Teachers are trusted to work closely with young and vulnerable members of society. They also significantly influence the lives of their students. With such a crucial role, how do we decide what is acceptable or unacceptable behavior from a teacher? Moreover, how and why can a teacher get fired for perceived wrongdoing?
A teacher can get fired for illegal or immoral behavior, misconduct, incompetence, and repeated violation of rules. States outline the conditions for dismissal, which is often a complex procedure, so losing your job as a teacher is, in reality, rare.
For a school district to dismiss you, they must show cause, specify charges, notify you and hold a meaningful hearing. In this article, we’ll explore in detail why you can get fired from your teaching job and the other aspects of teacher dismissal.
What Reasons Can a Teacher Be Fired?
As a tenured public school teacher, tenure laws provide the circumstances under which the school district can terminate your contract. Each state has a teacher dismissal policy detailing why a teacher can be fired. Although state laws may differ slightly, some common reasons will get you fired from teaching in most states. These include:
- Incompetence: Being incompetent means the teacher consistently fails to meet school, district, and state teaching standards. Examples of incompetence include inadequate planning and organization, failing to mark and grade assignments, and inability to meet students’ needs.
- Immoral or illegal behavior: This behavior includes any form of sexual abuse or contact, stalking a student, indecent exposure, and extreme obscenity. It also includes possession of drug paraphernalia within school premises, selling drugs to minors, and having a weapon or explosive device on school grounds.
- Insubordination: This term refers to willfully and intentionally refusing or neglecting to obey known, reasonable, and lawful instructions from the school board. It includes refusing to come to school, repeatedly reporting to work late, and not seeking permission to take leave.
- Conviction of a crime: Being convicted of a crime means the teacher was found guilty of a crime or agreed to plead guilty. Infractions like traffic violations may not affect the teacher’s career, but a felony conviction can result in dismissal.
- Neglect of duty: Teachers must educate and provide a caring and safe environment for the students. Negligence occurs when the teacher fails to keep a student safe, resulting in harm to the student. For example, if a teacher ignores fighting, bullying, or assault and a student suffers emotional or physical trauma as a result.
- Disregard or non-compliance with school laws: Disregarding school regulations means that you frequently break school district rules. For instance, not treating students equally or preventing them from practicing their religion.
- Fraud or misrepresentation: Fraud is the intentional act of deceiving somebody else or an institution into entering into a contract. Misrepresentation is using a misstatement to persuade another party to enter a contract with you. An example is presenting fake certification to the hiring board to get a teaching job.
If a school or district is convinced that a teacher has violated one or more of these codes, a deposition case against the teacher can be opened.
However, building such a case is often draining, costly, and time-consuming for school administrators and principals. Therefore, they rarely pursue dismissal except in severe cases.
The tenure process in private schools is not subject to state laws, but private school teachers’ tenure rights should be outlined in the employment contract.
Watch this YouTube video from Vincent P. White on what it takes to get a teacher fired:
Who Has the Power To Fire a Teacher?
School districts have the power to fire a teacher, but the process differs for tenured and probationary teachers. The school district must show cause for dismissal and follow procedural requirements for a tenured teacher. For a probationary teacher, dismissal is at the school district’s discretion.
For tenured teachers, the procedural requirements that must be met during dismissal include notifying the teacher, stating the charges, and providing a meaningful hearing for that teacher.
The principal of a school does not have the jurisdiction to fire a teacher. They can begin the process for a teacher to be fired, but the actual decision is not finalized by anyone at the school. Instead, school administrators must collect evidence and complete all necessary paperwork, which is incredibly lengthy. The case is then submitted to the school district, which handles the process from then onwards.
For probationary teachers, dismissal at the school district’s discretion is subject to constitutional and contractual conditions. Laws other than tenure statutes will determine whether the discharge is wrongful. The school district has no obligation to provide notice, a charge summary, or a hearing if the dismissal does not violate the teacher’s contract terms and isn’t discriminatory.
How Can a Teacher Get Fired?
A teacher can get fired by the school district board. For a tenured teacher, the process of dismissal involves a vigorous procedure, including presenting a proposal, notifying the teacher, and providing a fair hearing. For a probationary teacher, the process is simple and can include dismissal without notice or a hearing.
Here’s the process of firing a tenured teacher:
- Give a warning: Once the school officials receive reports of a teacher’s misconduct or incompetence, the first step in most states is to warn the teacher. The warning can be verbal or written, depending on the complaint’s seriousness.
- Provide resources for improvement: Many states require that after the teacher receives a warning, they should also receive resources necessary to help them improve. This can include counseling or training. The school should provide useful documents, suggest resources, and spell out the actions clearly.
