Breaking A Contract – Right Or Wrong?

22399374.jpgDebating right and wrong in absolute terms is usually a recipe for disaster, perhaps nowhere more so than when it comes to TEFL. Alright, TEFL may not be the best example, but a debate got going some time ago at Dave’s ESL Café when one member raised the topic of “breaking a contract – right or wrong?”

The logical answer to me, especially in a field like the private language school industry, where students are adult clients and the teacher’s role not so different from a customer service one, is that it depends.

There are teachers who work with young people preparing for exams they need for their university entrance, and teachers who spend five or six hours a day with children who come to rely on them. Then there are teachers who see their adult students one or two hours a week, and face canceled lessons without pay more or less at the student’s whim. There are employers who pay late or otherwise shirk their part of the deal.

Also, there is first of all a difference between splitting in the middle of the night and giving reasonable notice and leaving early. If you are thinking of breaking a contract – or leaving early – bear in mind that your students and your colleagues will be adversely affected. It is often the case though that the teacher is not solely responsible for the situation developing as it has (to a point where breaking the contract seems to be the way to go). Also bear in mind though that, I think, regardless of your reasons for leaving, future employers will probably not look happily on leaving a contract early.

The other side of it, as I see it, is that there are employers that know you feel bad leaving and that other employers will not look favorably on it, and they can count on that when they don’t deliver on their side of the contract. Perhaps that’s exactly why they feel free not to deliver sometimes – because they know most people can’t or won’t do anything about it. And because people continue to take those jobs and stay in them, some employers are able to keep doing the same thing.

I think teachers should take seriously the commitments they make, and the reality is that breaking a contract is usually a bad decision – but is it necessarily immoral? My vote: no.