Tuesday, December 2, 2008

"The Best-hidden Government Secret from New York's Public"

So I was listening to "This American Life," my favorite podcast, last night on my iPod. It's a radio show that picks a theme and stories within the theme to tell. They're true stories told by the people who experienced them. Last night's episode was called "Human Resources," and one of the segment's stories caught my attention. It's titled "The Rubber Room."

New York City Public Schools educate more students than the combined population of 8 US states. The teachers who teach in those schools, like in any other school system, are suspended for unacceptable behavior when need be. When teachers are suspended in NYC, they are told to report to the Redistribution Center for further instructions. What the teachers don't know, is that the place they're directed to has no idea when the teachers will be teaching again. The teachers are sent indefinitely to a center they call The Rubber Room.

There are 5 of these centers in NYC. They hold an estimated 900 teachers on any given day. The teachers report to these centers from 8-4 like they would any other work day. Once they're there, however, they realize something completely outside of what they expected. In The Rubber Rooms, there is nothing to do.

Nothing. The teachers sit in chairs, reading or playing cards, making friends and sometimes enemies over the course of weeks. Months. Years. The Rubber Room, effectively, is a detention center for teachers. Some call it "teacher jail." But they stay -- and receive a salary.

30 million dollars go to Rubber Room teachers every year, courtesy of the taxpayers. Some find it a scandal, while others find it a worthy method of putting teachers in their place. The teachers' offenses range anywhere from having 'creative differences' with their principals to screaming, cursing, or throwing chairs at students. Most teachers don't even know their charges. And though they're paid, "not one teacher considers themselves lucky."

Not every teacher is angry. One teacher pointed out that "if you hate teaching and love playing cards, this isn't bad at all." Most though, after long bouts of denial, feel "demoralized" and "robbed of their dignity." The Rubber Room's social aspects speak of high school's. Teachers are cliquey, gossipy, and territorial. Going away parties are thrown for teachers leaving to teach again, while some teachers never do. One was fired after 2 Rubber Room years.

Want to know more? Go, like I did, to www.rubberroommovie.com. Yep. There's a movie. The site features Rubber Room facts, myths debunked, and the movie trailer itself. And when you're done with that, subscribe to "This American Life" on iTunes for free.