Are you thinking about quitting teaching mid-year? If breaking your teaching contract is on your mind, you’re not alone. In some districts, upwards of twenty-five percent of teacher turnover comes from teachers quitting their jobs mid-year. This is a very common concern.
Regardless, whether you are thinking of leaving at the start, middle, or end of the year, teaching is one of the few careers that comes with a massive stigma when you are ready to move on. Not only that, but there seem to be a lot of hoops to jump through. Plus, contract considerations to be had. Breaking a teaching contract can be a stressful situation, so I’m here to help walk you through it.
Long story short, quitting teaching mid-year is not as easy as giving your two weeks.
Whatever the reason for considering breaking your teacher contract, it can be overwhelming. After you’re done reading this, I hope you have some clarity around if you should break your teaching contract mid-year after all and, if so, a few things to consider along the way.
Note: I am not a licensed attorney nor am I a legal expert. This article is intended to share my insights based on experience, conversations with others, and our team’s research. I urge you to look into the specifics regarding your state/district and thoroughly read your contract to understand the appropriate course of action (and potential consequences) of your situation.
Is quitting teaching mid-year right for you?
Weighing the Pros & Cons
Like any other job, there could be a variety reasons for quitting teaching at any point during the year. No matter the reason, leaving your current position and breaking your contract is a decision you don’t want to make on a whim. I wish I could tell you that the timing would line up perfectly, but this is simply not always the case. If you are considering breaking your contract before it concludes, you’ll want to objectively weigh the pros and cons.
Waiting to quit teaching until your contract is up is the ideal way to leave your position.
If you are able, I urge you to consider waiting until the end of the year when your contract is complete to leave your position. However, depending on your specific situation, this is not always practical or even feasible.
If you can wait until the end of the academic year, this will save you a lot of hassle, the students from losing a teacher, and the district from scrambling to find someone new on short notice. But, we both know the real world is far more complex. Whether it’s a health concern, new job, or something else – sometimes in life you HAVE to put your own personal needs first.
So, let’s start with a few reasons that districts often deem “good cause” for breaking your contract. Check to see if these are written into your teaching contract. Or contact your union rep or HR office to see if any of the following causes are applicable.
“Good Causes” for Quitting Your Teaching Position Mid-Year
- Physical Health Concerns: If you have a physical health concern that is hindering your ability to do your job, you might be eligible for some form of medical leave. This type of leave may allow you to break your contract—even mid-year.
- Mental Health Concerns: There’s no doubt that workplace stress can affect your mental health. Truthfully, your well-being should never come at the cost of any job. Depending on the severity of the situation and the recommendation of your doctor, your mental health could lead to approval for a leave of absence or release from your contract.
- Family Needs:
Whether you have to care for a sick family member or provide your own childcare, family needs are important. Most districts are understanding of these circumstances. You might even be eligible for some form of leave. On another note, If your spouse has a job relocation requiring you to move out of reasonable commuting distance, many districts will let you out of your contract without penalty.
What is not a “good cause” for breaking a contract?
One thing you will not see under “good causes” is getting a new job offer. Accepting a new job for more money or a change of career might be what you need, but as long as you are legally under contract, you are expected to fulfill you contractual obligations first.
Whether you are considering another job offer in education or a different field, note that a contract is technically a legal obligation. Legal action could be taken by the district if you abandon your contract for another job. That is, unless the district has formally released you from the conditions of the contract.
Legal Ramifications for Quitting Teaching Mid-Year
In fact, signing a new contract that conflicts with the one you are planning on breaking is technically illegal. This could lead to serious penalties, like losing your license. Revoking/suspending a teaching license is sometimes used as a scare tactic by districts to ensure people stay in their position. However, as we see increased teacher shortages around the country, more schools are enforcing these penalties.
If you know that taking this position means you no longer need teaching license, then these repercussions may not matter. Truthfully, after I was out of teaching for a few years I stopped renewing my teaching license as a Plan B because I realized I knew with certainty I would never return.
But if you are not certain, the potential to lose your teaching license should be taken seriously. Take time to research what happened when other teachers within your district left mid-year before coming to this decision. If you do not know anyone else who has left, please talk with your union rep if you have one.
Again, if you can wait until the end of your contract to leave teaching, I recommend doing so. It will likely save you a lot of hassle and a headache or two. If you can’t, and must break your teaching contract mid-year make sure you do your research first. After all, breaking a contract can come at a cost (literally, some districts may use fines as a penalty).
Other Consequences to Consider before Quitting Teaching Mid-Year
Other potential costs and consequences for breaking your teaching contract will vary from state-to-state and district-to-district. This is a question with many answers that will be specific to your state, school district, and the contract itself. You will need to do the research and be very clear about what consequences, if any, will apply in your situation.
When it comes to breaking your teaching contract, every state (and district) is different. Our Teacher Career Coach Course members are living proof! One member in Maryland noted that schools in their state will suspend your license if the contract is breached. However, a teacher in North Carolina noted there are no repercussions if you give a 30-day notice to your district. Others have experienced fines. While still others have left despite threats of severe penalties from their district. But in the end they felt no repercussions as the school district never followed through.
Some districts will release you from your teaching contract once a suitable replacement is found.
Even when there are no repercussions written into your contract, don’t be surprised if you are asked to continue teaching until your position can be filled. This is a common expectation for teachers breaking contract near the beginning of the year or quitting mid-year.
The speed at which your position may be filled could be completely up in the air. It may take an extended period of time depending on the severity of the shortage in your area. If your district is asking you to stay, you may be able to speak with administration or HR about creating a timeline that works for both of you.
