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How My House is Like Educational Reform

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The “rental” is presentable. The mess is up off the floors, bagged, and sits in a pile in the garage until payday when I can order a commercial dumpster for a day. This dumpster will be left in front of the house so we can toss in all the trash bags and broken furniture that remain in 24 hours, at the end of which the garbage company will haul it away for us. At $119, this is a good deal considering I just took a trailer piled high with mattresses and a pickup full of smelly garbage and it cost me $63.

The outside of the home is cleaned up and the rotting stench (or the garbage creating it) has been hauled away. And, yes, during the clean out my worst fears were confirmed when two rat carcasses were discovered in the garage. I’m not surprised that they had rats. The place was the worst cesspool of filth, debris and decay that I have ever seen. This made the mess left by The Evil Ex when he moved out look like Felix Unger’s flat.

The alarming reality is that my tenant had a child living in that mess with her. The little guy was about one; still in diapers and not talking. It just makes me wonder, when we know all that we do about the importance of early experiences on the developing body and brain, what kind of life this child will have. Growing up in filthy, rat infested, smoke filled, dwellings lacking in the requisite attention from his mother who most likely is battling addiction and depression and is unable and ill-equipped to parent. I can empathize with being poor and struggling desperately to make ends meet, but I have a hard time understanding how people when given an opportunity and a place to live that is safe, clean, and in good repair can be so negligent, destructive, and disrespectful.

I don’t want to go off on a big political treatise on the American educational system, but is it any wonder our schools are in trouble when this mentality of disrespect is becoming the mainstream of society filling the seats in our public school classrooms? I just have a hard time understanding how the teachers who deal daily with children who come from circumstances like these are vilified and held responsible for their students’ failures on high stakes tests when the fact that their students are often struggling to survive the night after they leave school. In situations like the one my tenants represent, homework and school achievement seem a bit irrelevant. And, for the record, I live in a small rural area, of which the largest city boasts a population of 60,000. I’m not talking large metropolitan inner city here. This is suburbia. This is the small town. This is not the exception it is becoming the norm. To lay the ills of society and the failure of the educational system to adequately meet the needs of a society it was not designed to service at the feet of teachers and then point blame is misdirected and completely pointless. The failure of our school system is not a teacher problem, it is a societal problem. Poor policy only compounds the problem.

Our society is changing and policy makers, the people who pass the laws telling teachers what they will teach, how they will teach it, and how long each day they will teach it, are completely out of touch with these changes. Further, there seems to be little understanding as to how these pervasive societal changes impact children and classrooms.

It’s a start to get policy makers out of their tidy, manicured offices furnished with items that costs more than it would take to feed a family of five for a year into the classrooms. The problem is that policy makers cannot get any idea of how their policies play out in a five minute walk through. They ought to spend some real time observing how things roll day to day in the life of a classroom over a period of time. They need to see how their policies impact daily instruction and school climate. That would only scratch the surface, but it would be a start at increasing the awareness of policy makers so they could better understand the situation they attempt to improve with their policies.

Of course, if policy makers really wanted to make a difference, they would also familiarize themselves with the things outside the classroom that make learning so difficult for students in the classroom. The mindset shared by my tenants is clearly one absent of the most basic level of respect: for things, the environment, others and themselves. How do you help people who just don’t care? Effecting real, lasting and positive change in a society that often seems dead set on destroying itself, is not and will not be an easy task. It is so much easier to concern oneself with merely getting re-elected.

It’s like my house. 72 hours ago, the place appeared to be in ruin. Some muscle, hard work, and a bit of knowledge and determination, and a whole lot of desire to help later and my house is moving toward being inhabitable again. It could function adequately as a safe dwelling for a family. This is like the policy makers and education today. What we have is okay. In some respects it is even great. But, based on more thorough investigation, there is still a great deal to change.

My house, in order for it to be a good home for a long time, needs far more than a clean out. It needs a complete overhaul. The plumbing needs to be replaced and the kitchen needs updating in the worst way. Windows need to be replaced with energy efficient ones. I’m sure the wiring is out of code. Attic fans and new insulation are necessary. Cabinets, counter tops and floors require updating. The roof will need to be replaced before the homeowners policy expires. Once the improvements begin, it may be discovered that there is further work to be done beneath the surfaces. So it is with our educational system. Once we get started working on educational reform, it will be a large, seemingly impossible task. Where will it end? How much will it cost? Maybe it is better to leave well enough alone?

So, until we figure out which parts of the educational house need to be renovated and which we should dispose of, its just easier to do the basic clean out. Instead, we stick with the basics and make the house look presentable and hope for the best. I think we know it isn’t just the educational system that needs refurbishing. Instead, like it often happens when you remodel, when you rip into one wall, you might uncover a deeper, bigger problem that must be dealt with before the remodel can move forward. That’s where I think we are with education. We’ve begun to remodel, but until we deal with some of the deeper, larger issues buried in the framework of our society, our educational remodel will never be completely effective.

