NYC 'rubber rooms' will close

New York City’s “rubber rooms” for teachers accused of misconduct or incompetence will close, reports the New York Times. In a deal with the teachers’ union, the Education Department will file charges more quickly and hire more arbitrators to speed the hearing process; teachers waiting for a hearing will do administrative or clerical work in the schools while their cases are pending. “Cases that lasted several years could now be completed in months,” predicts the Times.

Although the city has invested about $2 million in hiring more lawyers to help principals get rid of teachers, it has managed to fire only three for incompetence in the last two years.

The average “rubber room” teacher spends three years doing nothing at full pay waiting for a hearing, the New Yorker reported last year.

It’s a June morning, and there are fifteen people in the room, four of them fast asleep, their heads lying on a card table. Three are playing a board game. Most of the others stand around chatting. Two are arguing over one of the folding chairs.

. . . These fifteen teachers, along with about six hundred others, in six larger Rubber Rooms in the city’s five boroughs, have been accused of misconduct, such as hitting or molesting a student, or, in some cases, of incompetence, in a system that rarely calls anyone incompetent.

. . . Watched over by two private security guards and two city Department of Education supervisors, they punch a time clock for the same hours that they would have kept at school—typically, eight-fifteen to three-fifteen. Like all teachers, they have the summer off. The city’s contract with their union, the United Federation of Teachers, requires that charges against them be heard by an arbitrator, and until the charges are resolved—the process is often endless—they will continue to draw their salaries and accrue pensions and other benefits.

About 550 teachers now wait in rubber rooms. Those cases will be cleared by the end of the year, the city pledges.

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  1. Just how bad is the public school system?

    The story of the rubber room answers that question.

  2. The rubber rooms are an extreme in public education, as New York’s system is an extreme. The dismantling of the rubber rooms is certainly a step in the right direction, however.

  3. I love reading about this! Cracks me up every time. My favorite part has to be the summers off. How can they tell the free time from the room time? I would think too that other NYC teachers would feel embarrassed to bee part of a system that allows this. Not likely though.

  4. Swede- “Not likely though.”
    You’d be surprised. All of the teachers I know in the city think the rubber rooms go WAY too far- including the union fanatics I know. Due process is fine, good and necessary, but indefinite paid vacation is another thing altogether.

  5. Nick James,

    That’s good to hear. Unfortunately I would be surprised, but if they are ashamed then that means that there is hope. Thanks for your information.

  6. No one here seems to understand that the reason teachers are sitting around for 3 years getting paid to do nothing is the NYC Dept. of Education.

    3 years to give somewhere a due process hearing that they are entitled to receive?

    Plus, the fact that only 3 teachers were removed shows the overwhelming majority of teachers are there for bogus reasons.

    I would suggest you read some of the blogs of NYC teachers to find out what really goes on and why teachers are assigne there.

  7. The closing of the rubber rooms is definitely a good thing. Along with Nick James, I, as a NYC teacher, found them embarrassing–because the few who truly deserved to be there continued to collect a paycheck to be there, and because the many who were there on flimsy trumped-up “charges” were routinely pilloried in the press. Some of the things people are ostensibly “in the rubber room for” could be remedied quickly and fairly with fines or retraining; other teachers should never have been there at all; and, finally, the few teachers who truly posted a danger to children should have been swiftly terminated. A disaster all around, and thank goodness something is being done.

  8. Richard Aubrey says:

    Yeah, fine and all, but what are they going to do with the teachers who are awaiting hearings?
    Let them stay home and collect?
    Put them in a different location and keep it quiet?

  9. In my district, we don’t have a rubber room. When teachers are put on paid administrative leave, they get to stay home, do yard work, watch Oprah, picnic in the park, walk on the beach.

    They have more freedom and the district dodges the bad press.

  10. Well at least we’ve got the usual suspects showing up to obliquely make the case for the public education system existing to first, employ teachers.

    By all means, let’s have a multi-year, six-dollar figure process by which teachers are terminated. It’s not as if teaching skill is a valued commodity in the public education system so absent that valuation we have that tortured and inefficient “due process”.

  11. Allen,

    So you feel it’s fine the NYC DOE lets teachers sit around for 3 years without a hearing, and then makes THEM out to be the problem? Aren’t you outraged that NYC spent so much money on what turned out to be bogus and unsubstantiated charges against hundreds of teachers?

    Of course not, you think anything that badmouths and bashes teachers is good.

  12. Gee Mike, feeling a bit concerned that the good, old days of “who cares if the little rats learn anything as long as my paycheck clears” are starting to come to an end? You ought too. They are.

    See, the wonderful irony is that the attitude you exemplify is precisely why rubber rooms exist and why teaching is so lightly regarded in the teaching profession.

    But hey, maybe things will work out for you and you’ll make it to retirement before the idea that the purpose of the public education system isn’t to fund your retirement becomes more widespread. The idea does seem to be spreading though so the clock isn’t on your side. Ticktock Mike, ticktock.

  13. Be nice.

  14. Allen,

    You know nothing about me as a teacher but you assume I’m imcompetent just b/c I am a teacher.

    You dodged the question about the millions of dollars NYC has spent on this rubber room foolishness, AND the denial of due process rights to teachers who have it guaranteed in a contract.

    The article clearly states the average wait for a hearing is 3 years.

    Everytime you open your mouth you make yourself look even dumber.

  15. Oh, a little too rough Robert? Sorry, but every once in a while you just have to let the dogs off the leash and let ’em run.

    The subject of this post is a perfect example of the sort of situation that practically begs for the leash to be loosened.

    What could be a purer distillation of the inherent cruelty and stupidity of the public education system then the rubber room? The people who are supposed to be doing the job that’s the reason for the existence of the public education system are so little valued by the system that various substitutes for that valuation have to be dreamed up and put into practice. Since teaching skill is immaterial in the public education system we have substitutes for the job security that skill would confer.

    There’s tenure which wouldn’t be necessary if the people who made the hiring and firing decisions had to face the repercussions of the decision to fire a skilled professional. But they don’t! So tenure, and the civil service system and the ludicrously complex firing process negotiated by unions is the substitute.

    Of course like most substitutes they’re a pretty lousy approximation of the real deal but hey, that’s life, right? You do the best you can with what you’ve got and if you’ve got it long enough, no matter how lousy it is, you learn to accept it, even see it as a good thing.

    After all, baby needs a new pair of shoes and that costs. If the paycheck’s regular most people will learn to grit their teeth and live with the disappointment and humiliation.

    But a percentage will come to love the boot that kicks them. Come to see it as good and necessary and the proper vessel into which to pour their loyalty. That’s our Mike. Is there a ludicrously self-serving rationalization Mike hasn’t committed to memory? Only if he hasn’t made its acquaintance.

    But I’m not going to get mired in personalities when there’s a delicious phenomenon like the rubber room to explore.

    The tricky bit to negotiate in an exploration of the rubber room is the understanding that the rubber room isn’t so much a good or bad thing but that it’s an inevitable thing.

    Whether there’s an explicit warehouse for teachers who may or may not be fired is immaterial since the function is inevitable. Tenure and the negotiated firing process, being a lousy substitute for placing a value on teaching skill, mean an inefficient and drawn-out firing process. Administration wants to fire a teacher, teacher doesn’t want to be fired and what lies between the action that initiates the firing process and however it ends is the rubber room, real or virtual.

  16. I’m all for letting dogs off the leash to let them run, but when they’re pit bulls and the owner’s meanness masquerades as passion, one needs to be called on it.

    You points are valid. Your lack of civility is, at the least, a distraction.


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