Join 3,496 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Rubber Rooms Are Still Open, Just Different
October 16, 2012 5:33 PM   Subscribe

Thought the "rubber rooms" where New York City teachers were sent to wait for disciplinary hearings were closed? Not so much.

Previously on the Blue.
posted by reenum (32 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
A science instructor from Staten Island’s Intermediate School 49, Portelos has been kept in rubber rooms for more than five months for allegedly hacking into his school’s website, conducting a real estate business during class time, and tampering with the investigations into his allegedly improper activities.

I somehow have a hard time dredging up much sympathy for this fellow.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:40 PM on October 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


I love all the kvetching about how much time the teachers spend in these places. Guilty until proven innocent, or something, in the court of public opinion (as dictated by the yellow newspapers).

Teachers *should* get a hearing. The solution would be to HAVE A FUCKING HEARING already.
posted by notsnot at 5:45 PM on October 16, 2012 [18 favorites]


I somehow have a hard time dredging up much sympathy for this fellow.

If he's guilty. What if he's not? Why is the punishment preempting the conviction?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:47 PM on October 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


I somehow have a hard time dredging up much sympathy for this fellow.

What did he do?
posted by Cosine at 5:47 PM on October 16, 2012


I somehow have a hard time dredging up much sympathy for this fellow.

Would it be easier for you if you withheld judgment as to the allegations of which you know almost nothing?
posted by The World Famous at 5:48 PM on October 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Honestly, some of the teachers I had in NYC public schools, I don't care if we pay them forever as long as they aren't teaching. I had a history teacher that sat there and read the newspaper every single class. I had a teacher that taught Spanish by reading bible passages. There were a few that genuinely seemed to like teaching, but for the most part I've never encountered a bigger group of incompetents and bullies.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:59 PM on October 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


Ah, yes, probably trumped up charges, all of it. Silly me. He's a teacher after all, so therefore above reproach.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:59 PM on October 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm flagging this because, while it's an interesting topic, a single link from a disgusting tabloid like the Daily News tells us nothing we can believe about it.
posted by drjimmy11 at 6:00 PM on October 16, 2012 [12 favorites]


I do love that they present the issue as "OMG getting paid to not teach," rather than, "employer providing a work environment that amounts to torture."

I don't know if Murdoch actually owns the Daily News, but he might as well.
posted by drjimmy11 at 6:02 PM on October 16, 2012


KokuRyu: &ldsquo;I somehow have a hard time dredging up much sympathy for this fellow.”

Yeah, but that's the beauty of this story – it has outrage angles for everybody. Not only is he forced to sit in a room doing nothing – he is being paid full salary to sit in a room doing nothing. So whether he's guilty or not, this is really a bad thing.
posted by koeselitz at 6:02 PM on October 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


But then I guess "Guantanamo for Teachers" is kind of an awesomely perfect expression of the perfect world envisioned by Republicans and their proxies in the press.
posted by drjimmy11 at 6:03 PM on October 16, 2012


Ah, yes, probably trumped up charges, all of it. Silly me. He's a teacher after all, so therefore above reproach.

Jeez, KokuRyu. You could have at least chosen the woman who Facebooked that she hated her students' guts and kinda sorta hoped they'd drown as your hill to die on.
posted by mediareport at 6:11 PM on October 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


You know, if we would just let machine politicians dole out the teaching jobs, we wouldn't have these problems.
posted by jason's_planet at 6:31 PM on October 16, 2012


Seems like hiring a couple administrators to conduct hearings more rapidly would cost a hell of a lot less than 22 million a year. This looks like a management problem, not the union being unreasonable.
posted by jenkinsEar at 6:42 PM on October 16, 2012


Jeez, KokuRyu. You could have at least chosen the woman who Facebooked that she hated her students' guts and kinda sorta hoped they'd drown as your hill to die on.

Actually, I think that's more likely to be the unjust one. So she hates her job? So what? Lot of people hate their jobs, and bitch about it to their friends. Why should teachers not have the right to self expression?

