Bill to remove teacher test is an A+ idea

A bill that would remove testing as a requirement for teaching licenses is before the Iowa Senate. 

It passed the House unanimously. 

Dear Iowa Senate, please pass this bill and get it under Gov. Kim Reynolds pen at once. 

I rarely speak publicly about political issues anymore, but I confess my vested interest in this one. 

I’m student teaching this semester and if this bill doesn’t pass, I’ll have to file a blizzard of paperwork and pay $300 to a private testing company for evaluation. 

If I pass the evaluation, I’ve finally earned the right to pay the state $165 for a license to do a job so very few people want to do for wages that impress no one.

A $300 fee may sound small. If you took your car to the mechanic with a “rattle rattle, thump, bang bang” and walked out for less than $300, you’d be thrilled. 

But that’s not the whole picture. 

My tuition at Drake University this semester was more than $12,000.

Yes, I could have gone through a different school with lower tuition, this is a master’s program.

I’m 46 years old. I can’t afford to start over to the fresh-out-of-college salary scale. Most districts will start a new teacher with a master’s degree in a higher pay lane. 

Student loans funded every dollar of my last two years of school. I’ll be paying that until I die. 

So it goes. I’m pretty sure dying in debt is basically the same as dying rich. 

What’s another $300 on top of that?

It’s more principle than anything.

Presently, there are two kinds of tests you can take to earn a license. One is a pair of exams, one for general teaching and another specific to your discipline such as English or math.

The other is a complex collection of video recorded work with students, unit plans, and essays with 17 different rubrics.

Both tracks cost $300. 

You generally take them as you’re student teaching. 

Student teaching is the capstone of education school for both undergraduates and graduate students. 

You worked side-by-side with an experienced teacher for roughly four months, including leading classes for four to six weeks. 

Student teachers are not paid. 

They are working full time. They are not getting paid. 

You are actively discouraged from having a part-time job, though some of my classmates do. 

How they handle it is beyond me. Student teaching is the most taxing thing I’ve ever done. The level of executive function — the sheer amount of stuff you have to keep straight — is staggering. 

I come home from days and collapse into bed by 7 p.m. 

As a student teacher, I’m evaluated twice a week by a mentor teacher — usually a retired teacher interested in passing along good pedagogy to a new generation. 

I’m observed nearly every minute by my classroom teacher. 

I talk regularly about progress with both teachers and my professors at Drake. Our class has weekly seminar meetings — also a class I have to pay for. 

In the end, I need three letters of recommendation from people who have seen me teach. 

If I haven’t impressed my classroom teacher or my supervising teacher, I’m in trouble. 

My point is this: How many tests are enough?

I’ve taken pedagogy. I’ve taken subject classes. I lived the journalism. 

I’m constantly observed and have excelled at an accredited university that sets its standards in line with both the state and the latest ideas on teaching teachers. 

The thing is, the test isn’t a measure of potential in a future teacher.

It isn’t even a measure of how good they are at taking tests or writing rubrics. 

It’s a grift. 

Private testing companies shakedown education majors for a few hundred bucks after they’ve already stacked up thousands in debt to take a job that faces historic shortages. 

I’ve only been in a classroom since January. Already I am a changed person. I had no idea what I didn’t know about this job. 

It is hard work. It might be the hardest civilian non-first responder or peace officer job there is. 

Sometimes I think I’ve permanently scrambled my egg to think I could do this. 

But I’m getting better everyday. And I think I love even on the days I’m cursing into my pillow at night. 

So, yes, please Iowa lawmakers and Gov. Reynolds, remove one expensive hurdle for me and the thousands of students working hard to become the teachers our state so desperately needs. 

Former journalist Daniel P. Finney writes columns for the Marion County Gazette. Reach him at newsmanone@gmail.com.


Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com.
Venmo@newsmanone.
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.

Are there any safe conversation topics anymore?

My friend Memphis Paul and I record a podcast called “Talking Paragraphs” nearly every weekend.

Throughout the week, we pick up odd news stories and pin them for discussion on the podcast.

We try to keep the recording to an hour. We usually run long.

I edit the podcast. I started with just trimming long pauses and a lot of “ums” and other filler words.

