Law for beginners: what you need to know

Teachers have a special responsibility – and various duties, which are clearly regulated by law. We have compiled the most important basics for you in a compact form: This is what you should know in order to be able to act confidently and with legal security.

Picture: Kneschke

Even if you certainly prefer to teach simply and not to think about the "paragraph jungle would be wasted: It is important to know your rights and obligations exactly, so that you can stay safely within the legal framework and protect yourself from claims for damages. We have prepared the most important basics for you – based on the guidebook "School Law for Elementary School" by Gunther Hoegg (Cornelsen Scriptor, ISBN 978-3-589-16201-7).

Scriptor Praxis - Schulrecht kurz & bundig: The 55 most important judgments (6th edition) - Book

Scriptor Practice

True to the motto "Ignorance is no excuse" it is first up to you to find out about your rights and obligations. In the civil service and school laws of the federal states, there is always a passage that obligates you, mutatis mutandis, to act in accordance with the applicable legal provisions. In plain language, this means that you not only have to know – and apply – what is written in the school law and the supplementary ordinances and decrees. You must also inform yourself about all legal regulations that are related to the school and could affect you – such as copyright law or data protection law. Simply trusting that nothing will happen can get you into hot water.

For all teachers – and for pedagogical staff, too, by the way – the following applies: You have a duty to follow, i.e. you have to obey the instructions of the principal and his deputy. In addition, there is an obligation to cooperate in a spirit of trust. You could say: Even if you can’t stand a colleague or your principal, you have to get along with each other so that you work together correctly, openly and fairly.

Another important obligation is the duty of confidentiality. As a teacher, you must maintain confidentiality about official matters, especially to the outside world. As a rule, the duty of confidentiality does not apply within the teaching staff; after all, you must and should, for example, discuss difficult students with your colleagues in order to be able to support each student in the best possible way. In some cases – for example, when there is a suspicion of abuse – there are special regulations, because here you may not make any frivolous statements, even to colleagues who do not teach the child. In practice, the duty of confidentiality always presents you with challenges, especially because of the overlap with data protection. Strictly speaking, you are not allowed to give a parent the phone number of another couple, for example. Exceptions are publicly known knowledge and the so-called legitimate interest. For example, if the whole class knows that a student has been caught stealing, you no longer have to keep quiet about it. If parents contact you who not only complain to the parents of another student, but actually want to assert a legal claim – for example, because of an assault – the duty of confidentiality is also suspended.

Probably the most "serious" for you in your everyday life Duty is the duty of care. As a teacher, you have a special responsibility (lawyers speak of a "guarantor position"), because the children are entrusted to the school and ultimately to you as a teacher for their education. In doing so, you must supervise them and do everything in your power to keep harm away from the students.

Neutrality is also important: As a teacher, you are bound by the principle of neutrality. You are allowed to tell the students what religion you belong to or what your political views are. However, do not become missionary, but always make it clear that there are of course alternatives that are also in order.

Scriptor Praxis - School Law in Practice: Supervision and Liability - Book

Scriptor Practice

In general: You are authorized to give instructions to the students, i.e. you are allowed to give instructions that the students have to follow. By the way, the right to issue purposeful school instructions does not only apply to the children or young people you teach yourself. For example, if you are supervising and ask a student you don’t know to take a discarded drink to the trash can, that’s absolutely okay – even if you don’t know who threw it on the floor.

In many cases, laws and ordinances also grant you leeway, the so-called pedagogical discretion. This does not mean that you can make decisions and give instructions completely arbitrarily to your heart’s content, because your actions must always have a factually comprehensible reason. In general, however, no one knows your students as well as you do, which is why you must be able to react flexibly depending on the case. Fortunately, the legislator also sees it that way. You also have a margin of judgment when evaluating performance. After all, grading is not just mathematics, but always a pedagogical process. If the work behavior leaves a lot to be desired, you can, for example, also give a student whose performance arithmetically results in a 4.3 a five as a report card grade.

It is obvious that you have to pay more attention to elementary school students than to high school students. But what if something does happen?? For teachers who are civil servants, the so-called official liability generally applies: If you as a civil servant "in the performance of your duties" are at fault, you are liable If you cause damage, your employer is liable in the first place. For salaried teachers, this is regulated analogously by a corresponding paragraph in the employment contract. It becomes problematic, however, if you have acted grossly negligently – then the employer can assert claims for recourse.

In the end it goes "in the case of the cases" thus around the question of the debt and/or around the degree of the debt. If you have caused damage but are not at fault, you are off the hook, so to speak – otherwise it gets a bit more complicated.

With direct or conditional intention you will certainly not act as a teacher. On the student side, however, you may encounter these terms: If a student cuts a hole in a classmate’s jacket out of anger, for example, that is direct intent. If a student throws an object at another student during a game and hits him in the eye, this is considered conditional intent: The injury was certainly not the intention, but was simply accepted.

For you as a teacher, the concept of negligence in particular can become tricky. For example, if you find yourself in a situation where you think, "I hope nothing happens." and then something does happen, you were aware of the danger – but decided not to do anything about it. Exactly for this you can be held responsible, because that is gross negligence.

Slight negligence is again a special case. It exists when you simply do not consider or recognize an imminent danger, i.e., you were not aware of the danger. For example, you might forget to lock the class during recess, whereupon the students go on a rampage and someone gets hurt. If you had thought about it, you would certainly have recognized the danger. Young teachers and trainee teachers enjoy a little "puppy protection" at this point, because some dangers can only be foreseen with a certain amount of work experience. In the case of slight negligence, liability is generally "only" assumed Your employer – however, it is not you who decides what form of negligence exists, but your employer or a court of law. So it is worth keeping your eyes open and the most important principles in mind here as well.

Lehrerbucherei Grundschule - School law for elementary school (4th edition) - book

Teacher’s library elementary school

School law for the practice
Hardly any teachers receive practical instruction in their professional law. Nevertheless, important decisions have to be made every day, which can be reviewed from the outside in terms of school law. The associated uncertainty is countered by further training.

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