March 30, 2008


One can only live in the 'dark' for so long. Eventually, someone or something will disturb your blissful state. Yes indeed, one day while you are sleepwalking through your life, someone will turn on a light. It won't be just any light. It will be one of those glaring, blinding high beam in your eyes types of lights. Up until now, I have been sleepwalking and was unaware of it. Where have I been? 

Our school received a surprise this year. A bright and shiny new 'principal' shipped straight from the Leadership Academy. Still in the package, this new model of principal will be using our school as her experimental lab...We, the teachers (The guinea pigs) will endure the test run of all tests. She, young and frail looking, barely makes eye contact with anyone. When she speaks, her stone cold tone sends chills down the spines of our most seasoned teachers. One can not tell what she is thinking as she silently creeps up and down the hallways. Hey, how bad can she be? She's human. She shared that she is married to a bus driver. She has two young daughters that she seems to be proud of. As a mother myself, I'd like to believe that being a parent means that you automatically a have a place in your heart for others.
Weeks have gone by, and the changing of the guards is proving to be a huge and unwelcome wake up call.  Rumor has it that our new principal has threatened some of the older,long term residents of our school building. Also, she has this zero tolerance thing that has thrown everyone for a loop. First, there were threats of what would follow if one were late. If getting to work weren't hard enough already, I have now started leaving my home 20 minutes earlier. Anxiety ridden, I drive around in fear of not finding a place to park, while 'Her Honor' allows herself the privilege of parking in the schoolyard. In a very short time, she has made herself comfortable while making most of the staff feel uneasy and insecure. Although it's too early to tell, what is happening at our school will soon turn into a nightmare forcing the most veteran teachers to awaken.

March 29, 2008

Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Teachers...

When I was in grade school, I idolized my teachers. Like most little girls, I wanted to be just like Mrs. Benner, my second grade teacher or an artist like Mrs. Savage... I loved the attention of my teacher. When she said to do something, I did it. I believed everything she said and watched everything she did. I even wondered what she did 'all night' in the classroom when we went home. As a child, being a teacher meant being the one to hold the chalk, mark the homework, and give out the gold stars. I couldn't wait to get my first blackboard- and when I did, I lined up my most attentive stuffed audience and taught away.

As a NYC teacher, I have some questions for the "Kleinberg" team...

" When did the 'teacher' become the the least important component in the business of 'teaching?'

When did teachers drop so low on the food chain?

When did teachers become the 'disposable' factor in a system that teaches?

When did teachers become the scapegoat for everything that is wrong with our city's children?

When did terrorizing teachers become an acceptable practice? Why is Reassignment the Biggest and best kept Secret of the NYCDOE?

My mother always said, "Be a teacher. You'll have a secure job, a paid summer vacation, health benefits and a pension." I followed my mother's advice. I went to school and got my masters degree in education. I spent 5 years in night school working toward earning 30 credits above my masters. I never doubted my direction for one minute. On the first day that I began to teach, I knew that I had found my calling. I remember thinking, "Wow, we get paid all day to be with children, enrich their lives, fill them with knowledge and then get to leave at 3:00! I couldn't wait to come back. Compared to my last 9 to 7 job, this was heaven. I returned home every night with lesson plans to write, homework to prepare and a relentless drive to make my students shine. I never imagined that I'd live to eat my words...
I have been a NYC teacher for 22 years. In spite of those horrible, heartless and harrassing administrators, ungrateful, indifferent parents and 'kids gone wild' politics, I do feel that I have been able to make a difference. I know in my heart that I have touched lives, instilled good values and provided lifelong lessons. However, that day has finally come, the one where I eat my words. Thanks to our Mayor, Teaching is no longer a labor of love. I speak for myself and those among me who have been burned by a system that doesn't value the very essence of education. As for creativity, uniqueness, years of 'bending over backward' experiences, late night cramming, planning and thinking outside of the box, there is no more room in the NYCDOE for me.
The security part- it's all a myth. The glorified benefits are being cut down everyday. Health insurance plans(getting more expensive) -TDA's- The Unnattainable Sabbaticals- Tenure (also at risk) -and ahhh, summers off... Why should we complain? Why because we pay our dues royally all year round. We pay with our hearts and our souls. We give up our lunch hours, weekends and overall sanity. We are constantly 'cut down', restrained and intimidated by a system with a death wish.

March 27, 2008

The Rubberroom...You need to know....

Imagine being stuck in an elevator, elbow to elbow for seven hours and wondering if anyone even knows you're there. Waiting and wondering if anyone will ever come and save you. That's what being in the rubberroom is likeIt sounds like a story concocted by a mental patient, but it's not. Rubber Rooms (RR) are one of the city's "Best Kept Secrets" and the taxpayers are the ones who are footing the bill.

It costs the city's taxpayers about 80 million dollars a year to keep these sites running. Teachers are collecting their full salaries while substitute teachers are being paid to fill in for them. At the present time, there are roughly 13 active Rubber Rooms in the city filled with about 800 of our city's teachers. This number has almost doubled in the past year since the 'Kleinberg' Leadership Academy Principals have been running the schools. Cutting out high paid teachers is one reason for the increase in RR occupancy. Most of the teachers occupying the RRs are over 40 and collecting a top of the scale salary. Others are near retirement. This is the principal's way of driving them out, hoping they will retire sooner. Then the principal can hire a young, inexperienced teacher at a much lower cost to their budget.

