The Rubber Room

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Go Back Print this page Skip to content Subscribe to The New Yorker SUBSCRIBE FOR JUST 85¢ AN ISSUE Give a gift Renew your Subscription Subscription Questions Annals of Education The Rubber Room The battle over New York City’s worst teachers. by Steven Brill August 31, 2009 Text Size: Small Text Medium Text Large Text Print E-Mail Feeds One school principal has said that Randi Weingarten, of the teachers’ union,“would protect a dead body in the classroom.”
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Keywords Education ; Schools ; New York City ; Temporary Reassignment Centers (Rubber Rooms) ; United Federation of Teachers (U.F.T.) ; Joel Klein ; Randi Weingarten In a windowless room in a shabby office building at Seventh Avenue and Twenty-eighth Street, in Manhattan, a poster is taped to a wall, whose message could easily be the mission statement for a day-care center: “Children are fragile. Handle with care.” 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. But there are no children here. The inhabitants are all New York City schoolteachers who have been sent to what is officially called a Temporary Reassignment Center but which everyone calls the Rubber Room. 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. The teachers have been in the Rubber Room for an average of about three years, doing the same thing every day—which is pretty much nothing at all. 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. “You can never appreciate how irrational the system is until you’ve lived with it,” says Joel Klein, the city’s schools chancellor, who was appointed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg seven years ago. Neither the Mayor nor the chancellor is popular in the Rubber Room. “Before Bloomberg and Klein took over, there was no such thing as incompetence,” Brandi Scheiner, standing just under the Manhattan Rubber Room’s “Handle with Care” poster, said recently. Scheiner, who is fifty-six, talks with a raspy Queens accent. Suspended with pay from her job as an elementary-school teacher, she earns more than a hundred thousand dollars a year, and she is, she said, “entitled to every penny of it.” She has been in the Rubber
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This note was uploaded on 05/20/2011 for the course EDU 120 taught by Professor Timar during the Spring '11 term at UC Davis.

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