des moines, Faith and Values, humor, Iowa

#OldManStudent: Lessons from the first week of class in the pandemic

The first week of graduate school is in the bag. It went well. I worry I’m on track to being one of those irritating non-traditional students who talks too much in class.

Those people burned me up as an undergraduate. They always did the reading and they were so damn enthusiastic about it.

Maybe they were more acutely aware of how much they were paying per credit hour than undergraduates. I know that’s my motivation for being a blabbermouth.

I really feel sorry for the 2020 undergraduate in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic. They lost their rites of spring. At Drake University, that means the Drake Relays and sundry parties and events surrounding that.

Now they’re back on campus (sort of) slathered in Purell and muffled by masks. There’s no fall sports at many schools, including Drake. No cheerleaders. No marching bands. No guy in the Spike the Bulldog costume.

It doesn’t look too good for basketball, which is a damn shame because with my student ID, I could go see my beloved Drake women’s basketball team for free on most home games.

There are probably other things going on across campus, but I’m too old to rush a frat or join a social club. The only club I ever joined at Drake when I was an undergraduate was the Times-Delphic, the student newspaper.

I suppose I could get a beat over there, but I feel like student newspapers are for the up-and-coming journalists who need to get their reps in. I’ve had my 10,000 hours of practice.

And since much of my career was marked by heartbreak and sadness, especially in the end, I feel like I would spend most of my time encouraging the T-D staffers to consider seeing a therapist to discover why they hate themselves enough to enter the trade.

Some, like me, take all their courses online. There goes all the fun of walking across campus with classmates or hanging out in the residence halls having bull sessions over the topics of the day.

The best part of college is the fellowship. I learned a lot in the classroom, but I learned far more from the people I met.

My best friend, Memphis Paul, taught me about the mentality of Southerners. My roommate Anthony, who grew up in Milwaukee, taught me about growing up Black in America.

Another buddy, Brent, included me in scores of events with his family from Hamburg, a quirky small town in southwest Iowa.

I fell in love a few times. Nothing came of it. I’m difficult to get along with, but many of my classmates met their spouses in college.

I felt a profound sense of sadness that today’s college student is robbed of the true college experience.

The week many students arrived on college campuses in Iowa, Gov. Kim Reynolds closed bars and nightclubs because of increased coronavirus cases.

Think of all those poor undergraduate students who won’t get to test out their fake IDs.

I imagine it won’t be long until schools go all online. I already opted for that. I’m not looking to make friends as much this time around as I am focused on learning a new profession.

That said, I don’t mind online classes, but it has some weird quirks. Some professors require you to have your camera on throughout the class period. Others don’t.

A professor in one of my classes described being on camera for hours at a time “exhausting.”

I see her point, but we are learning to be teachers. Assuming the pandemic eventually ends, we are learning jobs that will require us to be in front of students, fellow teachers, parents and administrators every day.

If I were teaching, I don’t know if I would trust my middle school or high school students with their cameras off.

But that’s life in the pandemic, isn’t it?

We’re all asked to trust each other and act in accordance to our consciences.

The only option left us is to make the best of a shitty situation.

And pick up a six pack at the store, because we’ll not be meeting at Peggy’s on Thursday night for a while.

Daniel P. Finney does not have this much hair anymore.

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life ignored by the oligarchy.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I launch this new venture continuing the journalism you’ve demanded. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

des moines, humor, Iowa, News, Newspapers, People, Podcasts

Back to school at 45: Differences between 1980 and 2020

I popped out of bed and hustled to get dressed. The first day of school had finally arrived.

I rushed to the kitchen and poured my cereal and milk.

I scraped the last scoop and drank the milk.

Every schoolchild knows breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

I hustled to brush my teeth and put on my new school outfit. I shrugged on my favorite Yankees T-shirt and a pair of cool new athletic shorts. I slipped on my tennis shoes and rushed out the front door.

And then … I turned around and went back inside to my bedroom. I sat down at my desk and clicked a button on my browser to join a Zoom call for my first class of graduate school.

The last time I was in a classroom as a student was 15 years ago, when my attempt at graduate school was put on hold to return to newspapers.

A lot has changed since my first real day of school, fall 1980 kindergarten at Woodlawn Elementary School on Des Moines’ northwest side.

1980: Mom helped me get dressed.

2020: With arthritis in my knees and back, I wouldn’t say no to a helper to get me dressed.

1980: Tied my own shoes by myself including double knot.

2020: I use elastic laces that turn every shoe into a slip on.

1980: Breakfast was Lucky Charms in whole milk.

2020: Breakfast was Grape Nuts in ultra-filtered skim milk with added protein.

1980: My backpack was filled with new folders, notebooks, pens and a badass set of NFL pencils with the team’s name etched into one side.

