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Montana Teachers Come To Missoula To Sharpen Skills

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Montana public school students have a short week so their teachers can attend a two-day conference in Missoula this Thursday and Friday. Up to 3,000 teachers will participate in the annual Montana Education Association-Montana Federation of Teachers conference. The MEA-MFT teachers' union vice president Melanie Charlson says this conference is anything but some sort of a vacation for teachers.

"You want to make certain that all of your professionals are honing their skills," says Charlson.

"I wouldn't want to go to a doctor who had not honed his skills in his profession and (not) taken advantage of professional development opportunities. So, this is truly an opportunity for our teachers. They've started the year, they have a sense of where their class is, and now they're coming together to share ideas and to really sharpen their skills and really improve themselves professionally."

There will be over 600 topics presented during the two-day conference. Those will range from social studies, science and math, to courses on robotics and Common Core standards.

"There is also a bit of politics within," Charlson says. "We are a public institution and we are reliant upon public dollars. So we are, of course, educating ourselves in a few sectionals about who governs education in Montana? How is school funding funneled from Helena out into the different schools? There's a variety, but overall I'd say the vast majority of the sectionals are within the professional issues themselves."

Montana teachers are not required to participate in this week's conference, but they must receive 60 professional development or "renewal credits" every five years. Up to 16 such credits are possible for teachers who participate in both days of the Missoula conference.

Edward O'Brien is Montana Public Radio's Associate News Director.