September 15, 2010
They say that there is an exception to every rule- and when it comes to the Useless UFT, that exception comes in the form of a beautiful, green eyed blonde, an unconventional, bright and passionate woman named Betsy Combier.
The first time that I met Ms.Combier was almost three years ago. She walked into our Rubber Room wearing an embroidered suede jacket and up to the knee high heeled boots. Unlike most of the women who work for the UFT, Betsy exuded a refreshing warmth and feminine quality. In a sweet and soft voice, Betsy introduced herself as someone who would be coming once a week to assist reassigned teachers with any problems or questions they may have. She greeted some of the teachers that she already knew and then proceeded to personally introduce herself to each and every new face. As she approached where I was sitting, one of the teachers quickly whispered,"Don't trust her." "Why?", I asked. That teacher put her head down as Ms. Combier greeted me. Although her warmth and openness was indeed refreshing, I cautiously welcomed her into my space. She handed me her card and told me to call her anytime I needed to talk. Soon after meeting her, I learned that Betsy had several blogs and was involved in advocating for the rights of students, parents and teachers. Having been a PTA president and raising four daughters in the Public school system, Betsy knew the system from many angles. She attended PEP meetings where she spoke out for the rights of the RR teachers, questioned the inflated power of the principals, the agenda, our Mayor and the unqualified Chancellor-without-a-contract.
The following week, Ms. Combier entered our RR wearing a flouncy skirt and carrying a fringed handbag. I could hear her in the hallway making small talk with the horrible Mr. Warden before entering the RR as scheduled. Two of the teachers immediately grabbed her ear, taking her to the private "staircase" in the hallway to talk.
Besides providing answers, listening to the teachers and following up on all inquiries, the difference between Betsy Combier and the rest of the UFT Reps was that Betsy came with no agenda. Having been hired only part time by Randi Weingarten to support the reassigned teachers in the RR, Betsy gave her support in the only way that she knew how...FULL time. Here is a woman who does not drive or ride the subway, but somehow managed to spend everyday, yes, EVERYDAY of the week visiting a different RR facility throughout the city or talking with distraught members of the TRCs. On a salary that barely covered her expenses, Ms. Combier never missed an opportunity to talk to, advise, assist and console hundreds of reassigned teachers over a seven year period. Unlike the other unapproachable, angry and aloof Useless UFT Reps (they know who they are) who shamelessly looked at their watches, worried about the running meter, came empty handed and stayed only long enough to say that they 'showed up', Betsy genuinely wanted to be there. Betsy sat amongst the teachers, never looking at the time, never making excuses. If for some unavoidable reason, she'd be late, Betsy would call one of us on our personal cell phones to let us know. If that wasn't enough, Reassigned teachers called Betsy early in the morning and all hours of the night when sleeping seemed like an impossible feat. Betsy knew the teachers. She knew their pain and hurt. She felt their frustration. She guided and empowered them to help themselves. Singlehandedly, Ms. Combier made up for the shortcomings and absence of all of the UFT reps that I have ever met. Those who allowed themselves to know her, loved her and still do. Those who doubted her sincerity were obviously afraid of her unconventional warmth and wisdom; do you blame them after the way they the UFT treats them?? However, those who didn't know her, missed out on her natural gift for being a true PEOPLE advocate and great friend.
One would think that by the way I have described Mrs. Combier, the UFT would recognize and value her for the rare GEM that she is.
Why then is Ms. Combier no longer employed by the UFT? Shockingly, the only thank you that Ms. Combier received for seven years of dedicated service to the UFT was a Pink slip on July 7, 2010. She was told by UFT Co-Staff Director Ellie Engler that the UFT no longer needed her service since the Rubber Rooms were to be closed. Ellie Engler is the very same person who did everything in her power to make Betsy's life at the UFT as difficult and uncomfortable as possible.
