That’s the headline, nut graph, and closer.
Don’t even wait for the “du-duhn” sound effect from “Law and Order.”
The backstory: I lost my job at the local newspaper in Des Moines in May 2020. I went on unemployment.
I decided to go back to graduate school and become a teacher.
The unemployment ran out.
I got a job at a local TV station.
I was bad at it.
I was so bad the stress played with my mental health. I could barely talk to my friends and family.
I went on unemployment again.
I stayed in school.
Someone stole my identity.
It took months to sort it out. I finally got my benefits, but they were close to running out in August.
I applied for a program Iowa Workforce Development offers called Training Extension Benefits.
The program offers extended unemployment to people who are leaving a declining field and entering a needed field.
I thought this was a good fit for me.
I left journalism, which is struggling.
Folks in Marion County know about that. An out-of-town company came in and suddenly the Pella Chronicle and Knoxville Journal-Express are ghosts.
Same thing happened in Altoona, Ames, Iowa City, Indianola, Dallas County, and on and on.
The big paper in the capital is now small, both in size and stature, and will soon only publish in print six days a week.
I would mark this as decline.
Meanwhile, the stories about the shortage of teachers are abundant.
The most egregious case came at Saydel when an absence of teachers forced officials at the northeast Polk County district to close the high school one day in November.
This seems like an area where they need some help. Barring total collapse, I graduate from Drake University this spring with a master’s degree in education and will earn my teaching license.
I’m student teaching now.
I put in my application for the extended benefits.
It was rejected.
The state said, in part, journalism wasn’t a declining occupation, and my field of study wasn’t a needed occupation.
I called my caseworker.
She said I should reapply when my benefits were almost ready to expire.
I reapplied in August.
I heard nothing for months.
I called and called.
Finally, I was told the original denial of benefits was the state’s final word on it.
I could appeal.
I gathered information that showed journalism as a declining field, some bad information I got from state workers along the way, and other evidence.
I finally had a phone hearing with an administrative law judge in the middle of my first week of student teaching.
I made my case. The judge seemed calm and dispassionate.
She said she would enter a decision in about a week.
Seven weeks passed.
I finally got a letter from the state last week.
My application for extended benefits was denied.
There was an explanation. I almost understand it. A lawyer friend is going to read it for me.
My lawyer friend said I can appeal but cautioned me the appeals judges tend to follow the rulings of the administrative law judges.
I’ll probably appeal anyway.
I’ve got everything to gain.
I can’t work while I student teach.
I can barely function while I student teach.
I long held the notion that I would be a great teacher because I was a good writer and loved to help people be better writers.
The level of executive function it takes to be a teacher is far beyond anything I’ve ever experienced.
I love the work, especially when you can get some one-on-one time with students.
But anyone who says “Those who can do, those who can’t teach” is an ignorant fool.
I balance that against severe arthritis in both my knees. I had surgery to remove torn cartilage in the left knee in August.
I use a walker now. My knees hurt all the time.
Still, I persevere.
I show up every day trying to get better, to meet the intellectual, social, and emotional needs of my students.
I am a rank amateur, but I’m getting better with each lesson.
I didn’t want the extended unemployment benefits to live a lavish life.
I planned to use it for rent, insurance, groceries, and gas — the basics.
It took almost two weekly benefit checks to cover my rent — and I live in one of the cheaper market-rate apartments in Des Moines.
I fought for the benefits because I believe the program was designed for people like me. In fact, I have a friend who lost her job at the local newspaper a few years back and got the extended benefits program I was denied.
Why is my situation different than hers?
I’m just trying to survive, so I can thrive.
Money is tight and it will get tighter.
I had hoped this federal program administered by the state would help me.
It looks like I’m going to lose that battle.
What am I going to do?
I don’t know.
And that terrifies me.
It’s a terrible thing to be haunted by thoughts of financial ruin and failure, especially when I’m so close to graduation.
It puts stress on a mental health structure that’s not up to code after years of battling the threat of unemployment, actual unemployment, the pandemic, isolation, and a long list of other things I don’t care to list in public.
I’ll probably appeal, but that will take more weeks.
I recall a quote from the great 20th century philosopher Rocky Balboa: “You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward.”
So that’s what I’m going to do: Keep moving forward.
But I’ll take all the hope and prayers people can send.
Former journalist and future teacher Daniel P. Finney writes a weekly column for the Marion County Express. Reach him at email@example.com.
Daniel P. Finney wrote for newspapers for 27 years before being laid off in 2020. He teaches middle school English now. He writes columns and podcasts for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating $10 a month to help him cover the expenses of this site.
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