- Evaluate the teacher: Officials must observe the teacher in a classroom setting, especially if the complaints relate to incompetence. All parties should familiarize themselves with the school district and state evaluation requirements as well as the school’s criteria. During observation, more evidence is collected to support the cause for possible dismissal, and a copy of a detailed improvement plan must be shared with the teacher.
- Document all incidents: A file must be kept documenting all incidences, such as absences, complaints, evaluation reports, and anything else relating to the teacher. Detailed information and evidence are needed to build a stronger case for dismissal.
- Proposal presented to the school board: After the teacher is given all the required allowances to improve, but they fail to do so, administrators can present the evidence to the school board and propose to have the teacher dismissed. The teacher’s file containing all the relevant information collected throughout the process is now submitted with the proposal.
- Notify the teacher: The teacher must be notified of the request for dismissal in writing or verbally. The charges and evidence against the teacher must also be communicated.
- Give the teacher a fair hearing: The Due Process Clause protects teachers from unfair dismissal; therefore, they have a right to defend themselves after being served with a notice of release and related evidence. The teacher must be made aware of their rights and be given the opportunity to explain their conduct and be heard.
After the hearing, the board may dismiss the teacher if there’s enough evidence. However, despite district boards pushing through with only the most severe cases, special review panels overturn more than a third of the verdicts. These panels have the discretion to reinstate teachers even when you prove the grounds for dismissal.
Is It Hard To Get Fired as a Teacher?
It is hard to get fired as a teacher if you have attained tenure because a specific set of guidelines and a termination process must be followed. The law gives you a right to due process, meaning you must receive fair treatment and your legal rights respected. Even if the school board votes to dismiss a teacher, the decision can be appealed and is usually overturned.
Your dismissal will be unlawful if the school district doesn’t follow the proper procedure resulting in legal action against the school. Another reason it is hard to dismiss a teacher is the financial implications of the dismissal. The process is exposed to costly obstacles at every stage.
For instance, it costs an average of $313,000 to fire a teacher in New York state. And the New York Department of Education spent an estimated $15-20 million a year paying teachers accused of incompetence and wrongdoing to attend reassignment programs that proved ineffective.
The amount of evidence and money needed to fire a tenured teacher makes dismissal rare. Administrators must demonstrate a history of incompetence or unprofessionalism by the teacher in question. That means vigorous monitoring and documenting on the part of supervisors, which is often the principal or vice-principal.
Therefore, many school districts opt for other methods of discipline like warnings or reprimands if it’s the first time you are being reported for misconduct, provided that it’s not immoral, criminal, or dangerous.
Additionally, teacher unions defend teachers vigorously regardless of the evidence against the teacher.
Instead of dismissal, what tends to happen is that the teacher is given the recommendation to find employment elsewhere to avoid potential firing, and the teacher often obliges. Essentially, the teacher in question transfers from one school to another without being held fully accountable.
It is worth noting that you can be fired immediately if you’re yet to attain tenure.
Can a Teacher Get Fired With a Petition?
A teacher CANNOT get fired with a petition because the Fourteenth Amendment contains a Due Process Clause, which prohibits all states from depriving anyone of property, liberty, or life without due legal process.
This clause also outlines the basic procedure and minimum requirements that the public school districts must meet before dismissing a tenured teacher.
However, according to US Legal, due process doesn’t specify why a teacher can be fired in this context. It only establishes the procedure that schools must follow when dismissing a teacher. Also, many states’ statutory provisions for teacher dismissal surpass the minimum requirements of the Due Process Clause.
Can a Teacher Get Fired for Cursing?
A teacher CAN get fired for cursing, especially if the profound language is aimed at a student, colleague, or parent. The use of foul language is unprofessional and can be deemed verbal harassment. However, cursing is considered relatively minor and often not pursued as the primary reason for dismissal.
Again, for the teacher to be fired for cursing, the school must gather evidence, notify the teacher of the intention to dismiss, and hold a hearing. The reports must be backed up by another adult, who must sign a statement to attest that their account is accurate.
Usually, a complaint about cursing will land the teacher a date with the principal and sometimes with the disciplinary committee. However, firing the teacher remains much more challenging because the process of evaluation, remediation, and dismissal is tedious.
Can a Teacher Get Fired for Coming Late?
A teacher CAN get fired for coming late if the lateness is persistent. Too much tardiness might be considered insubordination. Such a refusal undermines the principal’s ability to manage the school and could cause disciplinary action, including dismissal.
The school board must follow teacher tenure laws before firing the teacher. The principal must prove that they have discussed the lateness with the teacher, learned why, and explored possible solutions. The principal must also document the dates and notes of the conversations and meetings.
The board must provide proof of assisting the teacher for a reasonable period to improve and overcome the issue. If there is no improvement, the board can fire the teacher, and the teacher has a right to request a hearing within a specified period.
