“If I am offered my dream job, but my teaching contract says I can’t leave, how do I handle it?”

Question: Alan, I am a teacher. I was given my contract for the upcoming school year in May, which I signed. At the end of July I heard about and applied for an instructor position at a local college. The interview went extremely well. It is a dream job for me.

School starts on August 29th, but I may not hear about my getting or not the college instructor job until August 24th.

My school contract says (a) I can resign only by July 1st, which has passed; (b) I cannot terminate prior to the END of the school year, which is next year; and (c) I can resign if both sides consent.

How should I handle the situation if I get the dream job?

Nashua, New Hampshire

Answer: Bill, this is how I view the issue:

1. Legally speaking, you can probably rescind your acceptance without lawsuit or loss. Although I am not licensed to practice law in New Hampshire, the law in almost all states provides that, generally speaking, if neither party to a contract has begun to perform its obligations, either of the parties can back out of the deal. Of course, that would also depend on the exact wording of the contract.

Also, what damages would the school entail if it had to hire someone else to teach in your place? My understanding is that there are many more teachers seeking work right now than there are available positions. It is, I believe, quite likely that there would be no financial damages suffered by the school and, hence, nothing to sue you for.   

2. You should consider, too possible effects on your teaching license. Whenever I am consulted by people with professional licenses – such as teachers, doctors and investment advisors – I give thought and consideration to whether their conduct might in some way affect their ability to hold or renew their licenses. You might place a call to your state’s teacher-licensing agency to inquire about this concern. 

3. And, too, you should always try to avoid burning bridges. In addition to legal concerns and licensing matters, we always think seriously about relational damages. Since your teaching contract was renewed, no doubt you have developed good relations with students, teachers, staff, principals and school board members. These relations are the threads in the fabric of career success, and are to be treated with gentle care. Whether or not you leave your existing teaching job for the college position, do your utmost not to burn bridges, you may need them in the future.      

4. Don’t forget that the new employer will likely seek a reference from the former employer; they might even know each other. In considering whether or not you should make this transition and, if you do, how you go about it, it is likely that your prospective new employer will contact your present employer and ask, in effect, “Would you hire this person again?” Who knows . . .  they might even know each other. (This is among the primary reasons I always try to “behave myself.”)  

5. Without any question, gaining consent of your present employer is the best first route forward. All of these considerations lend me to one inexorable conclusion: if you are offered your dream job, you would be wisest to go to your present employer, be open, honest and frank, and respectfully request their consent to your departure “with a handshake.” You might ask your decision-maker (department head, principal or superintendent) to meet with you in person. At that face-to-face meeting, tell him or her of your dilemma. Share with him or her (a) your concern about going back on a promise, (b) your understanding that this may cause inconvenience and difficulty for them, and (c) your hope that he or she can appreciate how infrequently a true “dream job” comes along. Share, too, your respectful request for their “blessing” of your taking the dream job, and consent to do so. If that is granted, thank him or her in an email; that will give you a record of such consent. I think that, at least with most people, this may have a very good chance of working.  

6. If that’s not possible, you simply need to weigh the pro’s and con’s, with a big weight given to following your dreams, without fear. If the first recommended route doesn’t get you where you want to go, then you need to simply consider the positives and negatives of making the transition without consent, but with perhaps disappointment, and even anger, from your present employer. While there are risks in doing so, the potential rewards of a true “dream job” will likely outweigh the chance you’ll take.  

Bill, thanks for writing in. I hope you’ll find these thoughts helpful. Good luck in moving forward.

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Al Sklover

© 2011 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.

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