Are you thinking about quitting teaching mid-year? If breaking your teaching contract is on your mind, you’re not alone. As it turns out, in some districts, upwards of twenty-five percent of teacher turnover comes from teachers quitting their jobs mid-year.
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 or 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 (and nope, I don’t play one on TV either!). This article is intended to share my insights based on experience, conversations with others, and the good old web. 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.
How to Break Your Teaching Contract: First, Know Your Reasons
Like any other job, there could be many reasons for breaking your teaching contract. No matter the reason, leaving your current position and breaking your contract is a decision you don’t want to make on a whim.
You could break your contract at the beginning of the year, mid-year, or on break. Now, I always urge teachers who are considering leaving to wait until the end of the year to break their contract.
Waiting to quit teaching until your contract is up is the ideal way to leave your position—no contract breaks mid-year needed.
This saves you the hassle, the students from losing a teacher, and the district from scrambling to find someone new on short notice (which can all happen it you break your teaching contract mid-year). But, we both know the real world is far more complex.
So, here are a few (totally legit) reasons that districts often deem “good cause” for breaking your teaching contract mid-year (or anytime really):
“Good Causes” for Quitting Your Teaching Position Mid-Year
- Physical Health Concerns. If you have a physical health concern that is getting in the way of you being able to do your job, you might be eligible for some form of medical leave. This type of leave would allow you to break your contract—even mid-year.
- Mental Health Concerns. There’s no doubt that teaching 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, your mental health could lead you to approval for a leave of absence or release from your contract.
- Family Needs. Whether you have to take care of a sick family member or provide your own childcare, your family needs are important and 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, most districts will let you out of your contract without penalty.
One thing that is not included in that list, but is a common factor for many teachers leaving the profession:
- New Job. Oftentimes, districts celebrate promotions within the field of education regardless of the timing (but this is not always the case). However, whether you are planning on accepting another job in education or a different field, note that a contract is a legal obligation. 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 those obligations.
Technically, legal action could be taken by the district if you abandon your contract for another job unless the district has formally released you from the conditions of the contract.
In fact, signing a new contract that conflicts with the one you are planning on breaking is technically illegal and could lead to more serious legal ramifications, like losing your license.
Again, if you can wait out your decision 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 at the beginning of the year, mid-year or while on break, make sure you do your research first. After all, a contract is a contract, and breaking one can come at a cost (literally).
Consequences To Consider Before Breaking Your Teaching Contract Mid-Year
So what are the potential costs and consequences for breaking your teaching contract, you ask? This is a question with many answers– and a lot of it has to do with your state, school district, and the contract itself.
When it comes to breaking your teaching contract, every state (and district) is different—our Teacher Career Coach Community 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 that there are no repercussions for you (or your license) if you give a 30-day notice to your district.
Even when there are no repercussions for you (or your license) 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 at the beginning of the year or quitting teaching mid-year.
Many districts will release you from your teaching contract once a suitable replacement is found.
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…
- Losing your license. Most, but not all, of the time districts will threaten to take your license but rarely follow through, especially if there are mental or physical health concerns involved. However, there have been some situations when the district is very cruel and unforgiving, so 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.
- Fees. Some districts might– and are legally allowed to– charge you certain fees for breaking your contract. (One Teacher Career Coach Community member was fined $1,500!). When it comes to fees, one of the more common ones a teacher might face 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 the students and your colleagues. I know you don’t need me to tell you that it’s bad for the students when you leave at any time during the school year, but sometimes it’s inevitable (and that’s okay too). Quitting will also have an effect on your co-workers. Other department members will have to cover your classes (if there’s a sub shortage) and write lesson plans for the classes.
As teachers, we are so conditioned to put the needs of others over our own needs, but it is put yourself first if you have no other choice.
At the end of the day, you’ll need to weigh the pros and cons of making a big decision like this. Deciding to leave your job is such a personal choice and 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 (teacher guilt is real, folks) listen to my latest Teacher Career Coach Podcast episode here to learn how a little shift in your mindset can help you break free from those feelings.
The truth is, the fear and stress of these (potential) consequences for breaking your contract any time of the year can be enough to keep some people from taking action against their contract.
The thing is, if you are in a situation where quitting teaching mid-year is truly in your best interest, waiting it out could make your situation unbearable and cause even greater stress in your life.
If you are someone who is stunted by the potential consequences of leaving teaching mid-year or breaking your contract while on break, 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? Now, if you are planning on staying in the field or even considering it as a possibility down the line, you’re going to want to dig a little deeper and look into this potential consequence within your district.
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 the beginning of the 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, while some may consider it ethically binding, indicates an intention to stop your job search and 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 whenever possible.
Talk to your union representative.
If you know you want (or need) to leave your current situation, there might be another way out (like applying for a leave of absence). Consider breaking your contract mid-year as a last resort. Before making this decision, talk to your union representative about your options.
Depending on the reason behind you wanting (or needing) 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.
Devise an exit strategy before you leave.
Now, I don’t mean a stealthy spy escape plan. What I do mean, however, is you need to plan how you are going to go about leaving to avoid burning bridges. Honestly, my biggest piece of advice to anyone quitting teaching mid-year and breaking their teaching contract is to do just that:
Avoid burning bridges whenever possible.
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.
So, for those deciding to break contract before the new year starts, you’re going to want to look into writing a letter of resignation. Usually, the earlier you inform the school the better so they can find a replacement before the year starts. 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, these letters should be addressed to the school’s superintendent and should be both professional and clear around why you are breaking your contract.
Are you thinking about breaking your contract in the last quarter of the year? You’re so close! My best advice here is to wait it out (if you can) and don’t resign when renewals come about. This will spare you the stress of any potential consequences and the schools from having to find a replacement. But, again, only you know what is best for your situation.
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. If you’re planning to leave your job, 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 this step (or switch) in your career.
Updating your resume, staying on top of your skills and qualifications, and actively applying to jobs a few months prior to peak hiring season in your desired industry.
Remember, when you are on the hunt for a job, every bit of networking helps!
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.
Now listen, just because quitting teaching is a personal choice doesn’t mean you can’t have support along the way. I’ve helped hundreds of teachers just like you (including myself!) navigate this transition. So, if you are in need of immediate support regarding leaving your teaching job, learn more about how I can help you.