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.

A throughly restless spring break

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

One day, hopefully soon, I will write an update and it will be lovely.

I’ll talk about my new teaching job and how I’m looking forward to it.

I’ll go on about how well my arthritic knees are responding to aquatic therapy.

I might have even lost a few pounds.

Surely my mental health will have improved.

One day.

I hope.

This isn’t that day.

I hoped spring break, which ends Monday, would be a time for rejuvination.

I picked up a chest cold at school the last week before break. My doctor diagnosed it as an inflammation of my asthma. She prescribed a steroid inhaler.

The inhaler works great except for one side effect: It plays hell on my anxiety.

Such a side effect normally tortures me enough in more steady times.

These aren’t steady times.

I’m trying to finish graduate school, earn my teaching license, and survive on the thinnest of financial margins.

I made it through midterm. I received my report. I talked it over with my mentor teacher and my supervising teacher. It seemed a fair assessment. 

I wasn’t where I wanted to be, but my mentor teacher and the Drake professor overseeing student teaching assured me that my development was on par with where they expect novice teachers to be at this point in student teaching.

Alas, a brain affected by acute anxiety rejects positive information. I’ve written before that most problems occur in the space between emotional reaction and intellectual understanding. Feelings overrun facts and thoughts run haywire.

I took the midterm and my wild thoughts decided I had already failed as a teacher and that I was going to die broke and alone and my nest dispatch would be from temporary housing at a YMCA.

I didn’t do this on purpose. It’s just a bad thinking pattern developed as a survival method to deal with childhood trauma. It’s the same bad thinking that leads me to overeat to morbid obesity.

So when the steroids hit the bloodstream with already jangled nerves, that was cherry bomb in the toilet. Everybody I’m in close contact with knew I was depressed and tried to assure me I was going to be OK. My teachers tried. Parents 2.0 tried. Friends tried.

The trouble is they used intellectual reasoning and the chemical malfunction I was dealing with mucks up emotional reactions.

The combination of physical illness and mental health struggles put me to sleep for the first four days of spring break.

My therapist finally helped me reason out the situation and come down from the rush of negative emotions.

Then I got my vaccine booster shot. That made me sick with fever and chills for about three days. I suppose a few miserable days are a good trade for avoiding the full force of a potentially lethal virus infection, particularly with my comorbidities, but it’s still no fun.

So spring break week has come and gone and all the books I was going to read for fun and all the schoolwork I was going to accomplish remain in the same state they were before break began.

There’s a possibility that would have happened even if I had been healthy, but I want to believe my better intentions would have prevailed if I wasn’t fighting a double- or sometimes triple-whammy of health problems.

There is a bit of good news. A friend of mine, a fellow former paragraph stacker, left the trade to become a lawyer. He reviewed the administrative law judge’s rejection of my appeal for a special benefits program that would extend my unemployment.

He and his boss offered some suggestions for an appeal, but my friend told me the appeals judges almost always side with the administrative law judges.

But an appeal costs me nothing but time. I appealed. The state is moving in its usually speedy way. The form says it could take up to 75 days. I would guess that figure will be doubled and add five more days for that.

I did my taxes. That was a brutal bummer. I’m due a refund from the feds that will be completely wiped out by my tax bill in Iowa. So the hope that a tax refund would keep me in rent, groceries, and gas for a month or so dwindles.

Some hope rests in some federal government deciding what income might be declared tax exempt because of the pandemic disaster. My tax software company says the feds haven’t decided this yet. No rush. Taxes are due in less than a month. 

Why would we expect the federal government to serve the people in any speedier fashion than any other government?

Ah, but why bother with politics at a time like this.

As my friend Todd often reminds me, the only way through troubles is straight through them.

I hate to trouble all of you again with my tales of woe. I hope you know how much each of you has helped me. These contributions have kept afloat during one of the most challenging times in my life. 

I’m learning to be a teacher while I’m also learning to live with the disability from my arthritic knees and facing financial struggle. It’s a lot of stuff to worry about all at once and, frankly, sometimes it gets to me.

But you people, you floor me. I don’t know many of you personally. I dare say I don’t know most of you personally. Yet you give and give. You send positive messages.

I hear the negative ones, both in my own thoughts and from others. 

I want you to know how much your letters have touched me, how much your faith in me becoming a good teacher keeps me going when the doubts mount.

And, yes, money is important. I wish I never had to talk about money, but we live in the real world. The electric bill is due every month, just like the rent, insurance, and other bills.

I’m hanging in there. I live frugally. I clip coupons now. OK, an app does it for me, but I never did before. 

So, this is a day I wish never comes, a day in which again I ask for your help. I need your support. Don’t overextend yourself for me; your first duty is always to yourself. 

For those who do help, I will remind you of the promise I’ve made many times before: I will become a teacher and eventually a very good one. I will pass on all that I have learned about writing and creativity and passion for a craft. I will be honest, tender my truths with kindness, and be the person you believe me to be.

And one day, soon, I hope, this will be a different kind of message.

Blessings to you all.

Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com.
Venmo@newsmanone.
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.
Meal Train: https://www.mealtrain.com/trains/5ek08z/updates/


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.

