As Chad notes, Steven Brill’s New Yorker article on the New York City “Rubber Room” for outcast teachers is a terrific piece of journalism, definitely a must-read. Chad highlights the mind-bogglingly expensive and attenuated “due process” procedure for removing an incompetent teacher. In this and other things—like the fact that Rubber Room teachers who can’t land a job continue to be paid a full salary and accumulate seniority and pension benefits, indefinitely—one could imagine the U.F.T. saying something like: “Hey, our responsibility is to look out for the best interests of our members, don’t blame us if we’ve done a particularly good job.” The obvious counterpoint is that paying people to not teach and making due process horribly burdensome isn’t in the public interest, or students’ interests, but at least there are some identifiable principles at work.
That, however, doesn’t account for the case of “Patricia Adams,” not her real name, who was remanded to the Rubber Room for two years before eventually making her way back into the classroom. “Bravo!” said the U.F.T. Web site. “Though she believes she was the victim of an effort to move senior teachers out of the system, the due process tenure system worked in her case.” This fits neatly into the union-promoted narrative of management trying to deep-six experienced teachers in favor of novices from TFA and elsewhere.
Except it turns out that Patricia Adams was Rubber Roomed less for “seniority” than for “passing out in an alcoholic stupor in a classroom full of 34 students.” After two years (paid) out of the classroom, she came back for a semester and then moved to a desk job where she was eventually found in another stupor, and fired, earlier this year. Yet the U.F.T. Web site remained unchanged. Brill describes what happened next:
Randi Weingarten, the president of the U.F.T. until this month (she is now the president of the union’s national parent organization), said in July that the Web site “should have been updated,” adding, “Mea culpa.” The Web site’s story saying that Adams believed she was the “victim of an effort to move senior teachers out” was still there as of mid-August. Ron Davis, a spokesman for the U.F.T., told me that he was unable to contact Adams, after what he said were repeated attempts, to ask if she would be available for comment.
In late August, I reached Adams, and she told me that no one from the union had tried to contact her for me, and that she was “shocked” by the account of her story on the U.F.T. Web site. “My case had nothing to do with seniority,” she said. “It was about a medical issue, and I sabotaged the whole thing by relapsing.” Adams, whose case was handled by a union lawyer, said that, last year, when a U.F.T. newsletter described her as the victim of a seniority purge, she was embarrassed and demanded that the union correct it. She added, “But I never knew about this Web-site article, and certainly never authorized it. The union has its own agenda.” The next morning, Adams told me she had insisted that the union remove the article immediately; it was removed later that day. Adams, who says that she is now sober and starting a school for recovering teen-age substance abusers, asked that her real name not be used.
How, exactly, was the U.F.T. working on behalf of the best interests of Patricia Adams by printing false and misleading information about her on its Web site? And what could “should have been updated” possibly mean? To what? “Update: Previous information was false and misleading“? One assumes that Weingarten meant (but was smart enough not to say) “expunged.”
Here we have a teacher who was obviously suffering from a severe and debilitating addiction to alcohol. While she certainly shouldn’t have been in the classroom, she deserves a measure of sympathy and privacy. Instead, she ended up with a reporter on her doorstep because her union chose to make her a pawn in a larger agenda.
And what does it say when the U.F.T. can’t find an actual case of anti-senior teacher bias to trumpet? There are nearly 90,000 teachers in New York City, many with a lot of years in the system. I assume that some of them really are discriminated against because of age. Or at least, I assumed. Now I’m not so sure.