Administrator Advice: How to Manage Teachers Who are Non-Renewed

Dr. Ellen E. Mauer
Dr. Ellen E. Mauer
Elementary school principal; Ph.D. in Educational Leadership & Policy Studies

An inevitable part of school administration is dealing with non-renewal of teaching contracts. Regardless of the reasons that lead to the non-renewal, whether it is performance-related or simply due to budgetary reasons, knowing how to manage these situations is a crucial skill all administrators should have.

Be Familiar with Legal Issues

It is crucial that administration is familiar with all legal requirements surrounding dismissal. State laws and contractual terms must be followed exactly. Timelines, especially, should have been followed when moving toward a non-renewal. If you are unsure of specifics, consult with your head of Human Resources or an attorney. It is possible that the terms of the teacher contract are more stringent than the state laws governing dismissal. All terms must be met to the letter of the law/contract.

Be Very Clear

There should be no question as to why the teacher is being let go. In the event that the non-renewal is performance-based or due to another factor within the teacher’s control, each observation and subsequent meeting should reflect what the specific feedback and concerns of the administrator are and should be put into writing every time. If there is not a form to use at meetings, a follow up email summarizing what was said should be sent. In that email, it should be clear what the concerns are and that, if specific steps to remedy are not followed, dismissal will occur. A teacher should not be getting mixed messages from administration. It is best to be very honest about concerns in a kind, tactful way.

Maintain School Culture and Professional Expectations

It is important to understand that the non-renewed teacher will alert friends on the staff privately and most likely, word will first spread without a formal notification. Administration must not respond to others questioning this action, as this is confidential. It is hard to have the non-renewed teacher’s version of the events out there and not being able to “set the record straight” will be frustrating. Still, administration must stay silent. It helps to speak to the non-renewed teacher ahead of time about how they will share this news while maintaining professional expectations and school culture. It is helpful to offer the teacher an option to resign so that dignity is kept intact. Offering to write a letter of recommendation stating only the strengths of the teacher will help that teacher maintain a positive demeanor.

While the staff may appear to be upset about the issue, when fall comes, the issue will have likely been forgotten. Staff has a summer to come to terms with the exit of the non-renewed teacher and many will understand what had to happen.

Come Prepared with Additional Support

When meeting with the teacher, it is crucial to attend with resources to offer. If the issue is performance-related, offer specific books, workshops, mentoring, or other ways that the teacher can hone skills that are deficient. Sometimes, though, teachers being non-renewed don’t have a lack of teaching skills. It is common to release teachers who can’t get along on a team or can’t work well with other support staff members. They may not understand how to communicate with parents and staff members effectively. Often, they do not see the bigger picture in education.

In those cases, it is best to be very honest about what the problems are. Do not skirt the issue. Be very frank and up front, telling the teacher exactly what is not working. If the teacher does not understand the concern, there is no way they will be able to improve it. When delivering the news, be tactful, but maintain honesty. You may offer to have a union representative attend the meeting with the teacher for some comfort. If the teacher chooses to bring a union representative or other person to the meeting for support, the administrator should also have a second person attend. If notes are not taken in the meeting, follow up with an email summary of what took place.

Let Non-Renewed Teachers Share When Ready

The news of a non-renewal rarely sits well with other staff members. It is hard for them to hear that kind of news and not have it be uncomfortable. Even when others know it is the right thing to do, they feel badly for the non-renewed teacher and find ways to support that teacher for the remainder of the school year. It is best to work out a plan with the non-renewed teacher for sharing that news in a way that provides comfort and compassion. If a resignation is offered instead, that is often easier for others to hear and for the non-renewed teacher to handle. That teacher should be able to leave with dignity intact. No one wins when things get ugly. It is important to make sure that the news is shared prior to posting that position to be filled for the next year.

Final Thoughts

Doing a non-renewal is never easy. It is tempting to offer “just one more year” or to try to find reasons not to do the non-renewal. The focus always needs to be on what is best for students. The administrator should be comfortable having their own child in that person’s class. If there is any question at all, a dismissal needs to happen, especially prior to being achieved. It is a good idea to offer help and perhaps even some career counseling to the teacher in question. School leadership should never take the easy road in these situations as they only make the problem worse over the subsequent years.

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