Trying to extend unemployment? Prepare to bang your head against the bureaucracy

Our story so far …

May 2020: The local newspaper discards with your friendly neighborhood paragraph stacker in a round of layoffs amidst the pandemic.

August 2020: After months of fruitless job searching, Finney begins graduate school at Drake University to finish his master’s degree and become a schoolteacher.

December 2020: Finney takes a job as an assignment editor for one of the local television stations.

March 2021: Finney’s brief foray into broadcast journalism ends in an unmitigated disaster; his studies continue at Drake and a new unemployment claim is filed.

April 2021: After battling the voice-automated answering system of Iowa Workforce Development for weeks and employees who all gave different answers on different days, Finney reaches a real person, an angel named Anna. She discovers my identity has been stolen and someone tried to claim unemployment benefits in my name. She promises to correct the error. I was informed there was a lot of fraud.

May 2021: Iowa Workforce Development pays unemployment benefits after a three-week delay while they investigate the identity theft. Finney attends summer classes.

August 2021: Finney applies for two unemployment benefits related programs: Department Approved Training and Training Extension Benefits.

Department Approved Training allows a person seeking further education or retraining for a needed occupation, such as teaching, need not apply for nor submit job applications when filing for weekly unemployment benefits.

He is approved for this program.

Training Extension Benefits is a federal program managed by Iowa Workforce Development which extends unemployment benefits for up to 26 weeks to workers who’ve left a declining field, such as newspaper journalism, and are seeking education or retraining for a needed job; teacher is on the list.

Officials denied that program. A letter from Iowa Workforce Development states he was ineligible for the benefits due any or all of four reasons; one of the reasons is Finney did not leave a declining field.

This is particularly galling to Finney. Some 26% of newsroom employees have lost their job between 2008 and 2020, per the Pew Research Center.

Further, the decade long decline in newsroom employment struck mid-career workers — that’s people ages 35 to 54 — the hardest, again per Pew. Finney was 44 when his job was cut by the local newspaper and 45 when his job ended at the TV station.

Someone might argue this is an industry-wide age discrimination practice to rid payrolls of middle-aged workers whose wages have risen commiserate to their experience. But that is probably cynical thinking. Newspapers are mostly owned by corporations. And corporations are people.

The letter denying Finney Training Extension Benefits gives him 10 days to apply from the letter’s date of Aug. 11.

Finney contacts his caseworker at Iowa Workforce Development. She advises him that his TEB was denied because he had not exhausted his regular unemployment benefits.

Our man, by email, asks if he should appeal the decision to make sure he is not blocked from applying again.

His caseworker, in an email says, “No, you can still apply next month. … If you are denied then, you would also have the opportunity to appeal that decision as well.”

September 2021: Finney reapplies for Training Extension Benefits. He hears nothing for three weeks. He calls several times. He emails the help desk. He is told to call his local Iowa Workforce Development office located on the south side of Des Moines. He does. The person he speaks with tells him to call the main state offices of Iowa Workforce Development.

Eventually, he is told that there is no record of the paperwork he faxed in early September ever being received by Iowa Workforce Development.

Fine, Finney, says. I will submit the paperwork again. He sends the form and a copy of his student schedule for the fall 2021 semester.

He receives email confirmation that the paperwork was received; a decision should be reached within 10 to 15 business days, he is told.

November 2021: After multiple email exchanges with customer service at Iowa Workforce Development, our man is told by email “I am not even sure if the application (that you emailed on 10/08/21) has been looked at because I noticed I had mistyped your Social Security number.”

OK. People make mistakes.

Finney learns he attached the incorrect semester’s schedule and application to the email. He corrects this by sending his current schedule and his student teaching schedule for the coming spring semester.

Nov. 13, 2021: Finney receives, on a Saturday oddly enough, “Good morning Daniel. Unfortunately, once a decision is issued it can no longer be changed and new requests can’t be processed.

In your case the only option is to appeal the denial decision that was issued to you on 08/11/21.”

This is directly in opposition to what Finney was told by his caseworker months before. Also, the denial letter specified a 10-day period to appeal, after which the decision became final.

This, too, was something he had asked his caseworker about directly and told that he could let the grace period expire and apply the next month.

Finney calls his caseworker. She says she has never heard that you couldn’t apply again. However, she notes that she had worked for the unemployment office for five years, then left for some time, and returned recently. Perhaps a rule changed while she was away.

A cynic might think that the umpteen cuts to government staffing by administrations dating back to the first Branstad administration means updating new (or returning) employees on little details like the rules about applying for Training Extension Benefits is something that doesn’t happen as efficiently or as effectively as possible.

Thus, Finney’s caseworker gave potentially bad advice because no one bothered to tell her — and maybe she didn’t look up to be sure — that you can only apply for Training Extension Benefits once.

Then again, maybe she is right. The rules seem to be a mystery even to those who administer them.

Finney’s caseworker suggests he appeal the denial despite the expired grace period and include the relevant history.

Finney goes to the form to do this. Alas, it requires information that was on the denial letter. Finney foolishly threw this away because he was told he could reapply.

Finney requests a copy of his denial letter from August. A customer service agent promised to mail out a copy.

The letter has yet to arrive.

Finney is still in school. He finishes his last classroom work in December and will student teach in the spring. He fights on.


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.