Teachers are always right

Right for beginners: you need to know that

Even if you would rather just teach and not waste any thought on the "paragraph jungle": It is important to know your rights and obligations exactly so that you can move safely within the legal framework and protect yourself against claims for damages. We have prepared the most important basics for you practically once - based on the guidebook "School Law for Elementary Schools" by G√ľnther Hoegg (Cornelsen Scriptor, ISBN 978-3-589-16201-7).

True to the motto "ignorance does not protect against punishment", it is first of all up to you to find out about your rights and obligations. There is always a passage in the civil service and school laws of the federal states that obliges you to comply with the applicable legal provisions. That means in plain language: You don't just have to know - and apply - what is in the School Act and the supplementary ordinances and decrees. You also need to find out about all those legal provisions that are related to the school and that could affect you - such as copyright or data protection law. Just trusting that nothing is going to happen can get you into hell's kitchen.

For all teachers - and incidentally also for educational staff - the following applies: You have a follow-up obligation, i.e. you have to follow the official instructions of the school director and his deputy. There is also an obligation to work together in a spirit of trust. Casually one could say: Even if you can't stand a colleague or your school principal, you have to pull yourself together to work properly, openly and fairly with one another.

Another important obligation is confidentiality. As a teacher, you must maintain confidentiality about official matters, especially externally. As a rule, confidentiality does not apply within the teaching staff; after all, you must and should exchange ideas with colleagues about difficult students, for example, in order to be able to support each student in the best possible way. In some cases - for example if there is suspicion of abuse - there are special rules, because here you are not allowed to make careless statements to colleagues who do not teach the child. In practice, confidentiality is always a challenge, especially because of the overlap with data protection. Strictly speaking, for example, you shouldn't give one pair of parents the phone number of another couple. Exceptions are public knowledge and the so-called legitimate interest. For example, if the whole class already knows that a classmate was caught stealing, you no longer have to keep it quiet. If you are contacted by parents who not only complain to the parents of another student but actually want to assert a legal claim - for example because of bodily harm - the confidentiality obligation is also suspended.

The "most serious" duty for you in everyday life 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 teachers for their training. In doing so, you must supervise them and do everything in your power to keep the students from harm.

Neutrality is also important: for you as a teacher, there is an imperative of neutrality. You are welcome to tell the students what religion you belong to or what political opinion you hold. Do not become missionary, however, but always make it clear that there are of course alternatives that are just as acceptable.

The general rule is: You are authorized to give instructions to the students, i.e. you are allowed to give instructions that the students have to follow. Incidentally, the right to issue specific school instructions does not only apply to the children or young people you teach yourself. So if you have supervision, for example, and ask a student you do not know to bring a discarded drink packet to the trash can, that's absolutely fine - even if you don't even know who threw it on the floor.

In many cases, laws and regulations also give you some leeway, the so-called educational discretion. This does not mean that you can make decisions and give instructions completely arbitrarily to your heart's content, because your approach must always have an objectively understandable reason. In general, however, the following applies: Nobody knows your students as well as you, which is why you have to be able to react flexibly depending on the case. Fortunately, the legislature also sees it that way. You also have a margin of appreciation when it comes to performance evaluation. After all, grading is not just mathematics, but always an educational process as well. If the work behavior leaves a lot to be desired, you can, for example, also give a student with a mathematical performance of 4.3 a five as a certificate.

It goes without saying that you have to be more careful with primary school students than with high school students. But what if something does happen? The so-called official liability generally applies to civil servant teachers: If you cause damage as a civil servant "in the performance of your service", your employer is first liable. A corresponding paragraph in the employment contract regulates this for salaried teachers. It becomes problematic, however, if you have acted with gross negligence - then the employer can claim recourse.

Ultimately, "in the worst-case scenario" it is about the question of guilt or the degree of guilt. If you have caused damage but not to blame, you are, so to speak, off the hook - otherwise it gets a little more complicated.

As a teacher, you will certainly not act with direct or conditional intent. On the student side, however, you can certainly come across these terms: For example, if a student cuts a hole in the jacket of a classmate out of anger, this is a direct resolution. If a student throws an object at another in the game and hits him in the eye, conditional resolution takes effect: the injury was certainly not the intention, but was simply accepted.

For you as a teacher, the concept of negligence can be particularly tricky. For example, in one situation, think, "Hopefully nothing will happen." and then something happens after all, you were aware of the danger - but you have decided not to do anything. This is exactly what you can be held responsible for, because that is gross negligence.

Slight negligence is again a special case. It exists when you simply do not consider or recognize an impending danger, i.e. were not aware of the danger. For example, you might forget to complete the class during recess, causing the students to go wild and injure themselves. If you had thought about it, you would surely 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 professional experience. In the case of slight negligence, "only" your employer is generally liable - however, it is not you who decides which form of negligence is involved, but your employer or a court. So here, too, it pays to keep your eyes open and the most important principles in mind.

SchulRecht for practice
Hardly any teacher is given practical training in their professional law. Nevertheless, important decisions have to be made on a daily basis that can be checked externally in terms of school law. The associated uncertainty is countered by the advanced training.