From Rubber Room and Back

When I started working for a large city school district in 2003 I already had permanent State certification, one Masters degree in my content subject and credits toward an additional Masters degree in Special Ed. The permanent certification is important because there have been scores of teachers who have completed all their schooling only to have their entire license taken away by one of these principals. These teachers who have done nothing wrong except that they are needed for their principal’s body counts can’t get licenses in other states because the application asks if they have ever been terminated. Many fully certified teachers marginally employed as substitutes and teachers assistants in suburban district say that teachers should NEVER work in the city; it has a wide reputation for having dangerous schools but loosing all your schooling, life savings and being made destitute on completely unjust grounds by an aggressive principal climbing their way to the top over the bodies is a scarier prospect.

People assume these teachers have been terminated for inappropriate conduct with a child or at least gross incompetence. The state licensures will never know or care that these terminated teachers are innocent victims who have wrongfully had their years and savings for schooling and their very livelihoods stolen. This is especially tragic when it is done to an older person who went into teaching as a second career; those second career teachers having so much more to offer students than those who have never been out of the field of education. There is an emphasis on youth because they want teachers who are wide eyed and naïve and also because these teachers generally have to be paid less. The rubber rooms are caulked full of over 40 twofers who made the mistake of knowing too much, seeing what administration was doing, being perceived as knowing or at least being able to figure out what their administration was doing, or the ultimate crime of connecting positively with their students and being a good teacher. Administrators set up a false system in which really bad students never get in trouble, and good students get in trouble. Like attracts like and immoral, spineless and dishonest students are cultivated by administrators who share their qualities. These students are rewarded for lying about teachers by having their grades inflated or by not getting in trouble for something the students did.

I went to work in an alternative high school located in the basement of an organization. The school was for students with problematic behavior who had been expelled from the surrounding traditional high schools. The site I was working at started the previous spring of 2003, and I came in the fall of 2003. Six female teachers taught at this school, three of whom had known each other from previous schools. There was one other woman who was new to this school and she and I were the only white women. All the teachers said hello and were friendly to me when I first came, except for one woman who would not even say hello to me the first day. When I said hello to her she just gave me a scowling look. This woman was taking administration classes, did work that the assistant principal should have been doing and had the unfortunate habit of yelling very loudly and abusively with no provocation at many people including myself. She yelled at me on several occasions for no reason, one time when I was doing a favor for her. One time she came into a small room and yelled at me very loudly. The yelling teacher was good friends with the two other dominant “black” female teachers, all of whom were middle class, lived in the suburbs and two of them could have easily passed for white. I got the worst room which was away from the other classrooms; it was in the lunchroom and I had to set up partitions every morning. Students who came late were not allowed to enter the other classrooms, and they stayed unattended outside my partitions heckling my students when they were participating. It was a comical situation. One time one of the three dominant black female teachers came to my area, I told her that the late students were heckling my classroom, and she started shouting at me very loudly, coming into the classroom to shout. My students were shocked at this and I did not shout back, not wanting to up the ante and not knowing what would happen.

This was an anything goes atmosphere. These dominant black female teachers were all light skinned middle class women who drove expensive cars and lived in the suburbs on Long Island. My students used to be amused by the way they said they were black and yet they looked white. The worst one who was taking administration classes and who screamed at me the worst many times told her students that she lived in a housing project when she was young. These three were always trying to play up their blackness in contrast to me, and yet my students were close with me. The behavior problems I had were from students who were not in my class, and who I believe had been turned against me by these teachers. If I said anything in faculty meetings I was told in a very nasty way to “Go back to the suburbs” or something else to let me know that they thought I didn’t belong there because I was white. The other white woman never said anything and told me she just wanted to get along with these teachers. (This only other white teacher had worked in a suburban district and was not part of the power click in that district so she was booted out. I knew what she said was true because I did my student teaching in this district and my cooperating teacher used to tell me all the time how more than half of the teachers are related to each other and the cooperating teacher used to love to see my pained expression when she constantly rubbed it in my face how she was going to get her daughter’s boyfriend a job in the district as soon as he got his bachelors degree. So I didn’t doubt this teacher’s assertion that she was unfairly targeted because she wasn’t part of the suburban district’s cabal.) The assistant principal, who was the only administrator, was seldom at the site because there were many problems setting up the site which she also over saw at the building next door, plus the AP had some surgery that fall.