I mean, if she hates her job (and her students) that much, she's probably a terrible teacher. But, if so, fire her for that, not her private opinions.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:56 PM on October 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


I had a teacher that taught Spanish by reading bible passages.

In theory, this could be a fascinating class. In practice, well, whatever...
posted by ovvl at 7:27 PM on October 16, 2012


I do love that they present the issue as "OMG getting paid to not teach," rather than, "employer providing a work environment that amounts to torture."

Are you shitting me? This sounds paradisical. I would LOVE to sit quietly, read, meditate, doze, practice pitching or bar tricks, do sudoku, listen to NPR for 78k/year with benefits. I doubt the people in the article are suffering quite as much they'd have you believe.
posted by codswallop at 7:59 PM on October 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


The process for a 3020a hearing in NY is so time consuming and so expensive that for many districts it is cheaper for them to simply pay the salary while the teacher does busy work (or no work at all) than to risk spending $400,000 in legal fees (theirs and the teachers if they lose) and spending the newly streamlined 1 year it will take to get a decision.

Like anything, there are some legit ones and some unjust ones. Some of these are politically motivated and some are as a result of truly inappropriate scary actions. The problem is really in the system developed to address these incidents. Of course, the unions expect due process and reasonable protections from arbitrary actions and the school districts expect to be able to hire and fire based on the same reasons any company wants to, competence, work ethic, etc. Tenure is now creating fiscal pressures in addition to just the difficulty in firing a teacher who is not working out.

My proposal to replace tenure would be to give teachers 5 year contacts with a minimum severance payment of the greater of the remaining dollar obligation of the contract or 1 year's salary. It gives protections to the teachers, a financial disincentive to take arbitrary action yet preserves some hiring and firing flexibility of the school's part.

In NY, the new teacher evaluation mandate, APPR, if executed appropriately may help with training those teachers that need additional work, and put the spotlight on under performing teachers. The real problem with the APPR is that they use those ridiculous state mandated standardized tests as part of the evaluation process. Those tests rely way too much on so many arbitrary student variables such as sleep the night before, nutrition at home, testing environment, etc that it is hard to know if a grade is an accurate assessment or not.

If a teacher's student averaged 94 on the test one year and they get a 92 the next, is the teacher really not doing a good job? Doubt it. The tests also put a lot of pressure on students when they know that their grades can potentially get a teacher fired or reprimanded.

I could go on and on, but know too that sometimes teachers are just bad people doing stupid things and they deserve to be in a rubber room. It is more humane than outright firing them I guess.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:07 PM on October 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Seems like hiring a couple administrators to conduct hearings more rapidly would cost a hell of a lot less than 22 million a year. This looks like a management problem, not the union being unreasonable."

I don't know specifically where NYC's bottlenecks are, but in my district, the process drags out primarily at the evidence-and-hearing stage with the lawyers when there's a lot of back and forth. With the lawyers.

The other place it drags waaaaaay, waaaaaaay, waaaaaaay out is if there's a crime involved. Generally a teacher accused of a crime is put on administrative leave while the crime's investigated (the question of paid or unpaid leave can become problematic). DCFS is actually really fast at investigating and getting back to us with whether a teacher's been "indicated" (DCFS believes they've committed child abuse). But the state's attorney is slower than molasses in January. We waited well over a year, employee on leave the entire time, for them to get back to us on some felony charges, with two related lawsuits pending the whole time. It's very aggravating.

For people who are just terrible at their jobs, first there's a bunch of documentation and notices to remediate. Until recently the remediation period for tenured teachers had to be at least two school years, and if they met certain minimal requirements, the two-year clock got reset. It made it virtually impossible to fire anyone for poor job performance. (That law changed last year or the year before, I forget.) Anyway, once they get notice they're being terminated for performance issues, they get a hearing before an neutral arbitrator if they so desire. After that hearing, they can request a hearing before the school board, which is basically automatically granted, which then takes time to organize, schedule, and get all the evidentiary documents to the board. There are lawyers, witnesses, exhibits, arguments, the whole nine yards. (After that, if they are administrators, they can request a public hearing now in my state, which is a gigantic clusterfracas that should be avoided at all costs.) After THAT, they can sue. The whole process costs a lot of money and takes a lot of time. I mean, due process generally is expensive and time-consuming; that's why governments would like to abridge it and it has to be guaranteed by law, you know? I'm not against that. But we should definitely decide, as a body politic, how we want to cope with public employees who are going to be on leave for long, indefinite periods of time during this sort of investigation and hearing process. I feel like this is something the state needs to make decisions about and offer guidelines for; otherwise we have to err on the side of being thorough and careful and slow.

