What is a Probationary Teacher?

Instructor: Michael Quist

Michael has taught college-level mathematics and sociology; high school math, history, science, and speech/drama; and has a doctorate in education.

When you're a probationary teacher, you're being evaluated to determine whether you're the best person for the job. In this lesson we will discuss what it means to be a probationary teacher.

What is a Probationary Teacher?

Any time you're first hired for any job, you're on some sort of probation. The company doesn't really know you yet and they want to know if you're going to work out. It's no different when you're a teacher, except that the academic nature of your work makes job stability especially important. You have to plan, prepare, and construct the environments that you will create for your students, and it's much more difficult to do that if you're afraid of losing your job.

Still, if you're a probationary teacher, a teacher that is being evaluated for suitability at that institution, you have to do exactly that. You have to offer your best work, do everything you can for your students, and hope you'll still have a job next year (or next month!). Your institution often has the right to cancel your employment at any time, depending upon the terms of your contract.

On the other hand, tenure refers to how long you've been working with an institution, and is the label they give you once you've passed probation. Generally speaking, if you're an educator who has tenure you can have a level of confidence in your continued employment. It is much more difficult and expensive for the institution to remove you from your position, because the board of directors must prove that there is an important reason that you're being fired or your contract is not being renewed.

Probationary vs. Tenured

The following two examples may be used to illustrate the difference between tenured and probationary status for teachers.


Mrs. Wright is a 2nd-grade teacher at Middle Elementary, where she has taught for the last fifteen years. Her contract is now written with a tenure clause, specifying several conditions for her termination as an employee, whether she is sent away in the middle of the year or not renewed for the upcoming school year. Her contract is automatically renewed every year, and is not even considered by the board of directors before renewal. Terms of discontinuance include the following:

  1. In the case of downsizing, any elementary-level teacher with fewer years of service at that school must be removed before Mrs. Wright may be removed.
  2. Mrs. Wright may not be dismissed for ineffectiveness, unless a board of directors meeting is convened and a formal set of complaints are presented and answered. Mrs. Wright may respond to any complaints and challenge their accuracy or interpretation in terms of her contract.
  3. Mrs. Wright's compensation may not be reduced in succeeding contracts, unless the same reduction is experienced by the entire faculty present at the school.


Mr. Johnson is a science teacher at North High School, where he is on a probationary period for three years. During that time:

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