At faculty meetings there were comments from these three teachers about “our children” as if I wasn’t connected to them and I was told to “Go back to the suburbs” frequently. There was a faculty meeting in November 2003, in which every time I said anything, I was told to shut up and shouted over. After being told to shut up three times, I got up to leave and said there was no reason for me being at the meeting because they didn’t want to know anything I had to say. After I said this, the teacher who was going for administration classes screamed at me “You wanna take it outside”? I did not want to “take it outside” and I waited three more hours to leave because I didn’t want to meet her in the parking lot. I had verbally and in writing informed the assistant principal as these verbal assaults were going on and the AP did nothing about it.

I told the community based organization head about it and he told me he didn’t think it was anything to worry about. I also told the union. This happened before the weekend and when I came back into work after the weekend the school safety officer told me that this teacher who screamed at me filed a harassment charge against me. I was shocked but I taught all my classes for that day not knowing if I would be handcuffed in front of my students and put in jail. I wondered what would happen to my school aged child if I was put in jail. I was in complete shock and disbelief. After I was finished teaching for the day I walked to the police department to see what this meant and what my rights were. The school safety officer offered to take a counter statement from me, but my experience with the school was that everything that was up was down and everything that was down was up, there was no logic or sanity and I did not think I would be treated fairly. The next day when I came in to work, the community based organization head asked me where I was, and I told him I walked to the police department. It was strange because I felt I was the victim in the situation, I thought I had the right to go to the police station on my free time and I didn’t understand why they were treating me like I had done something wrong. I had been completely honest with them, and I had been telling the AP about these problems as they were occurring; I was also telling the UFT chapter leader as this abuse and unprofessional behavior which I was being subjected to.

The AP moved me to the site next door where a teacher who had been working for the city district for fifteen or twenty years was in a physical altercation with the community based organization leader at this site; the teacher was closing the classroom door as the organization leader was opening it. This teacher was taken away by the police and put in a rubber room at a near by high school. When I met with the AP to get my new schedule, the schedule of the teacher who was taken away by the police, the AP told me to start looking for another job. I didn’t think I did anything wrong, I think I acted prudently in trying to protect myself, and I would have done the same again if I was in the same position. I hope to never be in a situation like that again.

This AP tried to get me fired. The principal saw that I didn’t do anything wrong and gave me a counseling memo which does not go in the file. A school safety officer in a van followed me all the way back to the school. I know it was me they were following because when I pulled over, they pulled over also, and did this several times. This was a waste of personnel to follow me all the way back to the school. I also had city education detectives outside my classroom area on several occasions, the same city detectives I saw at the chancellor’s office and sometimes at the downtown rubber room, and I also saw these detectives at the last high school I worked at.

This AP was not successful in firing me, so she started writing silly letters to put in my file, did a surprise observation the day after a snowstorm when I had a bad cold, wrote me up for having students with “head gear” on when they were girls with scarves on in a room where we had no heat. What if they were Muslim and this was part of their religion? She also wrote that the desks were in a haphazard order when we had to set them up every morning. She wrote that there was no “aim” on the board when she admitted that she arrived halfway into the lesson, the board was flipped around and the students had the “aim” written in their notebooks. Another teacher who’s classroom was next to the AP and the CBO director’s office told me that the AP was always talking about firing me. This teacher transferred away from this AP and told me that if I don’t the AP will fire me at the end of the year.

The next site in the same program I transferred into was in the space that used to be a small pizza parlor with three small rooms. We would go into “work” every day and just sit there. In spite of the fact that we weren’t doing anything, the AP at this new site, who was a good friend of the AP at the last site, saw fit to threaten to write me up for being three minutes late for “work”. One day there was something wrong with the heating system and they told us we could leave because the smell was so bad. I told them I would be at a nearby diner and gave them my cell phone number. When I got back after an hour he threatened to write me up because I didn’t just take thirty minutes; we had no students and there were bad smoke smells in the “school”. Just before the vacation, he suddenly asked me for a bunch of lesson plans, and over the vacation this AP kept demanding months and months of lesson plans from me and would send me threatening emails saying that I had a 5PM deadline to get the lesson plans in. They must have had a good laugh over this. I was teaching out of my license area and the first AP had been an English teacher so I probably made many mistakes. I was getting sick turning in all these lesson plans. They probably knew all along that the site was never going to open, but I was informed via email two days before we went back to school that it wasn’t going to open and I was reassigned a substantial drive from where I lived. I had transferred to this site to get away from the AP who wanted to fire me and to be closer to home; but that easy commute only lasted a month and I had an hour and a half commute after that. When I went to the Pizza Pallor site to get belongings, the AP told me I had 40 minutes to get to a place over an hour and a half away.

