Among the many meaningful contractual rights UFT members have is time carved out for teachers to do professional work. Whether they teach elementary, middle or high school, teachers are generally entitled to five periods per week for unassigned professional work under Article 7, Sections A–C of the DOE-UFT contract.
As a teacher, you decide how to use preparation periods. You may choose to write lesson plans, grade papers, analyze student data, research a lesson topic, meet with parents or colleagues, or do other professional work of your choice. Prep periods are self-directed; you determine what to do during your prep periods. It is a right the UFT fought for and a right workers without a union do not have.
You may, however, lose a prep period if an unforeseen staffing emergency arises at your school. The unavailability of a teacher to teach a class constitutes an emergency, and a supervisor may direct another teacher to cover that class during a prep period. After one unpaid coverage per term, you must, however, be compensated for any further lost preparation periods in elementary or secondary schools (see Article 7N).
The coverage rate per period, as set forth in the DOE-UFT contract, is $45.38, as of May 14, 2021.
The assignment of teachers to cover classes in an emergency should be made on a rotational basis to the extent possible. A rotational pool should be set up at your school, with those who volunteer for the assignment during their preparation period or professional-activity period filling in first.
Some prep period do’s and don’ts
A principal cannot mandate meetings (including for common planning) or administrative duties during your prep period. If you’re directed to do these kinds of things during your prep period, you should follow the directive and then speak to your chapter leader to try to resolve the issue or file a grievance. You are entitled to be paid for a lost prep period, including when you are directed to attend a meeting or participate in common planning. Your common-planning meetings may, however, be your professional-activity assignment (under Circular 6).
If you teach in a school that has been unable to fill a teaching position in a shortage license area, you can apply to teach that class in lieu of preparation time. You will be paid at a special payment rate if you are scheduled to teach all five periods of that class per week (see Article 7, Section O).The rate is $7,278 per semester, effective May 14, 2021. Teachers with these shortage-area assignments should be relieved of professional-activity assignments. Teachers who are scheduled to teach fewer than five additional shortage-area periods per week in lieu of preparation time or who are scheduled to take on that additional class for less than a full term will receive the special payment on a pro rata basis.
If you’re on a class trip and have returned to the school building in time for your prep period, you’re entitled to take it. You can lose your prep period if you are out of the building on a class trip at the time of your prep period. Many schools, however, do arrange for teachers to get their prep periods when they return, even if they were on the trip during their scheduled preps.
Remember, the best way to ensure your rights are respected is to know your rights — and use them!