Let’s not bury the lede: Finney got a teaching job

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.

“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:

Postal mail: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, IA 50311
PayPal: PayPal.me/paragraphstacker
Zelle: @newsmanone
Venmo: @newsmanone

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 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.

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
PayPal: PayPal.me/paragraphstacker
Venmo @newsmanone
Zelle @newsmanone

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.

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: paypal.me/paragraphstacker Venmo: @newsmanone Zelle: @newsmanone.

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.