The AP at the new site was exponentially crazier that the other two combined. She wrote me up for absurd things, made me sign letters and didn’t give me a copy, did absurd things with teachers and students, and she topped all this off by sending me to the rubber room. She wrote me up for ASKING to get my coat from a distance of a few feet away when we team taught and there was another teacher for the class, plus counselors. She screamed NO at me in front of the students, and I walked out to the fire drill with no coat in very cold weather. This AP also wrote a letter saying that I “abandoned my classroom” when I spoke to her inside my classroom with the door ajar and with the other teacher in the classroom, and in this case she made me sign the letter but never gave me a copy. She kept telling me it was in her car and then I never got it because she sent me to the rubber room. This AP wound up being promoted to work with the school’s chancellor. The principal told me I was being investigated, but I was never told what I had been accused of, never got to know who my accusers were, never got the outcome, and never got exonerated. I was first rubber roomed at an almost two hour drive away. The other teacher from our program who lived near me was rubber roomed in a local school. They sent me as far away as they could, probably hoping I would just quit. Why didn’t I just quit? I had bills to pay. I wish I could have just quit. One day when I was in the office alone while being rubber roomed I looked through the files and found that the teacher who yelled at me so badly kept writing to get her sick day absence reserves because when they didn’t come into work, they didn’t call in sick, but just had the other teachers cover for them without reporting the absence. I also found in duplicate, triplicate, quadruplicate copies of a silly incident in which a student threw a comb at the other teacher who warned me of the AP’s intention to fire me, and this happened a year before at another alternative school for problem students. This was a silly incident which can happen every day, but I’m sure they used that to try to fry that teacher. This is what these principals spend their time on, on the tax payer dime, and if they get in trouble these unscrupulous administrators will have a lawyer paid for by the tax payers defending them.

After being assigned to this rubber room which was a long commute for me, I was assigned to a central rubber room. (I managed to see memos when I left in 2006 in which they were emailing each other back and forth to see if they could just fire me.) I did not mind being in this rubber room. We had comfortable chairs in this one and they didn’t make us do anything all day. The only thing which made me nervous was that the light skinned black woman who yelled at me so many times, one time threatening “do you want to take it outside” was also in this rubber room. I avoided her and luckily did not have any run ins with her. Strangely enough, many teachers from the program I was in wound up in the rubber room, coincidentally at the time the program was contracting. All these alternative programs have since been absorbed into other programs. The region we were in had recently had an administrator who stole large sums of money, and the word was that it was harder to get fired from our region than others because we worked with such difficult children. The other thing which made me nervous was that I was never informed of the charges against me, and there were payroll issues. I had heard of people being fired without being informed, and I wondered if I was one of these. For all the uncertainty and worry, I received a priceless education on how the system works from these other teachers, plus I found them to me more interesting, engaging, and intelligent than teachers in the school. This could have been the setting we were in and the fact that we had nothing to do all day. I was only in the rubber room for a few months, all without charges. Then in November of 2004, inmates of the rubber room started talking to the press and the city district was under pressure to empty these rubber rooms out.

I was finally informed that there were no charges against me, I was never told why I was put in the rubber room in the first place, and I was sent to meet with my superintendent to be sent back to work. I told the superintendent some of what went on in this program and I asked to go into another program because I feared further retaliation. The superintendent was a nice man and he obliged, sending me to a small program where all the teachers knew each other personally and the principal of this program resented the superintendent. The teachers in this program all spoke highly of the superintendent, but not of the principal. This superintendent wound up leaving this city school district in disgust at the gross mismanagement and wrote a book exposing how poorly the schools are run and how they shortchange the children.

Even though I told the principal I did not want to go to a site with such a long commute, I was sent there. It seemed like the principal did not even want me and asked me for references. I was probably just “put” there by the superintendent. I thought I wouldn’t be sent there, but I was called the day before and told to report in the morning.

