Virtual graduation party: I stand with more ‘yeas’ than ‘boos’ after a stressful year fighting back

Here is where I stand.
I graduated from Drake University and earned my master’s degree.
This was the most demanding course of study I’ve ever undertaken.
A quarter-century between stints as a student made me rusty.
I remember when I handed in my last paper to my professor, she emailed me and said I was good to go.
I wrote back: “You mean it? I’m going to graduate?”
I earned high marks, but that last semester — student teaching and preparing for licensure — is a lot.
I struggled at midterm. I didn’t think I was going to make it.
My professor and my supervising teacher assured me I would.
I did, but I could hardly believe it.
Sometimes I login to my student records on the Drake website just to see the degrees earned and double-check the Master of Arts in teaching is still there.
It is.
I’ve had a few interviews. I’ve applied for jobs across the metro.
I don’t have a full-time job for fall yet.
But my teachers tell me this is normal. Veteran teachers I know say when their careers started, they didn’t have a job until school started.
This plays hell on my anxiety.
Yet I endure.
I am going to be doing some more work for the Marion County Gazette, a weekly newspaper that approached me earlier this year about writing a column.
I’m going to be putting in 20 hours a week remotely covering public meetings and other tasks.
I never thought I would practice journalism again, but never say never.
There’s something pure about watching a public meeting, writing down the decisions the elected officials make, and reporting it to readers.
No spin.
No hype.
Just the facts.
The other half of my summer plans are somewhat tenuous. I’m supposed to teach summer school.
But my license is tied up.
The Iowa Legislature finally passed the bill that waives expensive tests after completing an accredited teacher prep program.
Now I must grit it out until Gov. Kim Reynolds signs the bill.
She has 30 days.
Insiders tell me she’ll sign it. It passed both houses unanimously.
That kind of bipartisanship is rarer than a jackalope sighting on a snipe hunt.
(Sorry, that’s an old country kid joke.)
I’m supposed to start work at school on June 6. If the governor signs it before that, I’m golden.
If not, I’m out of luck.
I’m eligible for a temporary license, which allows me to teach for one year without taking those tests.
I applied for that license, but the school district that hired me must fill out a form for me to teach under the temporary license.
Their policy is only to do that for a full-time position.
So, I’m waiting.
And as Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers sang, “The waiting is the hardest part.”
The yeas out way the boos and that feels good.
I graduated.
I’ve got at least some work with the potential for more.
I won’t relax until I’ve signed a contract to teach for a full year with some district here in the metro.
So, that’s the situation.
First, thank you to all of you for your cards, letters, notes, and, of course, your donations.
All of you made it possible for me to remake my life in middle age.
I want to describe how deeply that generosity has touched me — how it has changed me as a person and my outlook on human beings and myself.
I don’t have the command of the language to do that.
Thank you just isn’t enough.
But thank you.
I hope this is the last time I come to you to ask for support.
I’m in a delicate position between finishing school and starting work.
I need to cover expenses for June. I won’t see any paychecks until the middle of June. And if the teaching job falls through over the licensing kerfuffle, well, that’s a parade of horrible I decline to contemplate until I must.
So, my friends, I ask you again for a little support.
If I can just get over this hump, I’ll be on my way.
Every contribution helps. If you hadn’t gotten around to sending that graduation card, now’s the time to celebrate.
I thank all of you again for your support.
Thank you for renewing my spirit and keeping me afloat. You were my life preserver.
I’m very close to shore now. Another tug would be very helpful.
With love and hope,
Daniel P. Finney

Daniel P. Finney
1217 24th St.
Apt 36
Des Moines, Iowa 50311
Venmo @newsmanone
Zelle @newsmanone

Daniel P. Finney writes columns for, 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.

Update on my case with Iowa Workforce Development

Several of my blog readers recently sent me questions about how my struggle with Iowa Workforce Development is going.

S … L … O …W… L … Y.

First a quick recap: I applied for a program called Training Extension Benefits. The program extends unemployment benefits up to 24 weeks to people who lost their job in careers with a declining outlook and seeking training for a job that needs workers.

Iowa Workforce Development denied my claim in August. One of the reasons given was that I hadn’t left a declining profession.

I was laid off from a job in print journalism. The local paper recently announced they were only going to publish a print edition six days a week; they won’t print on Saturdays. This does not strike me as a trade that’s looking for veteran workers.

The program requires you to be actively training for a job that needs workers. I am in my final semester of graduate school at Drake University seeking my Master of Arts in secondary education.

If all ends as planned, I’ll end with my teaching license and be able to teach grades five through 12.

Saydel schools had to close for a day because they couldn’t find enough people to cover their classrooms.

A wave of early retirements and departures from the teaching profession is expected this spring. The legislature is busy coming up with criminal penalties for teachers sharing books that some conservatives don’t like with students.

The governor wants to make things easier for charter schools, even though nobody seems interested in opening a charter school in Iowa.

Teachers are needed; I’m going to become one.

I appealed the decision against me and finally got a hearing with an administrative law judge in mid-January. The hearing was over the phone. The judge was very organized and the whole event took about a half hour. She said she would enter a decision within a week. Iowa Workforce Development would notify me by postal mail.

It’s been six weeks since that hearing, and I’ve received no letter. I call the office. They can only tell me if a letter has been sent or not, not what the decision is. No letter has been sent, they say.

I started student teaching in January. This work is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I love the work.

