Is there a right time for a teacher to resign?

Teachers can be pilloried for giving their notice in May – but why should it be seen as a betrayal, asks Amy Forrester

Amy Forrester

Teaching jobs: When is the right time for a teacher to resign?

I have a confession to make. Whenever the last Friday in May rolls around, I spend most of the day dealing with my own brain telling me to resign. 

“Go on,” it whispers in hushed tones. “It’ll be funny." 

Spoiler alert: it would not be funny. 

I’ve no idea why this happens, and I hope I am not alone in this strange response to the educational version of transfer deadline day. I don’t even actually want to resign. 

But the stark reality that it is the last point in the academic year when you can leave your job, and this has really worked its way deep into my psyche. I blame the ridiculous UK system: only here can you resign on 1 June  and not actually be able to leave for months.

Teaching jobs: Is there ever a good time for a teacher to resign? 

This high-pressure deadline-day process puts a lot of emphasis on key dates: the end of December and the end of May are the big moments in the teacher transfer market. 

This insane system got me thinking: is there ever a good time for a teacher to resign? 

It probably depends on who you ask. For headteachers and governors hopelessly trying to fill vacancies, the answer may well be never. 

For timetablers, January notice for a September start is The Dream. 

For the children? Some may argue never.

For the resigning teacher? Whenever they need to. 

The resignation process is deeply personal, and one that teachers have a legal and moral right to use. Whether someone resigns in January for an August finish, or 31 May for an August finish, it is their right to do so. 

Sadly, teachers, having already taken a pasting from the government and general public on far too many things of late, seem also to be criticised for the date by which they choose to leave their job, despite its being perfectly legal. 

This horrifies me, especially when it comes from school leaders and from other teachers. We have a hard enough time as it is without our own profession turning on us for something that is a fundamental basic legal process that all employees in the world deal with. It smacks of the perverse sense of martyrdom that poisons our profession.

You're doing nothing wrong

In fact, I’d be willing to bet that those sticking the knife in about resignation dates are also those that tell anyone who’ll listen that they worked 120 hours last week. They may also preach to their colleagues that a good teacher is like a candle that consumes itself to light the way for others. Spoiler alert: no job and no student is worth consuming yourself over. 

I do appreciate that a last-minute transfer request might be inconvenient to overburdened and overworked headteachers. The thought of a deadline-day resignation is about as welcome as a Covid notification. It means there’s a gap in the team, that plans may need to be rebuilt, timetables rewritten. 

But, while it may be inconvenient, ultimately that member of staff is doing nothing wrong. It’s sensible perhaps not to finalise plans until after deadline day: the point at which your staffing can be considered stable and reliable. 

And if you weren’t aware that the person was considering leaving, or you weren't aware that they were applying for other jobs, perhaps it might be a good idea to consider why that is? 

Ultimately, there is only one answer to the question of when the best time to resign from your job is. That answer is: whenever you need to. 

No teacher should ever be pilloried for resigning; in what other world would a routine, normal part of business be seen as such a traitorous thing to do? 

We are no different, and although we work with children and young people, we also have the right to resign and leave a job, for whatever reason, at the point at which we need to. 

Amy Forrester is an English teacher and director of pastoral care (key stage 4) at Cockermouth School in Cumbria. The views expressed are her own, and not necessarily those of her employer

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