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Trashed House~My Payment For Trying To Do A Good Deed

I wonder, is it my payment for doing a good deed or is it just that somewhere along the line, maybe when I was a kid, (I was a really bratty kid and lied a lot to my parents) I earned up some really bad karma. Or maybe, it is that bad things, sometimes really bad things, happen to good people. I don’t know. My right wing fundamentalist evangelical Christian friends might say it is because I’m being punished by God for not attending church every week, tithing, and being a faithful servant. Well, as for not attending church, tithing and being faithful they’d be completely accurate. I’m just not sure that’s how God rolls though. I mean, think about it, when Jesus walked the earth he hung with some of the lowest of the low according to society and the religious elite of the day. Rahab, a harlot, was used to save some godly peeps and, well, I kinda think God tends to look past the mess in our lives right into our very inner being and that is where he deals with us on an individual basis. I think the outer stuff, the yuck that I am dealing with now, is just life. It is also the result of me being a naive person, when I should not have been. It is also the result of me simply making some very foolish choices. Hindsight is always 20/20.

But about the next bad thing that has happened in my life. The thing that makes me wonder what kind of evil karma I built up throughout my life only to have it be dumped out on me this year has to do with the rental. I’ve only alluded to it. Here’s most of the story.

Last year, I made the decision to go through bankruptcy (actually a smart decision given all the details which I will not disclose here). In the process, I decided to surrender my home. This was also a smart financial decision when you run the numbers, again, something I won’t bore you with here. This was not a case of me being angry at the bank for whatever reason. I just wanted to make a fresh start financially and the home was more financial and physical burden than I was going to be able to deal with. However, the entire process has ended up taking far longer than expected (over a year and counting). I knew it would take some time and I was not able to stay in the house and risk a move during the middle of the school year. I have three school age kids and my own career would not have been able to accommodate such a transition at such a time. I was getting legal heat from the Evil Ex and needed to make sure my daughter was enrolled in a good school and that she was doing well and liked it. I decided to move to a nearby town and in September we found a place to rent and settled it. And that, was going to be that…or so I thought.

I was approached by a friend….(you can see this coming, can’t you?)…who mentioned that her son and two friends were looking for a place to rent temporarily and would I be interested. Well, no, not really. I mean, I really had no desire to be a landlord or make the place a rental; I just wanted out. But this was a friend I have known and worked with for 14 years. Her kids and my kids grew up together, went to school together and our kids are now graduating together. This woman has impeccable character and is a top notch quality person. Her son is also. The friends came highly recommended. So, I did a bit of research, wrote up a rental agreement, we all signed it, they paid their move in money and I moved out. I left the place in pretty decent shape. It wasn’t perfect. I had some stuff in the garage still to move out, but the place was, for all intents and purposes, a clean and homey dwelling. The friends of the friend’s son turned out to be disastrous.

Things started being a problem almost right away. I’d drive by the place and see that it wasn’t being maintained, then the rent began to come in partial payments. Two months in and I was working on evicting them. Fortunately, they ended up getting out within the 30 days after being served the rental termination notice. Then I got another renter in, who was actually, at first, responsible and timely in her payments. She got some roommates to help share the rent and utility expenses and all was golden. That lasted about two months and things began falling apart. There were violations of the rental agreement, which I followed up and she attempted (though not satisfactorily) to remedy and I gave her a 30-day notice of termination of the rental agreement (we have a month-to-month). Rent was not paid completely last month and rent didn’t appear at all on the first. I went by to collect on the first, no response. I went by the next day. The house looks deserted, but the door is wide open. No answer when I ring the bell. I try contacting my tenant with no response. I drive by the house the next day, the door is closed, otherwise there is still no sign of life. The dog does not bark when I go to the door. This goes on for a week and I’m beginning to think they’ve abandoned the house. Finally, I get in touch with the tenant, over a week after the missed payment and the termination notice. She confirms that she received the notice. She also confirms that they have indeed abandoned the place, with the intent to come back for her stuff by the end of the month; the others have already gotten all their things out. In a phone conversation, I express my concern about the security of the home if no one is living there. She agrees that she will get her stuff moved out within the week and move the rest of her stuff to the garage. I gave her till the end of the month to get her stuff out of the garage. In exchange I get the possession of my home and I won’t go after her for the late rent. Her week to move her stuff ended yesterday. Today, after my radiation treatment, I went over to the house to check things out.

This is the scene that greeted me when I drove up to the home:

I just had a really bad feeling about this. I immediately texted my tenant asking about all the stuff and she actually texted back saying she’d had a garage sale and this was the leftovers. On the mattress, there is a sign that reads, “Free. Please take.”

This is what the living room looked like when I entered:

Those are the window blinds that were in great condition when I moved out…now all broken and scattered on the floor. The big black stain in the middle of the carpet was not there when I moved out. You can’t see it well from here, but there is also smoke damage on the fireplace brick. Nice. Here’s the other side of the living room:

It gets better, before we head back to the bedrooms, let’s check out the kitchen.

The back slider was left open. Check out the grass in the back yard. We left them a lawn mower. It sure looks like they made good use of it. Here are views of each side of the kitchen:

2They left the kitchen sink.