In 2009, Ms. Engler told Betsy to pack up her office at 52 Broadway because it was needed by the UFT for someone else. She promised to provide her with boxes and an alternative office location by the next day. At 6PM on the following day, there were still no boxes and nowhere to move them to. She was told to contact David Hickey, but received no response to her messages. After filling up several black trash bags with her papers and files, Betsy removed most of her things with the help of a teacher friend. After several months of working without an office, the Queens TRC liason asked Leroy Barr for an explanation. Several UFT members wanted to meet with Betsy, but without an office, this was impossible. After walking around the 16th floor, Mr. Barr located the telephone that had Betsy's number hooked up to a remote desk somewhere on the other side of the building. This, he told her, would be her new "office". Betsy's only request was that her files from her old office be safely moved to her new location. However, most of the files from her old office were never found.
The harassment continued after the Christmas break when Betsy returned to find that her cubicle had been moved by Ellie Engler and that her computer and telephone had disappeared. After scavenging for her things, Betsy's telephone was eventually found on the 11th floor.
After Betsy made several requests to Ms. Engler for her newly printed UFT business cards, Ms. Engler asked that Betsy take down the posts on her blog, NYC Rubber Room Reporter that contained Theresa Europe's name. (Theresa Europe is in charge of the DOE attorneys in The "Gotcha Squad") Betsy refused Ms. Engler's request and in turn, never received her cards. In addition, Adam Ross, the Attorney for Mike Mulgrew, told Betsy that she is to refrain from filing any FOIL (Freedom of Information requests) of anyone who is employed by the NYCDOE. Because Ms. Combier refused to heed these requests, she was fired. (Yet in her agreement it says she is hired to help any member in the TRC or elsewhere who needs help, and continue to write and advocate for people she assisted before she worked for the UFT) Ms. Combier may have been fired by the UFT, but she has not stopped working on behalf of the UFT's teachers who are still very much in need of her valuable knowledge and assistance.
Now, Betsy is pursuing her advocacy outside of the UFT from her office at home. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org. I know she will be there for you, me, and anyone who needs help. Shame on the UFT for firing one of our most dedicated and productive representatives.
Are you reading this, Mr. Mulgrew, Ms. Engler and Mr. Hickey?
September 6, 2010
It has been 71 days since the NYC Department of Education and the UFT Leader Mike Mulgrew proudly announced their shocking closed door agreement putting an end to the NYC Rubber Rooms. Just a day later, the Rubber Room Movie premiered, exposing the horrific denial of due process that accused teachers must endure when reassigned to the Guantanamo Bay of the DOE.
Having been there myself, I can say from experience that from the time that a teacher is sent to the reassignment center having been accused of some wrongdoing or having been targeted by a jealous or vindictive principal, they are caught in a web of uncertainty, fear and doubt. In many instances, teachers do not even have a clue as to why they were removed from their schools. Throughout the lengthy dehumanization process of spending time in the Rubber Room, they are further humiliated and abandoned by the very same Union that collects their dues and is supposed to protect them. As a result, the reassigned teacher slowly spirals downward into a whirlwind of answered questions, confusion, grief, depression, denial, shame, anger and doubt. Many retreat, repress or totally withdraw. Others attempt to take positive action or act out in a myriad of unhealthy ways. Overall the reassigned teacher quickly learns that the saying, "God helps those who help themselves", does not apply to the Rubber Rooms. Letters to the DOE go unanswered, complaints to the UFT fall on deaf ears, stress is high, teachers get sick, depressed and even suicidal. The only support or comfort that a reassigned teacher may receive might come from another 'reassignee' who knows very well what the teacher is experiencing.
As anyone who works for the DOE knows very well, their so called 'reorganizations' always leads to more disorganization.
So...Here it is, the night before the first day of the 2010 school year and I still haven't received any word as to where I am supposed to report tomorrow. Having spent two whole years in the Rubber Room and seventy days on summer vacation, the DOE still can't get their act together.