But lately I’ve cut whole swaths of the podcast.

My friend Tyler guest co-hosted when Paul was without power after an ice storm in Memphis.

We talked for nearly 2 hours; about 45 minutes survived.

Tyler and I discussed an issue before the state legislature. Though, at best, about 100 people listen to Talking Paragraphs, he asked me to cut the section in which we talked about the issue.

I agreed.

I’m working to be a schoolteacher. I’ve found myself going silent in most conversations except with my closest friends far away from recording devices.

I used to invite comment and controversy.

Now it terrifies me.

We don’t have disagreements or disputes anymore. We barely have arguments.

We communicate in fits of rage and tantrums.

A disagreement, regardless of scale, is enough for someone to launch a campaign to have you fired, encourage others to spread lies about you on social media, and even physically harm you.

Accusations are as good as convictions in this rumormongering era of social media hysteria.

It feels as if everyone is willing to go to war against their neighbors over the slightest deviation from whatever line they’ve decided cannot be crossed.

Fred Rogers, the late children’s television host, once invited Margaret Hamilton on his show.

Hamilton played the Wicked Witch of the West in the beloved family film, “The Wizard of Oz.”

Hamilton donned her witch costume without the garish green makeup. She explained to children that it was her job to play make believe.

Rogers sang a song called, “Witches Aren’t Real.”

I recently told a group of people that witches aren’t real.

I was cautioned by someone not to say such things as someone in the group might believe in witches.

Of course, there are people who believe in witches. They’re small children who watched “The Wizard of Oz.” That’s’ why Mr. Rogers did a show on it.

I know there is Wicca, a pre-Christian religion who believe in the supernatural powers of magic, various deities, and nature.

Wiccans are real.

Witches aren’t.

I stand by this.

Still, I suppose some Wiccans could have overheard me disrespecting witches and organize a protest.

They might go after me on social media. They might publish my address.

That’s fine if they do. I publish it on my website.

I grew up with phonebooks where everybody’s addresses and phone numbers were published. People looked forward to the new phone books coming out so they could update their address books.

But that was before internet kooks took details about your life and twisted them into daggers and tried to cut out your heart.

I say witches aren’t real.

This, hypothetically, I hope, angers a Wiccan coven.

They could email me their displeasure. We could meet for coffee and take about it over sugar cookies.

Or they could go straight to demanding I get fired and never be allowed to show my face in public again.

People seem to like the latter option best these days.

It makes me sad, but I don’t know what to do it.

There seems to be no fidelity between humans anymore.

Our tribalistic nature is so dominate right now that we can’t just accept some people are different.

The editor of this newspaper has very different opinions than I do. We seem to get along all right.

I disagree with one of my closest friends on practically everything political, but we can talk for hours about “The Book of Boba Fett.”

But unreasonable is the new reasonable.

So, I cut what I believe to be thoughtful, calm talk about state politics out of my podcast.

I think hard about what subjects to pick for this column to make sure they are interesting enough to read but banal enough so as not to get someone to come after me and muck up my life more than it already is.

I try to pick “safe” topics, but what are those? Is there such a thing?

My late father was a salesman. He said he never talked politics or religion because his clients had different ideas about both topics.

That was good business, he said.

Today, I fear, good business is not saying anything about anything.

I’m muckraker at heart. I like to shake things up.

I restrain those tendencies these days. I find myself telling fewer jokes, laughing less, and casting my eyes down in public.

I don’t like a society where a person can’t be themselves.

There doesn’t seem to be much choice in the matter.

Perhaps I should heed the advice of my old friend, the best editor and one of the best humans I ever know: “You can’t listen yourself into trouble.”

Daniel P. Finney writes a weekly column for the Marion County Express.


Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com.
Venmo@newsmanone.
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.

In Marion County, the revolution will be printed

Photo by Anastasia Shuraeva on Pexels.com

Steve Woodhouse sent me a message on Twitter a few days before Christmas.

His message revealed he was crazy.

I’ll elaborate.

He bought a relatively new newspaper called the Marion County Express — a real paper printed on newsprint that can be spread out on the breakfast table or taken to the bathroom to be read on the throne.

