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How can teachers lose their job?

Teachers play a vital role in shaping young minds and preparing students for the future. However, like any other profession, teachers can also lose their jobs for various reasons. In this article, we will explore the main ways in which teachers can be dismissed or have their teaching licenses revoked.


One of the most common reasons for firing teachers is incompetence or the inability to perform their duties effectively. There are several factors that could indicate a teacher is incompetent:

  • Consistently poor student performance – If students are continually underperforming on standardized tests or class assessments, it may point to issues with the teacher’s methods.
  • Classroom management problems – Teachers who cannot control their class or maintain an orderly learning environment may face dismissal.
  • Failure to create engaging lesson plans – If lessons are uninspiring or inappropriate for the level being taught, it shows the teacher’s lack of skill.
  • Inability to convey information clearly – Teachers who struggle to explain concepts in a way students understand may be removed for incompetence.
  • Ignorance of subject matter – Not having a strong grasp of the subject being taught makes it impossible to educate students properly.

Before being dismissed for incompetence, teachers are often placed on performance improvement plans and given opportunities to improve. However, if their skills do not reach acceptable levels within a certain timeframe, termination is likely.


Teachers are held to high moral and ethical standards. Any type of misconduct can threaten a teacher’s job security. Common grounds for dismissal due to misconduct include:

  • Inappropriate relationships – It is illegal for teachers to engage in intimate or sexual relationships with students, even if the student is 18 or older.
  • Physical or verbal abuse – Teachers who physically or verbally assault students face immediate termination and loss of license.
  • Substance abuse – Use of illegal drugs or alcohol at school is strictly prohibited and grounds for firing.
  • Financial misdeeds – Misusing school funds or improperly profiting from school activities is embezzlement.
  • Cheating or plagiarism – Teachers must hold themselves to high academic standards and not engage in unethical practices.
  • Discrimination – Treating students unfairly due to race, gender, disability or other factors is unacceptable.

Any type of ethical breach demonstrates that the teacher does not have the integrity needed to properly fill their role and is very likely to result in dismissal.

Poor Performance

While not as severe as incompetence, consistent mediocre performance can also cost teachers their jobs. Signs of poor performance include:

  • Students meeting minimum standards but not excelling – If test scores and other measures consistently meet, but never exceed expectations, it indicates the teacher could be doing better.
  • Insufficient student progress throughout the year – Students should be gaining skills and knowledge as the year progresses. Slow progress may point to issues.
  • High failure or dropout rates – High numbers of students failing classes or dropping out can often be traced back to poor teaching.
  • Parent or student complaints – Valid complaints about boring curriculum, lack of support and other issues may highlight subpar teaching.
  • Little participation in school activities – Teachers who avoid school functions, parent meetings and extracurricular activities may not be fully invested in their work.

Teachers will be given opportunities to boost their student outcomes and engagement. But if improvements are not made within a reasonable timeframe, termination is a possibility.

Attendance Problems

Missing too much time from work can also cost teachers their jobs. Common attendance issues include:

  • Excessive sick days – While some absences are expected, excessive days off due to illness may point to poor health or lack of commitment.
  • Unauthorized absences – Teachers who miss work without permission or a valid excuse demonstrate irresponsibility.
  • Frequent late arrivals – Lateness sets a bad example for students and disrupts learning.
  • Early departures – Leaving early without good reason again displays irresponsible behavior.
  • Taking extended time off -requesting long periods of non-medical leave can leave students without needed instruction.

Unless the teacher has an ADA-covered disability requiring accommodation, ongoing attendance issues typically result in termination.

License Suspension or Revocation

In addition to dismissal, teachers can also lose their ability to teach through license suspension or revocation. Most states have an educational board that oversees teacher licensing and conduct. Reasons a board may suspend or revoke teaching privileges include:

  • Criminal activity – Arrest or conviction for a crime, especially a felony, may cause loss of license.
  • Sexual or physical abuse – Almost always results in revocation of license, even without criminal conviction.
  • Unethical conduct – Breaches of ethics such as cheating, harassment, or discrimination can lead to license suspension or revocation.
  • Substance abuse – Drug or alcohol violations may result in teaching license being revoked.
  • Testing breaches – Cheating or assisting students in cheating on standardized tests can permanently ruin a teacher’s career.
  • Failure to meet licensing standards – Inadequate qualifications, education or certification may invalidate a license.

License suspension is usually temporary, while revocation is permanent. However, losing a teaching license almost always leads to dismissal as well.

Reporting Misconduct

Many teacher dismissals and license revocations begin with reporting of misconduct by fellow staff or community members. While some signs of unfitness are readily observed by administrators, they can also rely on reports to identify concerned areas. Reasons to report teacher misconduct may include:

  • Suspected inappropriate relationships with students.
  • Signs of verbal, physical or emotional abuse toward students.
  • Uncharacteristic behavior suggesting substance abuse.
  • Discriminatory treatment or grading of certain students.
  • Cheating or changing student grades without cause.
  • Mishandling of school funds or improperly profiting from school activities.
  • Requests for students to perform illegal or dangerous activities.

Students, parents, staff and community members who witness such behaviors are encouraged to report them immediately to school administrators. Timely reporting protects students and allows corrective action to be taken quickly if claims are substantiated.

