life

COVID case comes at critical time for new teacher

Getting COVID more than two years into the pandemic feels so unfashionable.

I put on my mask to go out into the world, and I feel like I’m wearing parachute pants with a Hawaiian shirt I just bought at Younkers.

I got the shots.

I got boosted.

And I still got COVID.

Twice.

I get it.

The vaccine doesn’t guarantee you won’t be infected by the virus; it greatly reduces the chances you’ll contract it.

I happen to meet a few of the high-risk factors.

Obese? Check.

Asthmatic? Yup.

High blood pressure? Of course.

To be fair, this bout with the virus was far less intense than my first about a year ago.

Yet it was far more troublesome.

After a positive test, the CDC recommends five days of quarantine followed by five days of wearing a mask while in the company of other humans.

That put me on the bench while my students worked with subs or co-teachers.

I just started my first year as a sixth grade teacher.

I had exactly three days with students before the COVID hit.

They were chaotic and confusing for everyone involved.

Sixth graders have never changed classes before. They’re nervous, still with the wide eyes of children.

They’re not yet riddled with the full-blow adolescent mindset the slightest acquisition to the request of an adult is on par with Chamberlain’s capitulation to the Nazis before World War II.

This is the time I need to be building relationships, establishing a classroom presence, and gaining trust.

We started our first unit, one on Greek mythology last week.

I wasn’t there.

I laid in bed with a light fever, a constant sinus, a wheeze in my lungs, and fatigue that did its level best to convince me I was already dead.

My headache was best described by my friend Jane Burns, who once said, “If my head is going to hurt this much, I want the fun from the night before to come with it.”

There was no fun from the night before.

I could barely muster the energy to go out to the kitchen and warm up a bowl of soup.

A can of Campbell’s Chunky Homestyle and a bottle of Gatorade with a banana or some peanut butter became my mails of choice.

Physically, I slept, got up to take medication and shower, and slept.

I didn’t have the concentration to watch TV or read comics.

It was better to sleep.

When I was awake, I worried.

I worried I’d lost my classes.

I worried I was failing at my new job.

I worried about everything.

That’s how my brain works.

If I don’t distract it enough, it takes it upon itself to root around in the dirt for problems.

And my brain always finds them.

The problems are huge, life-changing, and terrifying.

That’s how I know it’s a generalized anxiety disorder and not real anxiety.

Real anxiety is the kind you would feel if a city bus was bearing down on you while you were standing in the middle of the street.

Most of my anxiety is worries that end with me disappointing everyone I ever loved or who put faith in me and facing total disaster.

If my first week with students had been a sandwich, COVID would have been the mystery meat and anxiety would have been the moldy cheese on top.

The milk was spoiled, and they were out of chocolate.

The good news is quarantine is over.

I can mask up and go to work.

I’ve got a lot of it to do.

There’s nothing quite like the challenge of gaining students’ trust.

My behavioral therapist reminds me of the old baseball line: It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

I’ll set aside the oddity that to best describe one sport, we use a completely different sport as a metaphor.

Instead, I’ll set my feet in the blocks and wait for the first bell.

Whatever worries I have won’t matter.

When the small humans come through the door, it’s time to go to work.

Middle school teacher Daniel P. Finney writes a column for the Marion County Express.

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.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com.
Venmo@newsmanone.
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.

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life

Podcast #91: Hawkeyes offense terrible; Oklahoma stomps a Texas team; the Yankees circle the drain; and Dr. Pepper ‘Fansville’ moves into identity politics jokes

Dan and Paul talk fall sports as baseball season winds down and college football winds up. Dan’s recovering from COVID, but even he isn’t as sickly as the Hawkeyes’ offense. Oklahoma beats up UTEP, proving it’s always fun to watch any school from Texas lose; Yankees’ slide continues; a couple of other non-sports takes just for fun.