The part I have found frustrating, in our system, is that employees being fired for job performance have not, so far in my experience, come to hearings to refute the accusations being leveled. If the district actually goes through the hassle of terminating for performance, it's usually pretty egregious. I've seen a couple of people whose argument amounted to, "My job is too hard for me to do, therefore you should not fire me from it." (WHUT.) I've seen versions of, "Despite signing the contract with job expectations laid out, writing my own job goals for the year, attending trainings, and signing off on a meeting with my supervisor stating that we'd discussed and I understood the expectations for my job, I did not, in fact, understand the expectations for my job and I cannot be held accountable for failing to understand what my job was." Nobody who's come to the hearing level has said, "No, these accusations are not true; I'm not a bad teacher." Instead we listen to hours of a lawyer arguing, "Ms. Smith REALLY LOVES CHILDREN even though she admits she didn't do the best job in the classroom this year. Are you REALLY going to FIRE someone who REALLY LOVES CHILDREN?"

Side note, the number of lawyers who will engage in (billable) hours of pointless grandstanding on behalf of a client with no case is really freaking depressing. Also it is incredibly frustrating to be sitting there with a law degree and not be able to object when things are STUPID, in a room full of lawyers who are DOING THINGS WRONG and BEING IRRELEVANT at EXTREME LENGTH. The other lawyer on the board and I can't sit by each other for these things because the temptation to whisper judgmentally when total incompetence occurs is far too great. At least judges can tell lawyers to STFU.

Putting teachers on leave from teaching into other assignments sounds great, but in practice it's kind-of a nightmare. Positions like "writing curriculum" require specialized skills, not some random schmoe. There's always secretarial work and inventory work to be done, but someone whom you're in the process of firing isn't exactly going to be fired up to do the work well. They can make everyone around them miserable and require constant supervision, or they can actively sabotage the work, or they can simply refuse to show up and "have the flu." Giving someone make-work is almost always more work for the supervisor than you get out of the person you've taken out of the classroom.

Although I've come to the conclusion that the management ratio in schools is problematic; I just did a quick count of one of our high schools and came up with a little over 100 teachers being supervised by one principal and four assistant principals, who are also overseeing 1600 students. When student-teacher ratios are frequently so high, you don't want to say "add more administration" when clearly we need more teachers; but at the same time, 5 managers overseeing 100 employees and 1600 students is clearly a set-up for ineffective management. That's a 20:1 ratio of employees to managers; most businesses aim more for around 10:1, and their managers are not ALSO managing 1600 teenagers. (And of course the principal's also overseeing janitorial staff, counselors, librarians, coaches, secretaries, etc.) Maybe making "head teachers" with half-time teaching loads and half-time management responsibilities would work, but you'd probably need one in every five teachers to take on that role and do it well, and that's a lot of release time. But anyway, with management ratios like that, it's pretty obvious why the process of documenting bad teachers is so often very sloppily done.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:10 PM on October 16, 2012 [26 favorites]


I'm a NYC teacher. I am SO glad that I do not teach in the public school system. It was very easy to see early in my career (a couple decades ago) that there was no way I'd want to be a part of that mess. Its really unfortunate that this situation exists though.
posted by blaneyphoto at 8:58 PM on October 16, 2012


It's interesting to hear your perspective as a board member, Eyebrows. As a teacher, I am completely boggled by the administrative hurdles required to fire a *completely* and *demonstrably* incompetent teacher- the kind of entrenched teacher who has gained tenure through the inaction of a previous administrator but whom everyone (colleagues, current principal, aides, parents) agrees is a disaster for students.

