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Member Spotlight

Joe Cohenour: Not a Typical Educator

Joe is a retired state trooper who has gone on to serve on two different school boards and is an active MPFE retiree leader.
Joe Cohenour
Published: 12/13/2021

I’m not a typical educator or member of NEA, but I’ve been deeply involved in education and education policy on the state and local level in a variety of ways for many years. 

Much of my 22-year career was spent in law enforcement as a Montana state trooper. With the Highway Patrol, I taught officers specific skills they could use related to topics like processing drivers under the influence and high-speed driving. I also served as an expert witness for hundreds of trials, requiring me to teach juries the facts that are critical to their decision-making.

I became connected to the state teachers’ union, MEA-MFT, when the union representing rank-and-file highway patrol officers merged with other public sector unions to form the Montana Federation of Public Employees (MFPE). I was very active in my union and when the merger happened, I transitioned to an active role with MFPE, and I now serve on the board of directors as a retiree representative. I’m committed to workers’ rights and to solving the issues we face related to all public employees in this state, but issues in education are often at the forefront.

I’ve served for 15 years on two different school boards here in Helena, and I think I bring a unique perspective to this position from my time in law enforcement, working with all sorts of people and serving as an adult educator, and from instructing in schools and helping with the education of my two daughters.

Every decision we make should be about improving the chances that each student will succeed in their choice of endeavors.

Students need more than just academics—we have to make sure our buildings, grounds, and materials facilitate learning for individual students the best we can. I also believe that we have to think about each student’s experience and offer support where needed. If a student comes to school hungry or with severe family issues or without clean clothes, they are not going to learn. We won’t succeed in making them college or career-ready or set them up for success if we also aren’t aware of each one’s unique‚—and often challenging—circumstances. 

That should be the goal of school boards and educators.

National Education Association

Great public schools for every student

The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA's 3 million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States.