94: NyQuil chicken recipes; Pujols hits 700; What are people doing on Long John Silver's website; Dan pods solo to make up for his screw ups Talking Paragraphs

1. NyQuil chicken 2. Pujols hits 700 3. Dan is still sick 4. Long John Silver's website a juggernaut  5. Brady vs. Rodgers is a dull disappointment  6. Where's Paul? — Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/talkingparagraphs/message Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/talkingparagraphs/support
  1. 94: NyQuil chicken recipes; Pujols hits 700; What are people doing on Long John Silver's website; Dan pods solo to make up for his screw ups
  2. 93. Dan's still sick; Paul talks weird celebrity endorsements, Kanye vs. Gap beef, and the pair review football games of no importance
  3. #92: Queen is dead and that's fine, but did it have to screw up the Premier League schedule?
  4. #91: 2+2+3 = Worst #Hawkeyes offense ever; #Sooners stomp UTEP; #Yankees spirialing; #Braves rising; Dr. Pepper #fansville 'fansplaining' clunks
  5. #90, Dan's first days with students; Uh-oh, teacher has COVID; Thoughts on series of terrible things: Nebraska football, a remake of 'Clue,' and 'She-Hulk'
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life

What my first days as a teacher were really like

Pity the speedbag.

That’s the punching bag boxers use to build up the speed of their punches.

Or something.

I don’t know anything about boxing. I just watch “Rocky” movies.

I just know the hero wails on that bag during a training montage. A pop song by the latest hot new thing pumps in the background.

In 3 minutes on the screen, years’ worth of training is finished, and our hero is a lean, mean, face-smashing machine.

That is basically how new teacher orientation felt for me, except I was the speedbag and the people clicking through PowerPoint presentations were the gloved fists smashing into my jaw every few seconds.

To be fair, they admitted it was a lot of information in a short amount of time.

I remember joining the teacher’s union.

Other than that, I stumbled around punch drunk in a high school cafeteria.

The air conditioning wasn’t on due to HVAC being upgraded and it was one of the hottest days of the year.

They really want you to be sure you want to be a teacher.

The first week for new-to-the-career teachers involved a lot of meetings like that.

I tried to make sense of it.

I hope, at least, I correctly filled out the online form to get paid.

We’ll see. The first payday isn’t until Sept. 15.

I should mention I live with an acute anxiety condition coupled with chronic depression.

This idea of starting a new career at age 47 is terrifying.

I spent two years and racked up thousands in student debt to earn my master’s degree and teaching license.

My jangled brain chemistry churns thoughts of gloom and failure at every turn.

Fortunately, I have an excellent behavioral therapist and a good psychiatric counselor for medication.

Still, existential dread abounds.

These are other people’s children. They’re in my care. I’m supposed to teach them language arts.

What if I’m not up to the task?

What if I fail?

When I was a newsman, failure meant not getting the story, getting beat by the competition, or making a mistake that needed correcting.

Failure for a teacher means letting a child, their family, and your school down.

Of course, you can’t fail if you don’t try.

Then again, you can’t get paid if you don’t try.

So, I met my students, and we worked on getting to know each other for our first three days together.

I won’t say much more than that. The relationship between teacher and student is sacred.

I never want students to feel like what they share could end up being published.

I’ll just say that I felt as if an army of steamrollers had driven over me by the end of my first three days with kids.

That was 100% about my own anxieties and not about them as a group or individuals.

My mentor teacher said I was doing fine. I asked her why she thought that.

Because the ones that think they’re doing a good job right from the beginning are the ones you have to worry about, she said.

I felt a little better after that.

Unlike “Rocky” movies, there are no montages in life.

You must learn in real time.

It’s slow, tedious, sometimes painful, and sometimes fun, but it comes with time, which only moves forward in specific increments for we mere mortals.

I’ll get better, but never as fast as I want to.

The final bell rang Friday night, I poured what was left of my physical and mental being into my car and drove home.

By Sunday morning, I had a slight fever, dizzy spells, and all kinds of sinus drainage, and felt weak all over.

It felt familiar.

I swabbed.

I was positive for COVID-19.

I was three days into working with students and now I was going to have to miss five.

Geez.

I know it’s bad luck.

But could somebody lay off the speedbag for a minute?

Middle school teacher Daniel P. Finney writes a column for the Marion County Express.

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.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com.
Venmo@newsmanone.
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.

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