Stuck in a ‘Rubber Room’: New York City Teachers and Your Tax Dollars

The infamous "rubber room," a place where teachers who face disciplinary charges sit, knit, and stare at the wall while collecting their full paycheck, was meant to be abolished in New York in 2010.

While progress has been made, with not as many teachers languishing in these reassignment centers each school day, approximately 200 educators are still caught in the system while awaiting a hearing.

This year alone, these teachers will cost the city $22 million.

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Although these teachers aren't in a traditional rubber room, the New York Daily News reports that educators are sitting "in broom closets, unused offices—even stinky locker rooms—in school buildings all over the city."

Former Bronx middle school teacher Michael Portnoy was fired last spring over an alleged argument with his principal. He told the Daily News that for 13 months, he had to sit in a dark, unused girls' locker room. "You ever see anyone in solitary confinement? It was awful." Portnoy said.

Under the agreement in 2010, Bloomberg and the teachers' unions agreed that while teachers await hearings, instead of sitting and doing nothing all day, they would be "assigned to administrative work or nonclassroom duties in their schools while their cases are pending," reports The New York Times.

Teachers are saying this isn't what they have experienced. Francesco Portelos was removed from his class on April 26, 2012. He recently broadcast a web video of himself sitting alone surfing the Internet in a rubber room.

Kelly Amis, the filmmaker and education reformer behind the TEACHED film series, talked to TakePart about the larger issue that leads to "rubber rooms": just how difficult it is fire a teacher. In the teacher contracts, she says, rules around firing teachers have become "more and more complex."

Amis, who is also a former educator, points out that blaming teachers is often criticized, but what should really make people mad is that "kids have teachers that aren't good and are difficult to fire."

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The Parent Trigger: These 7 States Allow Parents to Fire Teachers and Take Over Failing Schools

Jenny is the Education Editor at TakePart. She has been writing for TakePart since 2009 and previously worked in film and television development. She has taught English in Vietnam and tutors homeless children in Los Angeles. Email Jenny | @jennyinglee |