But with the fees heaped upon student loans, it feels like the state doesn’t even want people to be teachers. I spent $160, plus a $3 “convenience fee,” for a background check and a license application fee. I owe another $20 for a fingerprinting session next week.

Soon, I’ll have to pay $300 to a private testing company to review my portfolio. That doesn’t factor in the $60 a week I pump into my battered old Dodge Charger to haul me from my neighborhood to the far-flung suburb to teach each day.

Never mind the regular living expenses like rent, insurance, utilities, and so on. I choose not to look too closely at the pile of student loan debt I accumulated in this effort to change careers and regain some meaning in my life.

I hear the scolds. Get a part-time job, they say. Great idea. Except everyone involved with my program says that’s a terrible idea. Even if they hadn’t, I wouldn’t need them to tell me that.

I come home from a day of teaching so physically exhausted that I can barely make it through a 30-minute episode of “Pardon the Interruption” before I sleep the sleep of the dead.

My arthritic knees barely survive a week of teaching. There are seminars and portfolios to assemble, weekly logs to fill out, lessons to plan, and so many miles to go before I can rest.

This is a scary time for me. I am so close to becoming the person I’m going to be after journalism. I’m resilient. I am strong.

But as close as I am, I realize things could fall apart with one bad break. I have some money, but it drains quickly with weekly expenses. I’m not living a lavish life. I eat a lot of soup. I make my own sandwiches. I indulge in the occasional coffee from McDonald’s.

I hate coming to you like this. It feels like begging. It feels like whining. I am just trying to survive. I’m three months away from graduation, my license, and a new career. I can find work to get me through the summer. I’m sure of that.

I know the state is slow, but I didn’t anticipate it being this slow.

So, again, I ask for your help be it a couple of bucks or more. I promise you that you are all in my mind, even those of you I’ve never met, when I stand before a classroom. I would not have made it there without you, but with your help I’ll be there until the end of my working days.

As always, thank you for the love and kind words, and the donations to my cause. May the higher power of your choice bless and keep you.

With love and hope, Daniel P. Finney

And for those who prefer to contribute outside this system: 1217 24th St. Apt 36 Des Moines, Iowa 50311 PayPal: Venmo: @newsmanone Zelle: @newsmanone.

Daniel P. Finney writes columns for, 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.

What’s the best revenge against someone who tries to steal your unemployment benefits? Hint: It involves Taylor Swift #fearlesstaylorsversion

I called Iowa Workforce Development late last week and by happy coincidence Anna the Angel answered the phone.

I called because I wanted to double-check that my benefits were on track to arrive on time.

This was more a triple or quadruple check. The first few times I called with questions on my benefits, I got into a verbal shouting match with a robot answering machine.

I followed that by a useless encounter with an unemployment office employee who seemed most interested in not answering calls from the public.

This series of frustration eventually landed me in the care of Anna, who seemed to give a damn whether or not I got my benefits.

She worked out some kinks in the paperwork and sure enough, benefits arrived. Another bureaucratic wrinkle meant I would wait two weeks to receive a check rather than the customary one.

That inspired me to call the unemployment office. You’ll forgive me if I’m skeptical of the agency’s ability to get things right.

Anna checked and to no one’s surprise, there was a problem. Apparently, somebody tried to file for unemployment benefits under my name.

Identity theft isn’t a new problem. I’ve lost track of the number of letters telling me my data has been compromised or text messages from my credit union telling me somebody tried to use a debit card in my name in a place I’ve never been.

I often joke that if someone is serious about stealing my identity, they’re welcome to it.

They can deal with the obesity, the mental health issues, the aches and pains, near-constant self-doubt, and the bird poop on the hood of my big black car.

Heck, if somebody stole my identity, my credit score would probably go up.

The upshot is that Anna the Angel of the unemployment office is on the case. She alerted the fraud department. The downside: I might not get paid on time. Again.

This adds stress to a stressful time. I’m 45 years old trying to learn a completely different career coming off a spectacular failure in my last job and getting my job cut at the one place I invested more of my heart and talent than anywhere else.

Restrictions on cash flow tighten the grip around the throat like Darth Vader force-choking an Imperial admiral.

But I chose to look at it another way.

Somewhere out there, there’s a fake me. They’re trying, at least for the benefit of a few hundred bucks, to pretend to be Daniel P. Finney.

I don’t know what Fake Finney was doing Sunday.

But OG Finney (that’s “original gangster” for my older readers) finished his linguistics homework. He fixed a few of his toys that needed glued. Finney finally retrieved one of the Millennium Falcon models and a Spider-Man figure that had fallen behind his bookshelves in the bedroom.

OG Finney picked up the new Taylor Swift CD, her remake of “Fearless.” Her voice flowed out of his car speakers like an enchantment as he drove about the metro with his windows down on a postcard-perfect day with periwinkle skies.

OG Finney ate a burger and fries from B-Bop’s in Clive. He sat on a bench by the trail with the sun on his arms and the breeze across his bald head.

He stopped by Snookies for a twist cone in a dish and played a few more songs off that Taylor Swift CD.

He got home and watched TV shows where things blow up and the good guys win.

He feel asleep reading a Conan the Barbarian comic book.

Whatever swindles Fake Finney was up to on Sunday and whatever hassles that may lead to for OG Finney, the real me, it’s all trivial in the end.

Sunday was a good day.

Daniel P. Finney writes columns for, 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. 
Venmo: @newsmanone