Teachers Paid to Sleep, Exercise, Basically do Nothing

Longtime NYC Practice Gains Scrutiny From Filmmakers

By Andrew Siff
|  Wednesday, Apr 14, 2010  |  Updated 5:58 PM EDT
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A new film takes us inside New York City's infamous

A new film takes us inside New York City's infamous "Rubber Room," where teachers accused of misbehaving are sent to do nothing.

Rubber rooms. Where taxpayers spend 30 million bucks a year so teachers can do absolutely nothing.

Or, those teachers-- accused of misconduct-- can sleep, goof off, or work out. At full pay.

Sound ridiculous? A new documentary, "The Rubber Room,"  from filmmakers Justin Cegnar and Jeremy Garrett, is stone-cold serious about the subject.

"To me the thing that's most shocking," says Cegnar, "is how long people can spend there. You can spend five years or ten years-- a decade in the rubber room at full salary."

The rooms are officially known as reassignment centers. And New York City's Department of Education says there's a reasonable explanation. If a teacher is accused of yelling at a student, or throwing a chair, or incompetence, he or she is innocent until proven guilty. But in the meantime, parents wouldn't exactly want those instructors to continue supervising their kids. So, while the investigation takes place...teachers are assigned to the rubber rooms.

"We need to balance our obligation to safeguard children with our legal obligation for fairness to teachers," a Department of Ed spokeswoman told nbcnewyork.com.

But the bigger problem is many teachers don't know why they're sitting in the rubber rooms, co-producer Garrett said.

"Some teachers have been there for three years without having been given a reason for knowing why they're there."

Garrett acknowledges he was a substitute teacher in the Bronx until he snuck a camera into one of the rubber rooms. He was arrested for trespassing and fired. He's hoping his new job-- as a moviemaker-- makes more people aware of the rubber rooms.

The movie has upcoming screenings at NYU and Harvard. In the meantime, the Department of Education and United Federation of Teachers are blaming each other for the controversial centers. The city says the union has refused to cooperate with certain cases, bogging down the system. The union counters the Department of Ed has refused to hire more investigators, which would speed up the process.  

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