Back in the good old days the term “rubber room” referred to a specialized place within a hospital, looney bin or prison where patients or inmates were sent if they were in danger of hurting themselves or others. While the walls and floor weren’t actually made of rubber, they were padded in order to prevent the detainee from crashing their heads or what have you into the cement and causing themselves harm. The padding on the wall and floors was about four inches thick and coated with a rubberized paint.

There is no furniture or modern day conveniences such as toilets or sinks. If a patient or inmate was deemed a “severe risk” they were often confined in a straitjacket for the length of their stay which could last days or weeks depending on their behavior.

Currently, the use of “rubber rooms” for the purpose of behavior modification is rarely used. Over the years it’s been discovered that psychotropic drugs do a much better job of treating those types of conditions.

Unless of course you’re talking about teachers and the New York City Department of Education.

While formally known as “Reassignment centers” these modern day rubber rooms are where teachers who have tenure are sent to spend their time if they were charged with some type of misconduct. There they sit for eight a hours a day, five days a week awaiting judgment all the while doing absolutely nothing while getting a full paycheck and accruing benefits.

Wait, I shouldn’t say “absolutely nothing”. Many of them pass their time by playing cards or board games, reading, napping or just bullshitting amongst themselves. I’m sure some of them are frustrated and want to get back to teaching and some of them consider themselves lucky but nobody is leaving the room before the case is heard and decided. In most cases, the process takes years.

They are watched by security guards and staff members from the Board of Education and have to punch a clock just like the rest of their teaching brethren but there are, of course, no students to teach.

Oh yeah, just like other teachers in the NYC school system, they get the summers off.

At the height of their popularity there were thirteen of these “realignment centers” spread throughout the city that housed more than six hundred teachers. The cost to the city was figured to be about $65 million per year in expenses. In 2010 the city devised a plan to have the rubber rooms shut down but to date no substantive changes to the hearing process has been made and thus these out of work teachers remain on the payroll doing absolutely nothing.


Are some teachers just incompetent or lazy? Of course. Have some teachers abused those that have been placed under their charge? Absolutely. Have some teachers been unfairly charged? Most definitely.

From where I sit, it represents bureaucracy at its finest. For charges to take an average of three years to be resolved just boggles my mind. Normal citizens charged with crimes have a right to a speedy trial and while that might vary depending on your circumstances of guilt or innocence it’s still out there to be used.


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