And some food for any guests that might stop by:

I just can’t fathom how people can operate like this. They were in violation of their rental agreement for trash being left around. I gave her the appropriate amount of time according to state law to correct the problem. An attempt was made, but it was nowhere near satisfactory. Look what they left behind in terms of trash:


The thing that really irks me about this is that for the entire time I was renting this house to both sets of tenants, I paid for the garbage service which included a recycling bin and a yard debris container. What kind of mentality is it that thinks that it is okay to live in squalor like this let alone leave it for someone else to pick up? But let’s just do a quick tour of the rest of the home. My skin is beginning to crawl and I’m glancing around for the rubber gloves and sanitizer.

Part of the rental agreement stipulated no smoking in the house or garage. Apparently, the rules don’t apply to these folks.

Those aren’t just carpet stains you see in that picture with the pillow in the corner. That is dog poop on the carpet.

Of course, no rental trashing by tenants is complete without some damage to the walls. This hole is about a foot long from top to bottom.

That wasn’t the only hole either, but it was definitely the largest one. In all there were three holes in walls, and a wall had been repainted a hideous purple-blue color. The wall was previously white. Other damage to the home included damage to lighting fixtures:

Broken glass on the floor:

The toilet looked a lot like the kitchen sink:
I guess they had a crappy experience living in my home. Here’s the genius work in the master bathroom:
I’m not sure you can make them out. The writing reads, “I am beautiful. I am a leader. I am an amazing mother and friend.” I’m thinking that explains a lot. She must have run out of Prozac.
Last but not least, the garage is the coup de grace:
These mattresses are as high as I am tall.
Yes, folks, this was the disaster that I walked into today after getting my tenants out. When I moved out all the lighting fixtures had just been replaced. Now they are all damaged and missing light bulbs. I had just had someone put new screens on every window a couple of years earlier, and only one window has a screen left. There are stains on every carpet, holes in walls and the yard alone will take weeks to clean up. There is damage to doors, the air vent grate has been kicked in and there is rotting food everywhere.
Upon returning home, and while uploading the photos, I did a quick Google search on landlord’s rights when tenants trash a house. Turns out, in most states, this is not a police matter, it is considered the risk one takes when renting. It becomes a civil matter. In my case, I know these people are unemployed and even if I did go to court and win (which I would), I wouldn’t see any of that money ever. I’d spend more than I’d be awarded just to get it back. Here’s another kicker: I have to do this clean out myself as I have absolutely no financial resources to pay someone to clean it up. The Hesitant Boyfriend’s long stretch of unemployment and even longer stretch till he gets paid for the work he started last month is straining my monthly budget beyond belief and it was already strained before I picked up the tab on his car payment and insurance this month. (Which he promptly decided to increase the cost of by getting into a fender bender with a Cadillac.) Add to this the fact that the 18 y.o., just got her license and her cost to be insured inflated my insurance bill to over $400 a month.
Yes, I am the poster child for the club “Smart Women Who Basically Make Idiot Choices In Every Aspect Of Their Lives”. Or maybe Some Divine Being mistook me for the Morton Salt Girl who is comfortable with the idea that when it rains it pours.
Which leads me back to the thought about karma vs. punishment vs. it’s just life. This all happens to be just great timing. The tenants are out of the house, but the house is completely trashed. Just making the house secure and sanitary so it isn’t a public health hazard is going to take some doing. I’m halfway through my radiation treatments and my energy is in limited supply as it is. Just as all this crap is hitting the proverbial fan of my life, The Hesitant Boyfriend and I ran headlong into a deal-breaker, that I just can’t get past. I’ve told him he needs to move out and get his Hesitant Stuff sorted out, because sorting it out in anger on me or my children is just not how I roll. All of this is just very, very, very unfortunate.
This afternoon as I looked upon the devastation that is my life right now, I turned to my son and said, “I am truly at the lowest point I’ve ever been in my life. It is worse, even, than when I had to call in help to clean out after the Evil Ex.” And yet I had no tears to cry. I could do nothing, but make sure the doors were closed and locked, all the electrical items unplugged, and walk back to my car and get in and drive away and try not to gag in the process. My brief search on Google helped me realize that while tenants can trash houses, and unhappy people who are unhappy tenants often do trash houses, my situation could have been so much worse. While this clean out is bad and I’m going to have to figure out a way to get it done quickly and on the cheap, it is basically a matter of dumping and cleaning. At least, I hope that is how it works out.
As I am up late documenting this damage and pondering the irony of this all, I strangely aware that while none of this is fun for me, I’m not exactly in a panic about any of it. It is kind of like I’m playing a game of Monopoly and I pulled the “Go Directly To Jail. Do Not Pass Go. Do Not Collect $200” card. I’m stuck in the Monopoly Jail of life right now, not able to move forward or improve my situation because I simply keep drawing the bad cards. It’s a season. It’s not forever. (I sooo have to tell myself that right now because there is that teeny voice that sometimes squeaks, “What if this NEVER changes?” or, worse, “What if things just keep getting worse?”)
In a nutshell, it can all be summed up in the following conversation I had today with my oncology nurse:
Nurse: So…how are things going? How are you handling the treatments?
Me: Great. This is the least of my worries in life.
Yes, she looked at me like I’m crazy. Maybe I am…just a little.
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