Do not let this deter you if you know you need to get out ASAP for whatever reason. I have heard countless stories of employers being open to 2-4 week waits so teachers can carry out their duties. I have interviewed a union representative on the Teacher Career Coach Podcast who talks about more about breaking a teaching contract here.
Top Concerns for Quitting Teaching Mid-Year
I know, it’s confusing. So, let’s look at the top concerns that come up when a teacher is thinking about quitting teaching mid-year.
- Loss of suspension of teaching license:
Many times districts will threaten to take your license. However, not all follow through, especially if there are mental or physical health concerns involved. There have been some situations when the district is unforgiving. This is a potential consequence you definitely want to account for. I’ve seen licenses suspended for breaking a contract last anything from 30 days to a full year.
Some districts might – and are legally allowed to – charge you certain fees for breaking your contract. One TCC course member reported that she was fined $1,500! When it comes to fees, one of the more common ones is covering costs associated with finding a replacement. Many contracts will write out the damages a teacher must pay if they break contract. If you are unsure, ask your union representative about contract release fees. In some cases, they might increase as the year progresses.
- Negative impact on students and your colleagues:
I know you don’t need me to say that this will be difficult for your students, but sometimes it’s inevitable. Quitting will also have an effect on your co-workers. Other department members will have to cover your classes due to sub shortages and/or write lesson plans for the classes.
We are so conditioned to put the needs of others over our own needs, but you can put yourself first.
At the end of the day, you’ll need to weigh the pros and cons. Deciding to leave your job is such a personal choice. Only you know the answer that is right for you. However, that doesn’t mean you have to do it alone. So, if the number one thing holding you back is the guilt you feel, listen to The Teacher Career Coach Podcast episode here to learn how a little shift in your mindset can help you break free from those feelings.
The fear and stress of consequences for breaking your contract can be enough to keep some people from taking action.
If quitting teaching mid-year is truly in your best interest, waiting it out could make your situation unbearable.
If you feel stunted by the potential consequences of leaving teaching mid-year, think about the worst-case scenario. My research leads me to believe that very few districts will threaten to fine you. If they do, will your next job easily cover the cost?
And sure, some will revoke your teaching license, but if you are planning on leaving the profession altogether… Does that really even matter? If you are considering staying in education, you’re going to want to look into these potential consequences.
Informing Your Administration
For those quitting teaching mid-year, you will want to write a letter asking for release from your contract. However, writing this letter is not a guarantee that your request will be granted. In most cases, you will address this letter to the superintendent. They should be both professional and clear around why you are breaking your contract.
This blog all about writing your teacher resignation letter may be helpful. Writing a teacher resignation letter isn’t fun, but it’s a necessary step as you prepare to leave the classroom.
I would also urge you to have the difficult conversation face-to-face. While this may feel uncomfortable, it is important to remain professional. Make sure your decision and next steps are clearly communicated. During this conversation, discuss your intention to leave as well as a date. You may also want to ask if there is anything you can do to ease the transition before you go.
Steps to Take Before Quitting Teaching Contract Mid-Year
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Breaking your teaching contract is a big decision that you should consider carefully before taking any action. If, after thinking it over, you know this is the choice you need to make. Here are some of my best tips to take into consideration before your big break.
Know the difference between a contract and a letter of intent.
If you are worried about breaking your contract at or before the start of the school year year, think about how far in the process you’ve gotten first. If you haven’t actually signed a contract, you are not legally bound to the position.
A letter of intent, which some consider ethically binding, indicates an intention to accept the position when the contract comes. While it is not legally binding, remember to approach the situation in a way that avoids burning bridges. There are cases when after signing a letter of intent, an employee would not want to sign the final contract.
Talk to your union representative.
If you know you need to leave your current situation, there might be another way out – like applying for a leave of absence. Before making this decision, talk to your union representative (if you have one) about your options.
Depending on the reason behind you wanting to leave, there might be other ways to resolve the issue. Your union representative will be able to assist you in understanding how to properly go about breaking your contract if that is what you ultimately decide to do.
Avoid burning bridges whenever possible.
Honestly, my biggest piece of advice to anyone quitting teaching mid-year and breaking their teaching contract is to avoid burning any bridges. Whether you are staying in the realm of education or leaving the profession altogether, you never know what doors the connections you’ve made can open up – or close.
Timing does come into play when it comes to how to go about breaking your contract. However, no matter if you plan to break your contract while on break or mid-year, you want to be sure to do so as professionally as possible.
Have a plan in place for after you leave.
It’s scary to leave the financial security of a job—no matter how unhappy you are. Most teachers will want to have the new job offer and start date in place before ever informing the school. If you’re planning to leave your job before securing a new position, have a timeline and plan in place for what comes after. Look into timelines and peak seasons for hiring in other districts or other industries and plan accordingly. You will want to use your time wisely to best prepare you for the next step in your career.
Preparing for Your Transition
I get it, sometimes you can’t wait for the perfect moment or for another job to come along before you make this decision. If that is the case, financial experts recommend saving at least six months’ worth of your necessary expenses.
The bottom line? Only you know if leaving and breaking your contract and quitting teaching mid-year is the right choice for you. It’s a personal decision that you need to weigh the pros and cons of making.
Next Steps to a New Career
One of the biggest mistakes that I see teachers make is that they try to navigate this process alone. Often, they put off “researching” until the very last minute. Which sets them up for a very stressful application season. I want to help you get some clarity in the options available to you. To know EXACTLY what you need to do (and not do) in order to get your foot in the door.
You don’t have to do this on your own.
With the help of an HR expert with over 10 years of experience and a team of former teachers, I’ve created a guide to support you in the early stages of your transition out of the classroom. Tap the button below to learn more.