Dear Pastoral County School Board,
As a middle school math teacher in Pastoral County, I would like to thank you for your dedicated service to the Pastoral School District during this time of unprecedented change. You have shown great courage in making the decision to go fully remote this year, so as to ensure the safety of students and staff members within the district. You are one of the many heroes of this COVID-19 crisis, making difficult, sometimes unpopular decisions, but remaining steadfast and never wavering, knowing that these choices will save lives in our community.
As we look to move forward into this crisis, and you continue to reassess the needs of our students and community at large, as it relates to remote learning versus in-person instruction, I would like you to seriously take into consideration that I hate my house.
When the pandemic first began last spring, as a society we began to re-evaluate and take stock in what was really important. Things like health, family, and service to our community were prioritized and deemed essential as concern grew and challenges mounted. As so much lay unanswered and many disagreements seemed irreconcilable, I found great comfort in these shared values, which were continuously reaffirmed by the school board’s decisions to take the crisis seriously, generously provide resources, and to work swiftly and tirelessly to create safe and equitable online spaces in which our students could learn. While I remain adamant that the decisions made were both necessary and heroic, I would like the board to be aware and consider the fact that my house is a piece of garbage and I am rotting inside of it.
You see, when my wife Lori and I bought the house several years ago, we were rushed into making a final decision by a pushy realtor, who made us feel like our expectations in purchasing a home were much too high. We inevitably settled for something that more closely resembles a Lynchian hellscape than an actual homestead for living. We signed away our souls for a 2,000 square foot sack of turds, thinking that we could add our own touch to it, make it our own. But as the saying goes, you can't polish a turd and, unfortunately, you cannot effectively rearrange furniture around one either. God knows we’ve tried.
Before lockdown, I would come to school early and stay late, because yes, I am a dedicated teacher, but also because for those brief school hours, I was free of that awful house. While I know that returning for in-person learning creates a huge challenge, specifically as students who contract COVID are likely to be asymptomatic, making controlling outbreaks nearly impossible, I need you to know that my house, both literally and figuratively, is draining me of life and I need to leave.
I don’t want you to get the idea that it’s just a matter of interior design. You’ve heard a house described as having “good bones.” Well, this house has the bones of a calcium-deficient old man. The floor plan is just a mess. Angled walls create harsh and sad feeling rooms, the windows refuse to open more than an inch and don’t get any natural light, and the overall concept is as closed as an Indiana liquor store on Sunday. While I am grateful that the board has placed such high priority on the safety of teachers and students and the safety of my loved ones, I hope you will also give high priority to the fact that I don’t want to be in this God-forsaken house for another moment.
While it’s true that the middle school itself is no structural beauty, that building is not a reflection of myself. I can work in the school without focusing on the peeling paint and the dripping ceiling and the black mold that is undoubtedly spreading through the ventilation system because it is not a reminder of the worst decision I ever made; buying my house.
Further adding insult to injury, with remote learning, I’m seeing inside every student’s house and, for the most part, they’re gorgeous! In my third hour, there is a kid who’s kitchen has this amazing mosaic tile backsplash. In my kitchen, the only splashes come from the puddle that forms each night my wife takes a bath upstairs and the water seeps down through the floorboards.
Another student has these charming built-in bookshelves that look very studious and offer fun decorating opportunities. Our house has built-ins too. Yes, we’ve got three oversized couches in our living room that have been built into the wall by way of cinder block and horse glue. They take up the majority of the room, are tremendously uncomfortable, and hurt your eyes if you look at them for more than a few seconds. A contractor quoted their removal at just under $10,000, so that’s never happening.
As I witness the senseless loss of life in our community, I understand that every mitigation step we put in place prevents more devastation. Reopening the school for in-person learning poses many risks and as you begin to take calculated risks, I would like you to include in your calculations that I despise my house, I should never have bought it, and every second that I am in this house, all I can think about is that my wife and I have made a horrible and awful decision that will haunt us for the remainder of our days on earth and well into whatever afterlife presents itself.
So please, continue to think carefully about this situation, as well as the existential dread that hangs over me like a small stormcloud each and every day I am at home.
Dustin B. Abernathy
Middle School Math Teacher
Pastoral County Schools