THE RUBBER ROOM:

Internal Exile in
New York City Public Schools

Introduction

Every weekday morning, about seven hundred New York City public school teachers, one percent of the total, are forbidden to go to school. Charged with misconduct and stripped of their teaching duties, they are required instead to congregate in crowded rooms away from students and sit there all day, killing time. Some know what they are accused of. Others don’t. Until their cases are resolved, they continue to be paid but have to spend every working day in teacher jail. Their mind-numbing detention lasts for months, sometimes years. They call it the “rubber room.” It is where teachers in trouble are hung out to dry.
 
Officially termed “temporary reassignment centers,” rubber rooms are an institutionalized facet of workplace mobbing in America’s largest school system. In most workplaces, internal exile is metaphorical. The targeted worker punches in every day but is assigned no meaningful work, and therefore languishes in a mental prison of doubt, shame, and fear. In the rubber room, the exile and prison are literal. Teachers sent there are left to brood and fume on full salary, as their teaching careers slip away. Even if they are eventually released back into the classroom, they are damaged goods.

Without a doubt, some inmates of the rubber room are depraved, incompetent, or otherwise unfit to teach. They should be fired. Others, however, just got on the wrong side of some vice-principal, and the whole system came down on their heads. The charges many teachers face are fuzzy, exaggerated, or simply false. Yet here they sit week after week in the rubber room, their depression and anger deepening day by day, their stigma sinking in more indelibly. Leonard Brown was removed from the classroom for making physical contact with a student during a simple science demonstration that he had been using to teach physics for 18 years. Michael Thomas landed in the rubber room after he reported irregularities in the grading of Regents exams and objected to the way funds were spent at his school. The rubber room is a purgatory or limbo that mocks the principles of natural justice, in particular the right of anyone accused to a fair and speedy trial.
 
Since smaller workplaces typically have only a handful of cases of internal exile at a time, they rarely get much publicity. New York’s school system is so large, however, and the technique of exile so standardized, that the havoc this ostracization wreaks on human lives has been widely criticized. Union leaders blame rubber rooms on policies that give principals discretion to banish teachers they don’t like. The Department of Education blames them on collective agreements that prevent easy dismissal. The disagreement between the union and the department goes on and on. “It is in workplaces where workers’ rights are formally protected that the complex and devious incursions on human dignity that constitute mobbing most commonly occur” (Westhues 2002).

The links on this page are to news articles, blogs, videos, and radio broadcasts that describe the roughly one dozen rubber rooms in New York City. These rooms illustrate how destructive and wasteful the problem of workplace mobbing is.


Five Best Newspaper Accounts
  "Class Dismissed" The Village Voice, NYC Life.
  "Where Teachers Sit, Awaiting Their Fates" New York Times.
 

"Why is the City Paying 757 People To Do Nothing?" New York Post

 

"Teachers in Trouble Spending Years in Rubber Room Limbo that Costs $65M" New York Daily News

  "Teachers Sue to Ax Rubber Rooms" New York Daily News
  "Another Whistleblower Sent to Rubber Room" New York Teacher


Individual Cases

Leonard Brown

Physics teacher Leonard Brown describes his experience of being banished to the rubber room after a simple science demonstration.

 

Hipolito Colon

Betsy Combier describes
the powerful case of a whistleblower Hipolito
("Polo") Colon.

Michael Thomas

Jim Callaghan writes about another whistleblower sent to the rubber room.

 

 

Susan Schwartz

Award-winning teacher Susan Schwartz describes the horrific tactics used to push her out of her school and into the rubber room.

From Rubber
Room and Back

An anonymous first person account exposes administrative use and abuse of rubber rooms.

 

Case of New York City Teacher Abuse of Probationary Teacher

Professor Priya Parmar
describes the abuse of untenured and probationary teachers.

There is a flagrant rubber-stamping of people's cases and lives in and out of "rubber rooms", in order to attempt to intimidate them and to break their will and spirit, in order to silence those that
may dare to speak out.

-Statement by Hipolito Colon, 19 September 2006


Multimedia Resources

VIDEO: "Bad Teachers? Lock'Em Up in the Rubber Room!"

 

RADIO BROADCAST: The Rubber Room Pt.1 (Radio Diaries)

 

RADIO BROADCAST: The Rubber Room Pt.2 (Radio Diaries)


RUBBER ROOM MOVIE TRAILER (Five Boroughs)


The Rubber Room Movie

Five Boroughs, a New York City based production company, is in the process of producing a documentary about the rubber room.

Click here to visit The Rubber Room Movie Site


Personal Accounts and Blogs

Thoughts and reflections from a teacher currently in a New York rubber room.

Teacher Advocacy Group NYC (TAGNYC)

This blog is geared towards teachers who have been mistreated and feel unsupported by the UFT.

This blog examines issues facing teacher in reassignment centers.

 

Life After the Rubber Room

*Note: in order to get his job back, the author of this blog was required to remove most information about the
rubber room.

 

We appreciate your feedback. Please send any questions, comments, or concerns to
kwesthue@uwaterloo.ca