The Moral & Legal Obligations of Teachers


A teacher's primary responsibility is to provide quality education to the students in his care. Part of this job requires a teacher to observe moral and legal standards that protect his students and create a safe environment in which learning can take place.


  • Teachers are legally obligated to provide supervision and care for their students during the school day, with the vigilance and protection that a “reasonable and prudent parent” would exhibit. This doctrine, called “in loco parentis,” requires teachers to supervise all activities and minimize safety risks in the classroom. The extent of supervision varies depending on subject and grade level. In general, younger students require the most supervision and care, while older students may be entrusted with more independence. However, supervision is critical in high school classes such as chemistry or shop, where potentially dangerous chemicals and tools are in use.

Appropriate Boundaries

  • Students thrive when they know their teacher is personally invested in their academic progress and cares about them as individuals. Teachers should encourage their students by learning about their interests and supporting them in their extracurricular activities, but it is never appropriate for a teacher to initiate or engage in any kind of romantic relationship with a student, whether the relationship is physical or not. While the legality of teacher-student relationships varies by state, teachers are morally obligated to maintain professional boundaries with their students. Pursuing romantic relationships with students is an abuse of the power and influence that teachers have and violates the trust they establish with students and their families.

Mandated Reporting

  • As mandated reporters, teachers are required by law to report any evidence of child abuse, whether observed or suspected. Because teachers interact with their students almost every day, they are much more likely to witness signs of domestic abuse than other adults in the community would. Mandated reporters are granted immunity from civil liability, and many states levy penalties such as jail time and monetary fines against teachers who fail to report abuse they have witnessed. The process of reporting abuse to school authorities and Child Protective Services varies by state and district, so teachers should become familiar with their school’s protocol.

Preventing Bullying

  • To create a safe and welcoming environment where students can learn without fear or distraction, teachers are morally obligated to do what they can to prevent bullying in their classrooms. Teachers can create a classroom culture of respect by establishing rules that promote kindness and inclusion, enforcing them consistently and modeling these attitudes personally. Encouraging students to discuss their conflicts and creating a space for these conversations to happen – such as classroom meetings or dialogue circles – can redirect negative comments that can lead to bullying.


  • Photo Credit Jack Hollingsworth/Photodisc/Getty Images
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