The site I was sent to was a drug and alcohol treatment center. A few of the female teachers and I expressed the idea that the people running the place seemed very shady. It turned out that officers of this organization were actually involved on the wrong side of the law involving drugs. The organization hated all the teachers, and the former drug addict counselors did an “us against them” act with the students, portraying the teachers as the oppressors. This organization had forced out many teachers. I took over from a teacher who was forced out of the classroom the year before, but still remained in the school tutoring, they forced a teacher to another site, one teacher who started in September quit or was fired, another started and was forced out by an accusation by a student which no one should have believed. Without me even asking, a student told this didn’t happen, and I asked her to give me that in writing. She did, and she was also afraid of them, but she felt bad to see this innocent man wrongly accused. I didn’t win any points with the AP or union rep, (who is supposed to be on the teacher’s side) by this action. This accused teacher told me something which is ironic but true; a teacher who yells at a student can get in more trouble than a cop who shoots someone.

There were many other teachers from this organization who got into trouble from obvious lies by students. They were closing down sites, making teachers be substitutes in all areas of the city, one teacher even wound up dying and I never got to know the circumstances. He looked young and healthy and I wondered if he committed suicide. This place was crazy and I transferred out to be someplace closer to where I lived.

The way the system works is that the teacher can check the vacancies, put in many choices and then the city decides where they will put the teacher. I was put in a school with a graduate from the leadership academy, which is a fast track principal certification program which uses a business model which advocating firing a certain amount of teachers every year to promote fear and keep the rest in line. I was observed the second week of school by the principal and AP. What they used in this case was that they didn’t like my teaching style. I was told that I didn’t walk around the room enough. I explained that I couldn’t walk around the room because of the oversupply of desks which I kept trying to get rid of, and these desks also had to be set up in 4 square facing each other, which meant that there was even less room. They kept my room oversupplied with desks because it was also used for night school. I could have been accused of inappropriate contact with a child if I brushed up against them, and I really didn’t want to. A student purposely tripped me, and I know it was on purpose because he laughed in my face as he was doing it. On the first day of school this student bragged that he got a teacher fired the last year. An older male teacher was also tripped by a student and didn’t get in trouble. I didn’t even get a key to the department office for two months. The AP probably wanted to fire me right away, and the principal was making him go through what she thought were the proper steps.

In the post observation conference when the principal told me I didn’t walk around the room enough I told her about the over supply of desks, the fact that I saw a chiropractor and a student had tripped me on purpose, she responded “become an AP and you’ll get a comfortable chair.” This principal was hardly graceful herself, she was very overweight, had bad skin, unkempt hair, dressed badly, took off her shoes and walked around in slippers, and let her finger nails grow to a ghastly length to the point that the nails curled around. As she told me this, she got her hanging earring caught in a sequin of her shirt and couldn’t even pick it up because she had to do everything with the sides of her fingers because of her grotesquely long nails. It was so obvious that I was being treated unfairly at the first post observation conference and I told the principal that I would do whatever she wanted and if she didn’t happy with my performance, I would transfer out. At one of the last hearings she completely lied and said that I said that I was going to do whatever I wanted and if she doesn’t like it I would just transfer out. It was never questioned if this would have been a logical thing for an employee who wanted to keep their job to say. I was given unsatisfactory reviews for perfectly good lessons. My students did well on their state tests. How can a teacher prove that it is a good lesson? The administrator has the ultimate power. I was a good teacher, but they just wanted to get rid of me because of paperwork in my file from other administrators or because of the incentive principals have to get rid of teachers, particularly older, higher paid teachers with more education.

I was told by several people who see this information that there were no complaints about me from either parents or students. My students mostly liked me. On my last day of work, and when the principal wasn’t there, I asked the secretary to see my file. I was only at this school five months, and yet they had a five inch file on me. One teacher told me that another teacher told her that when he was in the office he saw a 20 page fax come in all about me. Out of this five inch file, they gave me a few pieces of paper. One of the papers, which I still have, was a letter written by the drug and alcohol treatment center containing an anonymous accusation that someone smelled alcohol on my breath. In the column of this letter my former principal wrote “No one would come foreword with an name, so I did not put a letter in the file” I’m sure the principal did not believe the anonymous accusation against me based on past history of the organization and his personal knowledge of me, yet the principal or his secretary sent this letter alleging on the job drinking to my next school. This is how the system is set up against teachers. In any other field, an employee could sue for something as discriminatory as anonymous letters of drinking on the job, and yet the teacher, a profession which used to be thought of as virtuous, can have their years of work taken away by anonymous slurs. I put this letter in a separate area of my belongings in case they tried to take it back from me, but they never did. The sad thing was that they didn’t even have to worry. The whole system up to the highest level in the education department is totally corrupt and these administrators know they don’t have to worry because they can get away with this. Destroying a teachers career, in some cases their lives, is just another day at work for them. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel.

