Ironclad. Indisputable. Irrefutable. Three words that should never be uttered when describing our albatross of a contract – or, what we think is our contract. The most recent complete version available online is from 2014, along with Memorandums of Agreement (MOAs) from 2018 and 2023. One would think that 339 pages (including the MOAs) of ink would be sufficient enough to put to rest any misconceptions and uncertainties. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Far from a clarifying document, our contract somehow manages to leave us with more questions than answers. Let’s delve into the sections of the contract that impact us the most on a daily basis…

Lesson Plans

One of the few areas of our contract that is fairly well-defined. Our contract states that lesson plans are “by and for the teacher.” While admin may offer suggestions, they cannot enforce a specific format. According to the UFT website, admin cannot ask teachers for printed lessons every day or in a “routinized matter.” We also have the freedom to choose whether our lesson plans are digital or on paper, meaning we can write them out, use Google Slides, Google Docs, etc. Having said this, there are some loopholes. Although the UFT website says that lesson plans have no bearing on AP and principal observations because “a lesson unfolds in the classroom,” there have been many teachers who have had their lesson plans picked apart during observations. Also, although the format for our lesson plans is up to our discretion, if you send a lesson plan without thorough explanations of grouping, scaffolds, differentiation, etc., admin could easily write up a less than stellar observation report since they lack context and knowledge of your classroom dynamic. All in all, while we enjoy a certain amount of protection under our contract, there is also a lot of risk involved in terms of observations.

Bulletin Boards

The format of classroom and hall bulletin boards is up to you. Per Article 21A of the contract, your principal cannot dictate how they look or discipline you for their format. If you are being mandated to use a specific format, you can speak to your chapter leader who can help you file a grievance. It seems pretty cut and dry, but it isn’t. When asked about protocols pertaining to teacher control of bulletin boards at a recent UFT member-wide meeting, Michael Mulgrew said, “It depends on which UFT lawyer you ask. They all have different answers.” The uncertainty stems from the fact that there is precisely one sentence in our entire 300+ page contract about bulletin boards. It reads, “The following issues shall not be the basis for discipline of pedagogues: a) the format of bulletin boards;…” Shockingly, this in-depth explanation leaves things open for interpretation, which seems to be the norm for our contract.

Learning Walks

We were spoiled with the one sentence explanation for bulletin boards. There is no language in the contract that references learning walks. Learning walks can happen at any time and at any frequency. Although admin could/should give you feedback, these are non-evaluative and do NOT count towards your Advance rating. Admin has carte blanche because learning walks are simply not mentioned anywhere in the contract.

Other Professional Work

Every week, teachers and paraprofessionals are allotted 40 minutes and 35 minutes respectively to complete their work as they see fit. This could be lesson planning, grading, IEP meetings, and anything else on our endless to-do lists. However, according to the UFT website, “principals may direct teachers and paraprofessionals to an activity, but it should be the exception, not the rule.” Notice how there is no concrete limit for how often our principals can horn in on our OPW time. Basically, they can pull us out on an “as needed” basis. If a principal wanted to, they could do this pretty much every week, as long as they say that it is necessary. 


The word “micromanagement” does not appear in the contract, but there are allusions to it. Pedagogues cannot be disciplined for “a) the format of bulletin boards; b) the arrangement of classroom furniture; and c) the exact duration of lesson units.” While I am relieved that we can’t get written up for our desk alignment, it is troubling that everything else under the umbrella of micromanagement is left up to the imagination. The lack of language in the contract makes micromanagement completely subjective and extremely difficult to prove from a legal standpoint. Similarly, harassment, intimidation, retaliation, and discrimination from supervisors are referenced in the contract, however there are no specific examples that give us any clear-cut legal footing regarding these issues.

Personal Day and Vacation Day Requests

Of the ten self-treated days we are able to use per year, three of them can be used for personal business. The caveat is that these personal business days must be “approved by your principal.” In other words, we have no power when requesting personal days. We just have to hope that the principal grants us the time off that we rightfully earned. 

The same goes for the seven vacation days we earned for working during 2020 spring break. We are told that we can request our vacation days at any time, however, principals can deny our request if they have a “compelling reason to do so.” What does a “compelling reason” look like? Your guess is as good as mine. Once again, our contract fails to protect us from any overreaching, vindictive administrator who wants to make our lives more difficult.


Not necessarily vague, but more like a flat-out lie given the impending changes to our healthcare. Right at the very top of p.7 of the 2014 contract, teachers are guaranteed the right to several healthcare options (plural). The contract states, “The Board agrees to arrange for, and make available to each day school teacher, a choice of health and hospital insurance coverage from among designated plans and the Board agrees to pay the full cost of such coverage.” We can say goodbye to our ability to choose later this year, unless we do something to prevent Mulgrew from unilaterally deciding our fate. 

Reading through the entire contract and MOAs is an important, yet disheartening endeavor. It seems as if our contract grants our admin more rights than us lowly UFT members by virtue of its shocking ambiguity. In many instances, we have no leg to stand on legally, as very few issues are clearly defined. This is one of the reasons why it is so difficult for UFT members to fight back against injustice. Nevertheless, it is imperative that we continue to persist, even when all seems hopeless.

David Ginsberg is a pro-union advocate who believes UFT members deserve better.

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