Rochester public schools.
“Even now I will have people come up to me and say, ‘Your father made a difference in my life. I remember – he was my favorite teacher.’ All of you are making a difference in people’s lives, and I thank you for what you do.”
Stay tuned to this week’s Capitol Comments for more details about Peters and his race for U.S. Senate. Sign up to receive the e-newsletter at mea.org/signup.