The after firing hearings are a complete joke. I have the whole thing on tape and they lie through their teeth. The union will tell the teacher that they would have a better chance of winning in Stalinist Russia. The city school district never rules against itself. Administration committed fraud many times. The teacher has the right to write an appeal after they receive the upholding of the discontinuance letter, and when I pressed them for this letter which I never got I saw on the letter that they had addressed the upholding of the discontinuance letter to another teacher they discontinued a month after me. They fire that many teachers there, and in the middle of the year also. These administrators are seriously disturbed people. The only thing graceful about this last principal was the grace with which she ruined innocent people’s lives. She started out as a teacher’s aide, and dated and later married her former teacher. Years later when her husband, as principal, went after teachers in his school, the teachers were successful in ousting him as principal and my principal got her husband another principal position. As she was working her way up the ladder, she would go to barbecues at the homes of the other teachers in the science department. After she knew them personally, she would go after the teachers she had befriended. When she became principal she carried on the same harassment and firing of teachers. A post observation conference caused a 40 year old science teacher who had a PhD and seemed to be in good shape to go in to cardiac arrest. He complained of back pains, lied down on the floor and asked them to call an ambulance. The principal refused to because she said the ambulances were for the students. When the man’s wife came to the school to meet the principal, the principal had the nerve to say that the man didn’t take care of himself, not that she had harassed the poor man to death with phony observations and then refused to call an ambulance for him. The wife was not American and didn’t know the legal system here. Even if the wife did sue, the money would come from the tax payers. These administrators do not have to account to anyone or anything, and it is the most ruthless, immoral ones with no sense of scruples who rise to the top. A student was hit by the car of another parent; the parent backed up and hit the student again, killing the student. This principal managed to keep this story out of the press with the help of a politician in the state assembly who keeps her in power.

I was never told I did anything wrong, except that they didn’t like my teaching style and they discontinued me. I was told that I could keep working for the district, if I could get another principal to hire me. Of the hundreds of vacancies I applied for in the district, I received a few interviews which were all hostile. This district is doing this on a vast scale to all teachers by making large schools into smaller academies and making the teachers apply for the jobs they have had for years; these are teachers not even being accused of being bad teachers, they also send hundreds to the rubber rooms to face 3020 hearings on mostly made up charges. I now count my blessings that I did not hit tenure in this system because then I would have had to go through a 3020 hearing in which they can take away your license, and I saw first hand how they lied. I also hear horror stories from other teachers in the rubber room and I believe them all to be true because I saw what was done to me. I went on many more interviews in the state and did not get a job. I suspect that I was blackballed in the entire state. Either my state has too many teachers, they are expecting a sudden decrease in population, all the teaching jobs go to family members and they just interview teachers to make it seem like the job is open to everyone, or my principal with the help of her politician friend went to the trouble of having me blackballed in the entire state.

I finally got three part time jobs and it seemed like they were happy to have me. After I told a friend where I was working, I suddenly had a supervisor in my classroom telling me bad things. Coincidence? I would love to see my secret file to know exactly what I was ever accused of. I suspect it is nothing, or it could just be anonymous nasty gossip. It is probably just the first AP having nothing better to do with her time and writing a bunch of things about me, and it snowballs as each successive principal jumps on the band wagon because they can’t make the students better students, so the way they try to show they are good principals is by going after teachers, the reasoning being that if you criticize the teacher you have high standards. There is so much hype in the public arena about a teacher shortage. If there is a teacher shortage, they wouldn’t treat teachers as if they have no rights. It seems like they just want a bunch of naive and idealistic people going into teaching, and then when they won’t be told the truth about what is really going on until it is too late. Teachers are just so expendable and there is no rule of law operating here. We are told to teach students that we are living in a democracy with due process and the rule of law, and yet none of this exists for the teacher.