Friday, March 30, 2018

[Part One: Monday 03/16] The First Day in (Teacher) Jail

Roger arrived at the building on Chambers street that housed the Reassigned Staffing Team’s office around 9ish. The security guard, a tall and slim African American man with a sparse gray beard, confiscated Roger's school scissors from his Fossil bag. After his duly x-rayed messenger bag was returned, a five-foot sign guarding the elevators informed him that they were “Out of Order” and commanded Roger to, “Take the Stairs.” The very thought of walking up twelve flights of stairs made his left knee, with its torn meniscus, ache in anticipation, but for some reason the torn meniscus in his right knee didn't voice any objections. He learned after consulting the security guard, who appeared to be working to supplement his social security income, that only the middle elevator was inoperable. That explained why it was concealed behind what looked like a wooden Oriental screen. Its exposed neighbors were in fine working condition. 

Roger signed in as steadily as possible with his right hand – trying to conceal the trembling that he feared would be taken as an admission of guilt. Roger was offered tea or coffee. Thank God, he politely declined their hospitality and relied on his jasmine green tea. Otherwise, he would have been redirected to the coffee cart twelve stories below on Chambers. 

As he walked towards the waiting room, Whitney Houston tried to comfort him from a pair of passé speakers while the middle-aged African American secretary looked deeply into his eyes. She appeared to be trying to determine his innocence or guilt. 

While he read in the amNew York about NYCFC's historic victory at Yankee Stadium, a dejected upper middle-aged white man entered the room along with his attorney/daughter. He had just been un-informed by the officer manager, “I don't know why you're here, and I don't want to know.” 

He exclaimed in a Long Island accent, “I'm going to wrap my hands around someone's neck and squeeze until there’s no life left! We teach these miscreants and lowlifes! Their words are taken over a tenured teacher who has been teaching for over 22 years! 85% of these cases are ludicrous! I couldn't sleep for three nights! I don't know anything!” 

Roger’s reaction to his reaction was a mixture of sympathy, camaraderie, and intrigue. The man was correct. One of the most difficult aspects of being reassigned to the Rubber Room was not knowing exactly why one was there. Roger hadn't sleep well either. However, he had not formulated a method of murder. And was the man correct? 85%? 

As Roger avoided eye contact with his Rubber Room roommate, whose dejected attorney/daughter had rushed off to her firm, it dawned upon him that he had “seen” that room before. The walls had the same colors that were in his dreams - blue-gray on one side and peach on the others. And he was sitting on the vintage 1960s era office chair of his dreams. He sensed correctly that the room was in some sort of disciplinary institution, but he “knew” that it wasn't anything as serious as Riker's Island. 

The office manager informed Roger, as he studied the sterling silver Star of David that swayed from her stout neck, that he would be reassigned to work on Individual Education Plans (IEPs) at an office in Harlem or Chelsea – depending on the availability and/or which location responded to her email first. 

While Roger waited for his assignment, he read some of Charles Duhigg's The Power of Habit. Duhigg shared, surprisingly for a secular book, that most people can overcome their negative addiction(s) for extended periods of time by having a belief in a higher power but that unexpected unfortunate events often nudge people to “fall off the wagon”. And Roger contemplated on the notion that an unexpected fortunate event could possibly have the same effect. For example, he imagined a writer who had given up smoking and\or drinking, but who couldn’t resist having a smoke and\or a drink after winning the Pulitzer Prize. 

As slight pangs of hunger began to set in, Roger took a break from reading to eat his customary seven Ajwah dates and ponder the possible benefits of his unexpected and unfortunate situation. One benefit that immediately came to mind was the possibility that he would miss his next teacher observation\evaluation. His first observation of the school year went as follows: 

Roger entered the classroom and discovered that his science co-teacher was at a science conference - in California. Roger’s co-teacher failed to inform him, but he kindly left a lesson. The lesson was to watch a Brain Games video on the “Laws of [Sexual] Attraction” and answer ten questions. It was the “classic video and a worksheet” lesson plan. Roger typed the video's URL into Chrome only to discover that the Emmy nominated series cost $1.99. Roger briefly contemplated plucking his Citibank debit card from his PU leather wallet, but he decided to Google a free copy. His search was unsuccessful. However, as the class became restless, Bolívar, a student who literally hadn't completed more than three assignments in three years, but who was a Mac OS, Windows OS, Android OS and intramural softball whiz, was able to find a free version of the video seconds before the vice-principal wobbled into the classroom. 