Being a journalist in the 21st century is like being an endangered species that is actively hunted. Newspapers aren’t dead yet; they’re more like a hospice patient denied their fentanyl drip.

Greedy Wall Street hustlers gobble up the remains of newspapers large and small. Their finance vampires suck the last of the blood out of papers and let the bodies hit the floor.

Institutions that served their community for 150 years or more die so some billionaires can become fractionally richer.

I don’t blame the corporations or the hedge funds entirely.

I worked for the local newspaper in Des Moines for most of my career.

The digital tools available to editors of newspapers and websites tell people exactly what kinds of stories people want to read.

Here they are:

1. Sports — just the two big universities, not even high schools.

2. Politics, national not local, but the meaner the better.

3. Food and beer, the snobbier the better.

4. Pets, which are the children of the generation that refuses to have children.

5. Salacious crime, especially the kind that can ignite a good race argument or involves a young white woman.

That’s it. Some other stuff will occasionally light up the spreadsheet, but not often.

I tried to do it for four years as a columnist and had so little success that it ripped my guts out.

I took leave several times to sort out my mental health because I truly wondered if I was worth anything at all if I couldn’t be a successful newspaper writer.

The bosses took the column away at the end of 2019. The took my job away in early 2020.

I grieved. I felt like a failure. Then I got some therapy and squared up my head.

I enrolled in graduate school; I start student teaching in a few weeks on my way to becoming a language arts teacher for the second half of my working life.

This brings us to Steve’s message.

I stand by my assessment: He’s whacko.

Newspapers are heartbreakers; this is a heartbreaking time to get into the game.

Half of all journalism jobs disappeared between 1990 and 2020.

Newsrooms cut a quarter of their jobs since the pandemic began.

And Steve wants to dive into the headfirst? Bonkers.

I’ve come to believe newspapers were never as good as I thought they were — and certainly never as good as they led everyone to believe.

I believe in an informed citizenry. I just don’t know how to cope with a citizenry that doesn’t want to be informed.

I remember watching MTV in 1989 when the network was doing a bunch of year-end specials.

Steven Tyler, the lead singer of the band Aerosmith, told an interviewer: “If we had a button on our chest that gave us an orgasm, we’d all press the thing until we passed out.”

That seems to be the republic we want.

News is fine if it confirms what we already believe or makes us angry or keeps us afraid. Put your local TV news on mute sometime and watch the contortions of the anchors’ faces. They look maniacal.

Listen to a weather report about snow. The talk is apocalyptic. It’s all a show designed to keep you watching and clicking.

News should be telling us about our school districts, city councils, and county governments.

Local officials control your schools, police, fire department, paramedics, roads, sewers, libraries, hospitals, and scores of other things that have direct impact on our daily lives.

Presidential politics are important, but it’s not Joe Biden who is going to press the defibrillator paddles on your chest after a heart attack and zap your heart back into rhythm.

One might assume people would care about how well local government is maintaining that equipment and offering training to its departments.

The assumption is wrong.

Instead, we follow presidential politics, where the reporting on the candidates is little more than celebrity gossip mongering.

The idea of issues guiding a campaign is antiquated to the point of absurdity and has been since at least 1960.

Go on YouTube and look up the classic Bob Newhart stand-up comedy routine “Abe Lincoln vs. Madison Avenue.”

After you stop convulsing with laughter, think about presidential elections and you’ll realize his fanciful jokes from more than 60 years ago are our reality.

And yet again Steve wants to buy and run a newspaper in the middle of this nation of hedonists? Looney.

But God bless him, he’s my kind of crazy.

He’s trying to right a wrong. Marion County lost the Pella Chronical and the Knoxville Journal-Express to corporate cutbacks.

He wants to roll up his sleeves and get ink under his fingernails.

So why did he reach out to me?

He wondered if I’d be willing to write a column for the paper.

I said no.

I’ve put that part of my working life to rest.

However, I am a writer. And I have this blog at paragraphstacker.com.

If Steve wanted to pick up posts from my blog, he’s welcomed to publish it.

Maybe you folks in Marion County will like it. I hope so. It’s nice to be liked.

Consider this column just another feature of a great experiment: the Express.

Subscribe and see how it goes.


Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com.
Venmo@newsmanone.
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.