If an incompetent teacher in my district fails at the administrative or showing-up-for-work or using-leave-legitimately part of their job, we can get rid of them relatively easily; those are things that are documentable and clear to arbitrators and others involved in the process (either they see the writing on the wall and resign or they are actually let go). But if a teacher merely really, truly fails at the actual teaching part of their job- sometimes it's about content knowledge, often about classroom management, sometimes pedagogical knowledge, frequently a horrific combination of the three- they're basically going to be in their job forever. And it sucks for everyone. I am all for unions, due process and protection from capricious administrators, but there has to be a better way.
posted by charmedimsure at 9:16 PM on October 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


A friend of mine was involved in the termination of a teacher who had become mentally incompetent (students, school, and union rep all knew). School had to document their case carefully, and the union still had to represent the teacher. Everyone was fair but everyone except the teacher knew it should be over.

It is really hard to fire a teacher, whether or not the reasons are legitimate.
posted by zippy at 10:28 PM on October 16, 2012


If we had universal health care in this county, I think some (much?) of this type of crap would go away. As it is, incompetents get held in jobs (not just teaching) much longer than they should - and fight much harder, than if there was a softer landing.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 10:34 PM on October 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


Why would I think the rubber rooms were closed? The story I recall made these rooms sound like very permanent institutions.
posted by telstar at 1:35 AM on October 17, 2012


Are you shitting me? This sounds paradisical. I would LOVE to sit quietly, read, meditate, doze, practice pitching or bar tricks, do sudoku, listen to NPR for 78k/year with benefits. I doubt the people in the article are suffering quite as much they'd have you believe.

Man. I never thought that my own professional experience would be relevant in a thread.

I'm a licensed unarmed private security guard. My current post involves a good amount of interaction with the public, but my previous post consisted of sitting in a metal box for eight hours a day, and carrying one of these things around an empty site (full of equipment, empty of people), once an hour.

I'm shy and introverted. I don't like dealing with people if I can avoid it. I had a radio. I had books. I had a laptop, a netbook, and a Clearwire modem. I listened to music and Coast to Coast, I played MMOs and Sudoku, I read books and MetaFilter.

I think it only took a few months for the ennui to drive me half mad. I think I worked there for a couple of years, but I'm not sure.
posted by reprise the theme song and roll the credits at 2:28 AM on October 17, 2012 [6 favorites]


Forgot to add: emotionally, psychologically, there's a certain type of person that thrives in solitude. I don't think there's a large intersection between that type, and the type that would take a job teaching a roomful of children half the days of the year.
posted by reprise the theme song and roll the credits at 2:34 AM on October 17, 2012 [7 favorites]


This sort of thing is pretty common in bureaucracies - a cop does something stupid and is put on desk duty, or administrative leave with pay.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:29 AM on October 17, 2012


I find it consistently frustrating that humans haven't come up with a better system than Weberian bureaucracy for running egalitarian rational-legal societies of more than several thousand people, yet we also haven't made much progress dealing with the known problems with those same bureaucratic systems. Brings to mind the (possibly apocryphal?) Churchill quote about the worst system except for all the others.

I mean, I guess I can't complain since I don't have an answer either, but you'd think some smart person would have come up with something.
posted by Wretch729 at 7:12 AM on October 17, 2012


Hearing "Not so much" so much makes me want to bounce off walls...
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 9:01 AM on October 17, 2012


What I don't get is why one teacher was told that they should work on lesson plans for their class while in the rubber room. Uh, if they're not allowed to teach at all--and indeed, probably never again--why the hell should they be working on lesson plans?
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:38 PM on October 17, 2012


why the hell should they be working on lesson plans?

I am shocked at the idea that pointless busywork might be assigned in a school.
posted by reprise the theme song and roll the credits at 3:35 PM on October 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


Huh. Here's the NYTimes on the end of the rubber rooms in 2010: Last Day of ‘Rubber Rooms’ for Teachers

So much for that.
posted by homunculus at 5:23 PM on October 17, 2012


« Older Mad Men season five in review (audio) - As the lat...  |  How to not give a fuck... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments