How Does One Go About Breaking an Employment Contract?
January 2, 2006 5:57 PM   Subscribe

My wife (a middle school math teacher) found a better job at a better school. Can she break her contract?

Here's the deal...

She signed a contract to work at School A through May of 2006. Over christmas break she found a better job at School B. Her contract says that the "State Board for Educator Certification may impose sanctions" if she resigns in the middle of a school year (complete contract here -- Section 21.105 is most relevant).

My first question: what are sanctions?

Furthermore, the air conditioner in her room at School A has been broken since August! The average temperature has been 88 degrees (yes, she's measured). The heat gives her (and her students) a headache basically every day. She has complained, in writing, over a dozen times. She started school today and found that it has still not be repaired.

Thus, my second question: does the school district's failure to provide her with a comfortable environment in which to work give her any leverage to resign.
posted by JPowers to Law & Government (16 answers total)
Check out this question for some ideas.
posted by ferociouskitty at 6:20 PM on January 2, 2006

Can she check with her union rep for help?
posted by k8t at 6:24 PM on January 2, 2006

Is School B also a public school? If so, can't she work out a transfer? If the sanction is simply holding her teaching certificate, as suggested in the thread ferociouskitty linked, then the pressing need of another school in the state system may prevent the current school from doing something like that to harm her eligibility to teach.

Btw, the relevant section begins, "On written complaint by the employing district, the State Board for Educator Certification may impose sanctions against a teacher employed under a probationary contract..."

So, would her district supervisor complain? Has she asked?
posted by mediareport at 6:30 PM on January 2, 2006

Can she check with her union rep for help?

Good suggestion. Will do this ASAP.

Is School B also a public school?

Yes. However, the two schools are in seperate districts. Thus, I doubt a transfer would be possible.

So, would her district supervisor complain? Has she asked?

She has not asked. She feels confident however that her supervisor would be upset.
posted by JPowers at 6:36 PM on January 2, 2006

If the temperature really is 88 degrees, that would probably qualify as a high temperature workplace, according to OSHA. The union rep needs to know.
posted by scruss at 6:45 PM on January 2, 2006

She feels confident however that her supervisor would be upset.

Which doesn't necessarily mean s/he would file a written complaint, though. Especially given that she's leaving to go to another school within the Texas public school system.

Find out what the supervisor would do.
posted by mediareport at 6:49 PM on January 2, 2006

Does she know anyone on the school board? She should ask the board to release her from her contract. Talk to human resources. This can get sticky.

It looks like you are in Texas from your link. I did a quick check of the ATPE site (whom I belong to) and they stated "... you must ask the district to release you. If the district refuses to do so and you leave anyway, the district may submit a complaint to the State Board For Educator Certification. The common sanction for “contract abandonment” is a one year suspension of teaching credentials but milder sanctions are given, depending on the individual situation. The State Board does take mitigating circumstances into consideration."

She should call her Association or call ATPE or TSTA.
posted by nimsey lou at 6:57 PM on January 2, 2006

the way I understand things she is at the mercy of the district she is working for now. Said district can hold her certificate for a year and prevent her from working elswhere in TX for that time. My suggestion would be talk to the campus principal and the hr person if there is one. It would help if she knows someone that can server as her replacement or if the district is in need of a coach.
posted by busboy789 at 7:18 PM on January 2, 2006

Your district Sup in charge of personnel will be pissed, s/he will have to find a teacher at mid year. Some new teacher will be elated to step into her situation.

Get the Union rep to help. I like to joke that one of the perks of belonging to a large powerful and corrupt union is they can get things done for you. She will sort of be burning a bridge in that school district, for at least the next couple of years. This sort of thing is not uncommon.

I quit teaching once the Sunday before school began in the most gang riddled middle school in the district. I had a student body count of 3 the previous year, and I couldn't take watching it increase. Two years later I was back in the system and after a third year had a plum and highly sought after position at a magnet school. So the bridge won't be burned forever. Get advice from the union rep, talk to the principal first and let them know your intention and if she has a good relationship, the principal will help.
posted by spartacusroosevelt at 7:22 PM on January 2, 2006

Another question: When you say your wife "found a better job," does that mean she was actually offered the position? If so, then perhaps she could ask the supervisor from the new district to call the supervisor in her old one and point out how counterproductive for the state of Texas it would be if a hold was put on her teaching certificate. If your wife hasn't been offered the job yet, then she may want to suggest such a phone call as she goes through the interview process.

Either way, involving the new district's supervisor to preempt any "sanctions" from the old one seems a wise move.
posted by mediareport at 9:06 PM on January 2, 2006

Don't forget also that this move may really affect the students at School A-- it's very hard (and traumatic) to change teachers mid-year, so if she can possibly stay in the job until the end of the school year, she should.
posted by yellowcandy at 2:36 AM on January 3, 2006

I'm sorry but I have to disagree with yellowcandy. I agree that it's an adjustment for the kids to change teachers, but middle schoolers are terribly hardy and adjust to change much better than we adults do. Your wife should remember that she needs to put herself first here-- if she's in an unbearable job, then she needs to leave. If she's a math teacher, she'll be in high demand wherever she goes. If in a future interview she is asked why she left mid-year, she can tell them the truth!

Coincidentally, I just left my middle school math position (today is my first day off!) because of a lousy work environment-- extraordinarily nasty children. After a semester of "sticking it out for the team", my health declined so much that by November I had severe stress-induced hives. So I left. I worried for weeks that I would be harming the kids (there were a few good ones about whom I cared a great deal), that I would lose face, that I would be blacklisted from ever working in the district again. But I had a good reason for leaving-- my health, and I had an awesome opportunity fall into my lap.

Given your wife's circumstances (88 degrees is ridiculous!) anyone sane will understand that it is not an acceptable working environment, and she has to take care of herself first and foremost. Encourage her to take care of herself (teachers tend to give and give and give without stopping to see the reality of their difficult situation and its effects on them) and leave!
posted by orangemiles at 6:43 AM on January 3, 2006

I've got to agree to disagree with yellowcandy. The kids will be fine. Your wife needs to take care of herself first.
posted by busboy789 at 4:35 PM on January 3, 2006

It's pretty high-handed to assume that 'middle schoolers are terribly hardy' and just leave the rest up to them. They are children.

There is also quite a bit of academic research on the issue of teacher continuity and change, the findings of which stress the importance and benefits of maintaining instructor consistency over time.

I think, orangemiles, that you're speaking more about what you want to be true than what really is, just having done the same thing yourself.
posted by yellowcandy at 11:35 PM on January 3, 2006

yellowcandy, the question assumed the decision to leave had been made. Whatever point you may have is irrelevant to this AskMe thread. But as a former teacher who *didn't* leave in the middle of the year, I'll heartily second orangemiles' statement that "teachers tend to give and give and give without stopping to see the reality of their difficult situation and its effects on them," and heartily endorse the idea that teachers need to first take care of themselves if they want to be effective as leaders in the classroom.
posted by mediareport at 9:23 PM on January 4, 2006

mediareport: I don't read the question that way at all. What I wrote is perfectly relevant.

I was also a middle school teacher who did not leave in the middle of the year and I know that teachers can be giving. That seems pretty obvious. The issue I raised is one of consequence to other people, a perspective that had not been addressed.

And while I agree that teachers should take care of themselves (as should everyone, of course), a teacher who has abandoned his/her students mid-year cannot be any kind of leader in the classroom, let alone an effective one.
posted by yellowcandy at 12:08 AM on January 5, 2006

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