How to Resign from Your School Politely

Want to know how to make a graceful exit? Here's a few tips on how to tell your principal that you're leaving at the end of the school year with class and integrity.

How to Resign from Your School Politely

We’re rolling towards summer vacation. For many teachers, this means that you’ve landed exciting new jobs and will be moving on to new schools soon.

Less exciting, however, is the conversation you’ll need to have with administrators to let them know that you’ll be leaving once summer rolls around.

You want to protect the bridges you’ve built at your current school, not burn them -- dramatic exits are overrated, and it’s best to resign not with a bang, but with minimal drama and appropriate closure. This week, I’ll give some advice on how to make a good exit and how to leave a legacy you can be proud of.

Schedule a formal time with your principal to have a conversation about your next move

You should plan to have an in-person meeting with your principal to let them know you’re resigning. Moving on to something new is a serious step, and deserves a serious conversation. Slipping the news about your departure into a casual conversation is generally off-putting.

By taking the initiative to plan this meeting on your own terms, you also give yourself the ability to frame the conversation. Because you know exactly when the conversation will be happening, you give yourself time to prepare everything you want and need to say before your departure.

On a personal note, I’ve also found that scheduling a definitive time to address my resignation makes me feel better -- it’s a heavy conversation, and it’s good to know when it will be behind me.

If you don’t have anything nice to say, keep your answers vague

When you tell your principal you’re resigning, they will likely ask you about:
Where you’ll be teaching next year
Why you decided to pursue opportunities at a new school
Suggestions on how your current school can improve

Be as diplomatic with your answers as possible, and stay level-headed. This is conversation you need to approach with respect and consideration.

If you are truly moving on to a new opportunity because the next school you’ll be at has specific characteristics that can help you advance your career goals, then be truthful.

But if you’re leaving for a new job because you hate your current school, keeping your answers polite is better than giving your administrators a piece of your mind. You want to come out of this conversation looking like the bigger person -- keep your composure and hold your tongue if you have to.

On that last point, however, I would suggest giving constructive and politely phrased criticism when you’re asked for areas of improvement. It’s better to stay positive and polite than to say too much; it’s possible for managers to take criticism the wrong way, and it’s better to be cautious than for your words to be taken the wrong way.


Train the person (or people) stepping into your shoes

As a teacher, you teach students new skills every day. If you are leaving behind a big task that your colleagues aren’t familiar with, you need to teach them exactly how everything works before you leave.

As a teacher, this can mean anything from:

  • Talking through your class list with your colleagues and giving them your insights on your students (e.g. behavior quirks, how they learn best, small details you’ve gathered about them throughout the years)
  • Sharing all unit and lesson plans
  • Sharing student work from the past
  • Tips on how to work with their co-teacher (if you have one)
  • Tips on working with other teachers from your grade team
  • Tips on how to set up your classroom

The list goes on. Transferring knowledge is extremely helpful to your colleagues. It’s also a great way to leave a good impression upon your exit. No one likes being thrown into the deep end, and by training whoever steps into your shoes next, you’re throwing them a lifeline.

In addition to training your replacement, don’t forget to leave your contact information for emergencies. This way, they can follow up with any issues they run into next year.

Leave everything better than the way you found it (or at the very least, don’t leave a mess)

Make sure you tie up loose ends before you leave. No one wants to clean up a mess, so make sure you leave a positive impact.

In terms of passing the torch, make sure you reflect on challenges you’ve faced at your current role and give your successor a few action-oriented solutions that will make their experience easier. Leaving without giving your successor useful advice is the professional equivalent to leaving a trail of destruction in your wake. Be considerate and give them a heads-up well before you leave.

In a physical sense, also make sure to clean up any physical messes. As you know, teaching literally gets quite messy over the course of the year, and your classroom or any spaces you’ve used should be cleaned up and set up for the next person before you go.

Keep in touch -- the world is smaller than you think

Keep in touch with co-workers, mentors, or bosses that you’ve gotten close to with regularity. You never know when you’ll need to ask them for advice, when you’ll run into them again, or when you’ll need them as a reference to speak on your behalf.

A few weeks before your last day, choose 1-2 people who would willing to be your references. The next few jobs you take will likely want to speak to people from each of your previous jobs, and this is a good way to make sure you have references to vouch for you.

It’s important to genuinely value the connections you’ve made at every job. By making an effort to either text, call, or meet up with people you’ve met, you’re just being a good friend and decent human being. Don’t be the person who only calls when you need something -- it makes people feel used, and insignificant.

I’ve said this time and time again -- the education community is small and close-knit. Having more friends is always better. You want as many people as possible to be willing to support you in all your new adventures.

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