MEA break allows teachers to discuss distance learning strategies

The MEA conference is virtual this year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year’s Minnesota Educator Academy break for teachers comes amid a school year unlike others before, offering a time for educators to connect, while also allowing a short respite from distance learning.

In some ways, strolling the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden this MEA break from school feels very similar to compared to years past. 

“I don’t feel like it’s that different because we get outside and do this all the time,” said Stephanie Mielke, a parent. “It’s definitely nice to not be on the computers and the screens, for sure.”

For others, like the Opsata family, who cancelled travel plans - it’s very different. 

“We already celebrated family Christmas outside this past weekend, so we changed things up pretty severely,” said Nate Opsata, a parent.

Instead of the Minnesota Educator Academy taking over the St. Paul RiverCentre the way they have for years for professional development conferences - everything has been switched to online. There are a little more than 1,300 teachers registered, which is down from about 2,000 in attendance last year. 

President of Education Minnesota Denise Specht says the day includes some live and some podcast-style sessions tailored to the current challenges, especially distance learning. 

“We’ve tried to shape our conference not only to address what the students need right now, how can they do teaching and learning in a pandemic?” said Specht.

Recently Education Minnesota conducted a survey of about 9,700 teachers statewide. Of that they learned about 30% are so stressed they are willing to give up teaching. That’s why Specht says this long weekend is a much-needed break. 

“The beginning of the school year is usually very joyful when people are very excited and loving getting to know students and families they are serving,” said Specht. “I’m worried if people are thinking about that now, what’s going to happen as we keep going.”

While last year at least one district considered doing away with MEA break, that same district along with almost every family FOX 9 spoke with now seems to agree a break or chance to catch up from the current school style is needed more than ever. 
“It’s very nice to be outside,” said Greta Mielke, a student. “That’s the main thing that I like about this break. We are outside enjoying the fresh air vs. sitting on a screen for like six-plus hours.”