Dismissal Process

Except in cases of egregious misconduct, most teachers will not be terminated without going through a formal dismissal process. The steps involved usually include:

  1. Evidence gathering – Documentation is compiled showing evidence of the teacher’s deficiency or misconduct.
  2. suspension -The teacher may be immediately suspended pending investigation into any misconduct claims. Suspension is usually with pay.
  3. Written notice – Once adequate evidence exists, the teacher is presented with written notice of the grounds for dismissal and provided copies of any documentation.
  4. Response – The teacher is given a set timeframe (often 5-15 days) to respond to the allegations in writing.
  5. Hearing – A board hearing is scheduled in which administration presents the grounds for termination and the teacher presents their response and defenses. Witnesses may be called.
  6. Determination – Within a set timeframe after the hearing (typically 5-30 days), the board issues a written decision on whether termination is warranted.
  7. Appeal – If terminated, the teacher may have grounds to appeal the decision through mediation, arbitration, or administrative court.

While complex, these steps aim to ensure fair treatment and prevent wrongful termination. Unfortunately, the process is often very stressful for the teacher under investigation.

Financial Impacts

Losing a teaching job can significantly impact a teacher’s finances:

  • Loss of salary – Income immediately stops unless the teacher wins a favorable appeal.
  • Loss of benefits – Health/dental insurance, retirement contributions, and other benefits usually terminate immediately.
  • Ineligibility for unemployment – Fired teachers typically cannot collect unemployment benefits.
  • Legal fees – Lawyer fees to defend against misconduct allegations or appeal a dismissal can be costly.
  • Lasting career damage – A dismissal for serious misconduct makes it very hard for a teacher to ever work in education again.

Teachers dismissed mid-contract may be able to negotiate a severance agreement to obtain a short continuation of salary or benefits. But ultimately, termination results in a major loss of income and professional standing.

Emotional Toll

More than just finances are impacted. The emotional toll of being removed from a teaching position should not be underestimated. Common issues faced include:

  • Shame and embarrassment – Teachers often feel intense shame, especially if dismissed for misconduct.
  • Anger and resentment – Teachers may harbor resentment over perceived unfairness in their termination.
  • Loss of purpose – Teaching is strongly tied to identity for many educators.
  • Isolation and loneliness – Social circles can quickly shrink after loss of a job.
  • Anxiety and depression – The stress of job loss commonly manifests in mental health issues.
  • Mourning former life – Nostalgia for the past is common when forced into a new unchosen direction.

Counseling, stress management and rebuilding social networks can help teachers move forward after the trauma of unexpected job loss.

Finding New Employment

Finding a new teaching job depends heavily on the reasons for termination from the prior position. Teachers dismissed due to poor performance may be able to find similar teaching roles, especially if they can demonstrate steps taken to improve. Licensing issues may be resolved, enabling a return to teaching. Retraining can open doors in education-related fields like tutoring or administration.

However, finding any work in education will be extremely difficult for those fired for misconduct, ethical breaches or abuse. Their only option may be a complete career change. Even substituting or Volunteering with youth will likely not be permitted. These bans protect students but severely limit options for disgraced former teachers.

Regardless of the dismissal circumstances, it is important for teachers to be truthful yet positive when interviewed for new jobs. Hiding the reasons for termination may be tempting but will likely backfire when references are checked. Instead, focusing on lessons learned and skills gained can demonstrate motivation to improve.

Preventing Job Loss

While some dismissal factors are beyond a teacher’s control, many can be prevented with proper care:

  • Uphold all ethical standards – Avoid any behavior that could be construed as misconduct.
  • Build strong classroom skills – Constantly hone techniques through training and self-reflection.
  • Maintain strict attendance – Come to work on-time every day unless seriously ill.
  • Pursue positive relationships – Nurture professional bonds with administrators and colleagues.
  • Seek help when struggling – Access resources if feeling overwhelmed, incompetent or unsupported.
  • Remain engaged and inspired – Find ways to keep teaching rewarding amidst the challenges.

While dismissal ultimately comes down to the administration’s judgment, proactively managing these factors reduces the risk substantially.

Appealing a Termination

If a teacher believes their dismissal was wrongful or unfair, they may have grounds for appeal. Possible arguments include:

  • Inadequate evidence – Asserting that claims of incompetence or misconduct were unfounded.
  • Unreasonable expectations – Stating that standards were set impossibly high by administrators.
  • Disproportionate discipline – Arguing that termination was too severe for the alleged actions.
  • Discrimination – Claiming dismissal was actually based on bias or prejudice, not stated reasons.
  • Failure to follow policy – Identifying ways due process, contracts or established procedures were violated.
  • Mitigating factors – Citing outside conditions, stresses or inadequate support from the district as contributors.

Before appealing, terminated teachers should consult with an employment lawyer to assess their chances of success. Overturning a school board’s decision is challenging. However, in cases where dismissal seems truly unfounded, seeking arbitration, court intervention or a settlement may be warranted.

Moving Forward Positively

Losing a teaching position is a jarring setback, but it does not have to defining one’s life and career. Teachers have the power to learn from the experience, grow stronger and identify new opportunities. With time, even dismissal for serious misconduct does not preclude someone from eventually contributing to society in other meaningful ways. While tremendously difficult, starting over with hard-gained wisdom can catalyze profound personal reinvention and growth.