I got a job.
I start on Aug. 11.
I will be teaching English to sixth graders at a metro-area middle school.
I’m intentionally vague in that third paragraph.
I hold onto this sliver of public life with my blog and column in the Marion County Gazette.
That does not and will never involve my students.
That feels weird to type.
When I student taught, I borrowed another teacher’s students.
Come fall, I will have my own students, hundreds of them.
When that first bell rings and they stream through my door, it culminates a tumultuous two-year journey.
It began with the end of my 27-year journalism career in the teeth of the pandemic in 2020.
It wound through two years of graduate school where I struggled with school for perhaps the first time in my life.
And soon, the adventure continues with the first bell and students streaming through my door expecting me to know what I’m doing.
These past two years challenged me more than any period in my life.
I learned more about myself and what I could survive than I ever dreamed possible.
This was a terrible two years. This was a beautiful two years.
The terrible came with the end of my journalism career. The trade I learned and loved changed rapidly and I couldn’t keep up with the digital age.
I didn’t write the kind of stories that drew thousands of clicks and taps from the digital reader.
The local paper had been cutting jobs for years. My time finally came in May 2020.
I thought I would be ready for it. I worried about losing my job every day for a dozen years.
But when the end comes, it’s always kind of sudden.
I had to grieve that end. It took time, but I am at peace with it now.
I write my blog. I write for the Express. I don’t worry about audience numbers or even if the topic is interesting to anyone but me. I’m free.
Of course, that freedom doesn’t pay any bills.
The pandemic was a lousy time to look for a job.
I enrolled in graduate school at Drake University. I decided to become a teacher.
The best teacher I ever knew, the late Robert D. Woodward, spent the first years of his working life at newspapers and the rest teaching would-be journalists at Drake.
Woodward’s lessons rattled in my brain every day of my career. It seemed only fitting that his model inspired me one more time.
Graduate school was hard. I earned good marks, but school in your middle-40s is much different than when you’re 18 and have been in school most of your life.
There were a few times when I was sure I wasn’t good enough and I wasn’t going to make it.
I tore a ligament in my knee last July. A friend helped me raise money so I could afford surgery to remove the torn bit on my weak insurance.
Since then, I’ve used a cane and a walker to get around. It’s been humbling.
I was even more humbled by the thousands of people who donated money over the last year to help me pay rent, utilities, and other necessities while I finished my studies.
Some were friends and family, but a huge number were people I’d never met — strangers who knew me only through my work at the local newspaper.
I always thought no one was reading.
The local newspaper had the digital stats to prove it.
Yet here were all these people who said they loved my work and wanted me to come out the other side of this trial strong.
I will never be able to say thank you enough. I can only pay it forward.
I believe it will make me a better advocate for my students with differentiated learning needs.
The last semester of classes on a bum knee was hard.
Drake helped. They let me take one class remotely to ease the pain of walking between buildings.
During student teaching, I felt so poorly after my midterm review, I thought about quitting.
My advisor and supervising teacher would have none of it. They got me on a plan that put me on a path toward success in student teaching and graduation.
I still didn’t believe I made it until my diploma came in the mail a few weeks ago.
I had a job teaching summer school English at one of the Des Moines high schools.
But that broke bad one me. My license wouldn’t be ready in time for the summer session.
So, my old career came in for an assist. I work part-time for the Express.
It doesn’t pay as well as the summer school gig would have, but it’s the first paycheck I’ve earned in a long time.
So, I’ll ask one final time, for the good people who’ve supported me and this blog for the past two years to pass the hat to help get me to August. Then I’ll be making a living wage for the first time in so very long.
I thought I had it covered: summer school the Express. But the better-paying half fell through. Anyway, I won’t belabor it. It’s hard to ask for help, and you’ve all helped so much. If you can spare a few bucks to keep the lights on, I thank you. If not? I understand. These times are hard.
Here are the donation details:
I plan to keep writing my column and the occasional other stories for the Express when school starts.
If there’s anything I’ve learned in the last two years, it’s this: Don’t quit. Just keep moving forward.
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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