Even with cases of dismissal, teachers have the right to appeal, and the courts can overturn the school board’s decision and reinstate the teacher.
Can a Teacher Be Fired for Insulting a Student?
A teacher CAN be fired for insulting a student if the behavior is repetitive. Insults are a form of emotional abuse and violate state and federal laws regulating teacher conduct standards. Violating these standards subjects the teacher to criminal and civil penalties, including dismissal.
However, in most cases, the teacher will get a warning for a first offense but could end up with termination in subsequent incidents or extreme cases. Even under such circumstances, due process must be followed, which is expensive and time-consuming, making dismissal a rare occurrence.
Can a Teacher Get Fired for Yelling at a Student?
A teacher CAN get fired for routinely yelling at elementary and high school students. It is worse if the teacher is using derogatory language and name calling. Such misconduct is inappropriate, with angry parents often getting involved and pushing for action to be taken.
A teacher raising their voice is often universally accepted, but it should never be constant or aggressive. It’s also unacceptable to shout in very close proximity to a student. The teacher’s words and demeanor can be reviewed and used as evidence for dismissal.
The consequences of yelling often depend on the context and students’ age. One or two isolated incidents without inappropriate language would likely attract a warning. However, administrators would consider a pattern to be unprofessional and possibly abusive.
Parents often apply strong pressure on the school and school board to dismiss a teacher if they believe that their child is the victim of such abuse.
Can a Teacher Get Fired for Bullying a Student?
A teacher CAN get fired for bullying a student, as it is emotional abuse. Insulting, shouting, and belittling a student is immoral and constitutes negligence of duty to provide a safe environment for the student. However, as with any grounds for possible dismissal, due process must be followed.
Federal law does not address bullying directly, but it often converges with laws against discriminatory harassment. Additionally, states have laws or policies that define bullying, and school officials have the authority to act appropriately to stop the vice.
Anti-bullying laws in every state focus on specific actions that constitute bullying. Through these laws, schools are obligated to address conduct that meets the following criteria:
- It’s unwelcome and offensive, including intimidation, derogatory language, threats, physical violence, or physical contact.
- It creates a hostile school environment and interferes with students’ ability to benefit from or participate in school activities, services, or opportunities.
- It’s based on the student’s national origin, color, race, sex, religion, or disability.
Anti-bullying laws require schools to intervene and act on bullying reports by limiting interaction between the aggressor and the victim and determining consequences for the harasser. The implications for a teacher may include dismissal.
How Else Can a Teacher Lose Their Job?
Besides reasons linked to misconduct and wrongdoing, teachers can lose their job through a layoff. In some states, school districts lay off teachers for financial reasons when they need to reduce their workforce.
Even tenured teachers may be laid off for economic or administrative reasons. School districts may abolish teaching positions based on schools’ financial and educational interests.
Regarding layoffs, states and districts must prioritize seniority, where the most senior teachers are the least likely to be laid off – first in, last out.
In reality, school districts are turning to performance-based measures when making these difficult decisions, as is clear from the table above. For example, a teacher rated “highly effective” would have priority to keep their job over a teacher rated “ineffective.”
A board’s decision to lay off a teacher can be appealed if the teacher believes the dismissal was in bad faith or arbitrary.
After dismissal, a laid-off teacher must be placed on a registry to ensure that they get priority over any teaching vacancies that become available within the next three years.
Tenured public school teachers have legal protection from arbitrary dismissal in most states. Under these laws, school districts can only fire tenured teachers for a cause and through a costly procedure that includes gathering evidence and holding a hearing. Even then, there is no guarantee that the court will not reinstate the teacher.
As a teacher, you must serve a probationary period after which you become tenured automatically or after a performance review, depending on the state laws. You can be dismissed when the school district deems fit if you’re on probation, subject to constitutional and contractual restrictions.
To save time and limited resources, schools avoid the process and instead opt to warn and retain teachers except in extreme circumstances. This explains why tenured teachers are rarely dismissed from service, even when they perform poorly.
- FindLaw: Teachers’ Rights: Tenure and Dismissal
- Los Angeles Times: Firing tenured teachers can be a costly and tortuous task
- Legal Match: Teacher Tenure Laws
- US Legal: Due Process Rights of Teachers
- Education Commission of the States: Teacher Employment Contract Policies
- Public School Review: Why It Can Take Six Years to Fire an Inappropriate or Ineffective Teacher
- National Council on Teacher Quality: The use of teacher effectiveness in layoff decisions
- Stop Bullying: Federal Laws
- FindLaw: Specific State Laws Against Bullying
- ProCon: Should Teachers Get Tenure
- YouTube: What Does it Take to Get a Teacher Fired?