In a resounding victory for teacher professionalism and teacher voice, an arbitrator has ruled that “lesson plans are for the personal use of the teacher” and that principals may not “mandate specific elements of lesson plans.”
UFT President Michael Mulgrew said the ruling validated what the union has insisted throughout the yearlong arbitration hearings: “You as the teacher should decide what information you need to write down in order to teach a particular lesson.”
While arbitrator Deborah Gaines acknowledged that written lesson plans are required of all teachers, she specifically noted that “the specifics of the plan will be left to the professional judgment of the teacher.”
Mulgrew noted that the arbitrator’s decision “also helps to reduce the amount of paperwork required of teachers, a goal that is mirrored in our proposed contract.”
The union-initiated grievance charged that the Department of Education was violating Articles 8E and 20, specifically Special Circular 28, by allowing principals to require that teachers include specific elements in their lesson plans.
The contract articles and the circular establish that what goes into a lesson plan is up to the discretion of the teacher and further prohibits the “routinized and mechanical” collection of lesson plans in schools.
Supervisors can dictate the elements of a lesson plan only for teachers who have received an Ineffective or Unsatisfactory rating or have been formally warned that they are in danger of receiving one of those ratings.
“As someone who was teaching in 1990, I remember just how significant this change was, and I find it unthinkable that they would try to take away our voice,” noted UFT Grievance Director Ellen Gallin-Procida.
Teacher Betty Matos of PS 90 in Brooklyn, who testified at the hearing, said she was proud to be among the members who stood up for their rights. “We have to speak up so the union can defend and support us,” she said.
The arbitrator pointed out that since the lesson plan is only a part of the whole process of planning a lesson, it can serve as a starting point for a conversation on planning but cannot be evaluated in isolation. She made a distinction between evaluating an actual lesson, which supervisors have every right to do, and evaluating a lesson plan in a vacuum, which they may not do.
Addressing the union’s concern that the DOE might try to circumvent the ruling, the arbitrator warned the DOE not to “institute policies to serve as a smoke screen for the mechanical, ritualized collection of lesson plans or other types of impermissible activity under Article 8E of Special Circular 28.”