Can teachers quit?
October 1, 2005 4:16 PM   Subscribe

A good friend of mine is seeking to resign from her middle school teaching job at the end of this quarter. I have a lot of teacher friends, but the question I have has so far been unanswered. Her contract has no provision for voluntary termination, doesn't mention resignation at all, and goes so far as to say that any breach of contract (the terms of which specify a duration of a full school term) may result in heretofore unspecified damages. This is in Illinois. I know that YANAL (you are not a lawyer), dear reader, but the quandry remains: What happens when a teacher quits mid-year? Are there usually lawsuits involved in such cases? Are teachers really required to stick out an entire school year to avoid getting hauled into court for breach of contract? Any other gotchas?
posted by Merdryn to Law & Government (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Your first step should be to consult any local employment legislation. That should be the basis for any employment contract, meaning that any term in her contract that violates the act (or acts) is void (unless there are exceptions for teachers, often there are acts or rules for government employees that are different than those for private sector employees). I have trouble believing that she would not be able to give reasonable notice and depart if she is a full time employee and not a contract worker. Also, is she part of a bargaining unit? If so, her union should be able to answer her questions.
posted by loquax at 4:25 PM on October 1, 2005

for what it's worth;
In Texas a teacher can quit during a school year, but the district can hold on to the teacher's teaching certificate for a year if they choose to prevent the teacher from teaching elsewhere.
posted by busboy789 at 4:33 PM on October 1, 2005

In Iowa a teacher can quit if (1) a spouse moves with a job, (2) there is an illness that prevents them from fulfilling the conditions of their contract, (3) the district requests it (basically meaning that they want you to leave), or (4) there is "mutual agreement" between the teacher and the district (never happens).

If the teacher leaves anyway legal action is possible, but is literally never pursued. What happens instead is that the teacher gets a "black mark" on their resume and they will essentially never teach in the state again. If they move to another state they'll be identified as a contract breaker when the background check is done.

So, if your friend is moving into the private sector and really knows that he/she won't ever want to teach again, then tell her/him to go for it. Otherwise you're burning some pretty big bridges.
posted by crapples at 4:56 PM on October 1, 2005

Does she have another job to go to? If not, maybe she can apply for stress leave and then quit at the end of the year.
posted by acoutu at 5:14 PM on October 1, 2005

She's not moving to the private sector, she's leaving to raise her family. Her husband travels a lot, and she doesn't want to rely on day care (his income is enough to keep them comfortable).
posted by Merdryn at 5:36 PM on October 1, 2005

If she doesn't want to go to her union, the website of the National Employment Lawyers Association will let you search for a lawyer in your area with expertise in employment contracts.
posted by Xalf at 6:09 PM on October 1, 2005

i quit teaching in texas (after 3 months-ish). i never heard from them again (even to get back my quite large signing bonus). shhhhhhhh....
posted by unknowncommand at 6:31 PM on October 1, 2005

My parents are both teachers in Georgia. From what I've gathered over the years, at least in their system, $500 gets a teacher out of a contract. I believe you have to have a "valid" reason (probably like those given for Iowa above). Of course, this is probably written into the contract. I can't imagine writing an employment contract that didn't give specifics to address the possibility it might be broken.

Has your friend thought about talking with a principal or HR manager to see if they can give any guidance, or at least "So-and-so quit and here's what happened..."? Certainly it's happened, and there may be a provision (like a board policy) that, independent of the contract, goes into what type of "legal action" might be pursued.
posted by SuperNova at 9:35 PM on October 1, 2005

My wife went through this. She taught high school physics and chemistry for nearly eight years (here in Oregon), but then got hired as a forensic chemist at the state crime lab. It was her dream job, and though she hated to do it, she quit teaching in the middle of the year. (Her last day was the day before spring break, so it wasn't a clean break at a quarter or anything.)

I asked her how she managed to get away with this. Two things played in her favor:

1. The union and the school district were still hashing out the contract for the year, and she had never signed anything.

2. She told the school district early on that she was planning to leave. In fact, she'd let people know a year in advance that she was moving toward a new career. This meant that when my wife was hired, the school district was prepared, and ready with a temporary replacement. (They were lucky in that they found a teacher who wanted a job for just that period of time, too.)

That said, my wife says she thinks she could have just quit anyhow. She says people do it all the time. There's really nothing that the school district can do to prevent it. The only real consequences are that a teacher who quits suddenly in the middle of the year probably won't be able to find a teaching job again in the state. They certainly will not get any sort of recommendation.
posted by jdroth at 11:15 PM on October 1, 2005

Most of the teachers that I know belong to the local union. Even if your friend is not a member, maybe the *EA for your area would be able to help.
posted by john m at 10:22 AM on October 2, 2005

For those that are interested, she quit today (she's not tenured, or under "continued contractual service") and her principal seemed to be very cool about it. He'll turn her letter into the supernintendo today. Shouldn't be any issue, he says.
posted by Merdryn at 8:17 AM on October 3, 2005

Wow.. I thought I was the only one who called it the supernintendo!
posted by nimsey lou at 4:02 PM on October 3, 2005

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