When Bad Things Happen to a Good Teacher

10/02/2009
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This is a story about the rubber room.

A teacher in my school got arrested today.

He got arrested after a student slapped him around and then, when he finally raised his hand to defend himself, she bit it and broke the skin.

All the students who witnessed the incident say the girl started it and that my colleague never struck her, pushed her or contacted her at all other than when she bit him.

Not one of his colleagues believes this man is capable of attacking a student. He is thoroughly easy going, relaxed, and non-confrontational.

This is a teacher who has dealt with most of the more violent, combustible, disturbed and/or psychotic students who have passed through the school in the four years he’s been there. He never even yelled at any of them.

While he was in the nurse’s office having his hand treated, the girl was telling the assistant principal that she had been attacked. The AP did what the law says he had to do; take the girl seriously and call the police, even though he was positive the girl was making the story up.

Instead of having a nice weekend my colleague will be waiting to appear before a judge for arraignment.

He will be released on bail, but he won’t be allowed to come back to work on Monday, not even to pick up his things.

Instead of going to work he will be told to report to one of the City’s Temporary Reassignment Centers, usually hot room with low ceilings and few windows. These are the rubber rooms.

On any given day there are about 700 New York City Department of Education employees assigned to rubber rooms. Some are principals, assistant principals or other administrators, but most are teachers.

Each person in a rubber room gets paid his or her full salary. They get their full benefits. They even get the pay increases they’d otherwise get for longevity or advanced degrees. This costs the city about $65 million per year.

People assigned to rubber rooms report there every day and stay there during school hours. That’s their job; they are specifically prohibited from having any duties. Then they go home.

Like all the others, my colleague will stay in the rubber room until the charges against him are resolved. Some people stay in the rubber rooms for more than three years. One has been in a rubber room for more than five years – the charges against him have never been proven or dismissed and he refuses to resign.

Rubber rooms exist because the teacher’s union, the United Federation of Teachers, insists that teachers not be fired without due process or based on unproved allegations.

Sometimes the accused person is guilty and deserves to be punished.

My colleague is innocent and his students are being punished. They are being denied this dedicated teacher.

A lot of people say teachers in the rubber room for more than a year or two should be fired. After all, they wouldn’t be there if they were innocent.

My colleague is innocent and will be there anyway.

Let’s hope it is for a very, very short time.

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