Why the secrecy? Teachers in the RRs are scared. They have been told not to talk to anyone by their own UFT Chapter Leaders. They have been advised not to say anything negative about the Union that does not protect them for fear that they will make matters worse for themselves. They have been told to watch out for spies who will question them and twist their words. Most of the teachers have been in the system for so long that they don't know where to turn. They have been cut off from their colleagues. They have been driven out of their schools after 20 -30 years and told that they cannot return without an appointment. Some don't know why they have been sent. They are ashamed. There is a huge negative stigma attached to the RR that labels one as 'Damaged Goods'. They are afraid of losing everything they have ever worked for. They have families to support and bills to pay. Some don't even tell their spouses and family. They just get up every morning and leave for 'work' as they always did. They have dedicated their lives to teaching children, taking graduate classes, building a reputation and a career. Watching it all fall apart can be devastating.

When allegations of abuse/corporal punishment/insubordination etc. are made against a teacher, the teacher is ordered by their school principal to report to a 'Reassignment Center' aka a 'Rubber Room' until a formal investigation is made in their case. The allegation can be anything from scolding a child to throwing a chair across the room. The allegation might be reported by a student, a parent or anyone who has it out for a teacher. Some teachers are pulled out on false or trumped up charges because of ongoing conflict with an angry principal. They may have expressed their opinion to the principal's dislike or pointed out some wrong doing in the school (whistle blowing).

The indecent conditions of the RRs are the DOE's way of exploiting tenured teachers whom they can't get rid of. The rooms are overcrowded and claustrophobic. Some are in the basements of buildings with windows that are unreachable- making for a 'cell-like' feeling. The walls are bare except for a bulletin board. Natural light and fresh air is at a premium. This makes for cranky and uncomfortable teachers. Teachers are under constant surveillance. All of their comings and goings are monitored. They must punch in and out. They must ask for permission to do everyday actviities like, 'go to the bathroom' or talk on the phone in privacy. They must stay in the RR most of the day without the freedoms of coming and going. These are not acceptable conditions for a person who is by law, "Innocent until proven guilty".Regardless of the severity or validity of the charge, the teacher is often the last to know. They are not given any details of the charge or told who reported them- only that they are to leave the school building at once (afterall they are now considered a potential danger to children) and told not to return without an appointment.

In the RR, as in prison, subcultures are inevitably formed. Territory is clearly defined and enforced by its' occupants. Confrontations among teachers are common. Petty arguments break out over table space, refrigerator space, missing food, wall outlets, room temperature, chairs and noise level. When people are reduced to a state of 'nothingness', they fight about 'nothing' but what is left to them.

How do I know so much about the Rubber Rooms? I know firsthand because I am a Rubber Room occupant myself. "I reported to work on a Wednesday morning, was pulled out by my principal upon arrival and handed a letter stating that allegations of corporal punishment were made against me. I was in shock. By 10am, I was sitting in a cement room filled with teachers who were doing absolutely nothing. It looked like a holding cell for criminals". Here is a colleague's story...
"I was already reading with my class when the principal entered my room and handed me a letter of allegations. I was told to read it immediately. There I stood, with chalk in one hand and the letter in the other. I didn't know what to do. I just stood there and cried in front of all of my students. "Teachers report to the Reassignment Center (either in an existing school or a rented office building)under the impression that they will be given an 'alternative assignment' while their case is being investigated. Wanting to look their best, some show up in suits and ties for their new, 'temporary job'. When they arrive, they are completely bewildered by the scene that awaits them. Talk about pulling the wool over one's eyes. The teacher enters into an environment that resembles no other that they have ever seen."It was so noisy and crowded that I was afraid to walk in." 'Oh, we have new one!', someone yelled out. "Who's that?", another mumbled. The room quieted down and everyone turned to look at me. I found an empty chair and proceeded to sit down when someone said,'You can't sit there, that's _______'s chair. They're not here today. And then, "You can't sit there, that's ________'s chair. You have to find another chair.' Suddenly, I got this feeling like I was in a lunchroom with a bunch of 12 year olds. They were extremely territorial, they even placed their coats on the chairs next to them so that I couldn't sit down.

While still collecting their full salary and benefits, these teachers report to the RR everyday while awaiting formal charges from the DOE. Some wait for 6 months with no word from the Union. Others had ongoing cases for more than a year. A few were in the room for their 2nd or 3rd time! Once you are removed from your school, there is no way of telling when and if you will return. Many teachers describe being in the RR as a "paid vacation". As much as they would like to be working, it is often a relief to be away from the power crazed administration and the stress of the children who without support from the administration, have become unmanageable.

Although it is against the RR's list of rules, teachers kept themselves busy by playing chess, drawing, knitting, listening to Ipods and working or viewing DVD's on their laptops. Some were writing books, memoirs and poetry. Some read alone in a corner, placed 2 or more chairs together and slept, while others sat in a group sharing their war stories. They laughed and they cried while talking on their cell phones. There were cell phone chargers plugged into every outlet around the room. They brought their own chairs, pillows, blankets and even air mattresses. The room was overcrowded, noisy ,filled with tables and chairs, but nothing else.