2020: I’m using pens and notebooks I stole from my former employer after they laid me off.

1980: They would let you go down to the library to play “Oregon Trail” for computer time.

2020: The whole class is on a computer and I take it in my bedroom, which is loaded with toys.

1980: We enjoyed a nice midday snack of apples and milk.

2020: My bladder can’t hold a can of Diet Mountain Dew for an entire 90-minute course.

1980: There was a midday nap.

2020: Same.

I could go on, but my drummer thew out his shoulder doing rimshots.

In all seriousness, today was the best day I’ve had in a long time.

I looked for a job for four months. I didn’t find one. I felt impotent and small. I felt useless. I lacked purpose and drive. I was depressed and anxious.

Before class started, I worried I would be overwhelmed or out-of-place. I wasn’t. It was class, the same as class has always been most of my life.

Today was a purposeful day. I took one step toward a new future. At long last, I got momentum.

That’s about the best you can ask from a day.

Daniel P. Finney covers head scratching and bug bite itch for ParagraphStacker.com.

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life ignored by the oligarchy.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I launch this new venture continuing the journalism you’ve demanded. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

Iowa, Media, Newspapers, People, Unemployment

I shall teach

I shall teach.

I am 45 years old. I’m out of work. There’s a global pandemic. Nothing seems right with the world.

And the only trade that seems more troubled, more affected by society’s idolatry and hedonism than journalism is education.

Well, reporters, teachers and cops. They’re all tough jobs in any era.

I’m too old and too fat to go wheezing around town after the city’s scofflaws.

But I damn well know writing.

So, I shall teach.

I believe writing is a primary form of self-expression and the mastery of it can lead to a happier, healthier life.

If nothing else, you can impress people by hiding what you don’t know through artfully stating what you do know.

Being full of shit is an employable skill.

Yes, I shall teach.

But first I shall learn.

Monday begins the new semester at Drake University. I will be a graduate student in the School of Education.

I’m in a master’s degree program. My adviser and I have mapped out an aggressive course of study.

If all goes well, I’ll be student teaching in a year and hitting up Des Moines-area districts for a full-time gig at middle schools and high schools come January 2022.

I am not a tourist in education. This is not a placeholder. This is the second half of my working life.

I’m middle-aged. I gave 23 years to journalism. I’ve got another 22 years to work before I earn Social Security.

I was a journalist. I will be a teacher almost as long. That will be a good life, a life spent in public service — especially the second half.

I graduated high school thinking I would become a teacher. I remember asking my high school principal to save me a job when he gave me my diploma in spring 1993.

I planned to be a history teacher when I enrolled for classes at Drake that fall.

Then I got a job covering football for the campus newspaper. That began 27 years of getting paid to stack paragraphs.

That run ended in May. You know the story: Pandemic plus corporate cutbacks equal the end of careers.

I’ve dwelled on the end too long.

It’s time to get up, dust off and take a bold step in a new direction.

Yes, I shall teach.

Reset. Back to school at middle age.

There’s no institution that has served me better than Drake. It has always been there for me when I needed to grow and regenerate.

First, I was an undergraduate and learned my passion for my first trade.

Then, about 15 years back, I was out of work in journalism (this is a theme of the industry in the 21st century), and I worked at Drake in public relations.

And now, in the middle of my working life, I come home to Drake yet again. There must be a reason why I’ve lived in the neighborhood since I came back to Des Moines in 2004.

I’ve already contacted the campus newspaper editor about work. I need to embed myself amongst our youth and understand how they think, how they uptake and process information.

I expect to learn from my students far more than I’ll ever teach them. I might as well start by getting to know the loads of students around me at Drake.

I don’t want to be just a teacher. I want to be a great teacher.

I realize I’m an old man by the standards of youth. It feels strange as hell to be a rookie in my 40s.

But not entirely unfamiliar. The last few years of my journalism career consistently felt like I had gotten off the bus in the wrong neighborhood.

I didn’t know where I was, what I was doing or who I was doing it for. The trade was a mess and the people who struggled the most often were those who had practiced it the longest.

The advantage teaching has over journalism, one of many I hope, is that you always know who you serve: The students.

Right now, I am a student again. Well, that’s not quite right. I’ve always been a student. Good journalists study people and society.

I was a good journalist, even if the greedy corporate hustlers eventually decided they could do better without me.

I will strive to be a good teacher.

All it takes is everything I’ve got.

And when that’s gone, I’ll find some more and give it that, too.

Yes. I shall teach.

Daniel P. Finney, winner of invisible cat’s cradle competition

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life ignored by the oligarchy.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I launch this new venture continuing the journalism you’ve demanded. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.