Due to the distinguished visitor, Roger attempted to enhance the lesson by periodically pausing the illegal copy of Brain Games to ask the frazzled class clarifying questions. A conundrum with showing a video with such an engaging topic to a group of high school students is that the teenagers can become overly excited and too eager to participate. That would be excellent if the teacher were being graded objectively on his teaching skills, but if he's being graded subjectively, then it's made to appear on paper that the teacher has poor classroom management skills. 

And to makes matters worse, most of the students didn't appear to know most of the answers to most of the questions on the worksheet, which was ironic because Roger received a grade of unsatisfactory (i.e., F) for the level of the lesson's rigor. Clearly, the lesson wasn't too easy; so, why did he receive an F in that category? 

Now here's the icing on the Maison Kayser chocolate éclair. Don't you remember? It wasn't even Roger’s lesson! He was handed that lesson minutes before the vice-principal wobbled into the classroom. Thus, it was comforting to know that while he was locked up in teacher jail, he would be absent for his subsequent “objective” observations. 

Another benefit of being in The Rubber Room was that Roger didn't have to “teach” (i.e., He didn't have to be around any students.) He “taught” three different subjects with three different teachers: chemistry, English and two periods of neuroscience. Clearly, his title of “co-teacher” was a stretch. Roger was really an overpaid teacher's assistant and/or tutor. His role had been reduced to saving his female co-teacher the embarrassment of reading aloud the sex scene in If Beale Street Could Talk, copying and distributing handouts, and being his co-teacher’s hype man. 


Back in the Rubber Room, Roger received another cellmate. He was a middle-aged Latino who, from what Roger could decipher, had been arrested for DUI. He was granted the privilege to return to his school after he, via cellphone, promised his principal that he wouldn’t “do it again.” 

While Roger quietly waited for his reassignment location, he ironically switched to reading Eric Naiman’s journal article A Filthy Look at Shakespeare’s “Lolita”. While he sipped tea from his Cozyna travel mug and virtually flipped the pages on his Google tablet, a small spat among the small office staff interrupted his small bliss. 

“Double click it!”
“What do you think I'm doing?”
“Sit down and be quiet!”
“Don't get an attitude!”

Out of embarrassment, Roger sank into his aluminum chair as his elbows relaxed upon the arm rests that were engraved with sinuous lines to imitate leather. A box of Lexmark 64015HA printer ink rested at the foot of his chair and reminded him of his old job as a computer technician. The blue-collar job paid the bills after he dropped out of medical school while he worked on his, never published, first novel. The view outside his window was of the vacant offices in the adjacent office building, but if he stretched and strained his neck he could see the peak of One World Trade Center. 

After approximately six hours of reading, journaling, snacking sans lunch, a death threat and an office spat, Roger was given an HID electronic time card and assigned to work in an office on the border of Chelsea. 

Upon returning home, Roger contemplated buying a ticket to see The Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015) that opened the New Directors New Film festival at the MoMA. The film premiered at Sundance, won the Grand Prix of Generation 14Plus at the Berlin Film Festival, and was based on Phoebe Gloeckner’s graphic novel.   Here’s part of the plot summary posted on NewDirectors:

Minnie could be your typical 15-year-old girl, awash in the throes of sexual awakening. But because she’s growing up in the free-love-induced haze of 1970s San Francisco, instead of losing her virginity to a schoolmate, Minnie opts for an affair with her mother’s boyfriend.

But since Roger was insecure about how long he would receive checks from the DOE, he saved the $20, downloaded the coming-of-age film from a Samaritan who shared his copy on the Internet, purchased a used copy of Gloeckner’s book from Strand, and he googled “The Rubber Room”.

Roger learned from a post on The Guardian that the Rubber Room was no longer an actual room. The city and the teacher’s union had agreed in 2010 to disband the rooms (i.e., temporary assignment centers). The disbandment was partially due to the backlash that resulted from the intuitively named documentary, The Rubber Room (2012). According to the exposé, the average time spent in the “Room”, with full pay and benefits while engaging in pastimes such as reading, playing cards, surfing, and sleeping, was three years. The charges filed against New York City teachers ranged from sexual misconduct to lateness. 

But like Roger, most suspended teachers, and there could be over six hundred teachers on suspension at any given time, were not privy to the charges. Thus, instead of wasting over $30 million a year on a DMV type environment, the suspended teachers were put to work in various offices around the five boroughs and as far away from students as possible. Hence, Roger’s reassignment to an office near the shadows of Madison Square Garden with the nearest school set four blocks away.


  1. Just came across your blog. Are you currently reassigned? I'm very intrigued by your writing. Reminds me of my 2 years in the rubber room.

    Would like to catch up.