Malfeasance, Misfeasance, and Nonfeasance: Are You Unwittingly Committing One of These?

In today’s increasingly litigious society, teachers need to know that they are liable for injuries and mishaps that happen to the students under their care. Teachers may be sued for misfeasance, malfeasance, and nonfeasance, and it is important that they know the difference between the three.

1. Malfeasance

This occurs when a teacher hurts or causes bodily harm to a student on purpose. For example, if a student is being disrespectful to you and you strike that student, you’d better get yourself a good lawyer: you’ll probably be sued, be arrested, and lose your job. Remember, you’re in a position of power, and children are vulnerable. Society has no pity or tolerance for people who injure children.

2. Misfeasance

This happens when a teacher neglects to provide information or guidance that could have prevented bodily injury to a student. For example, a science teacher fails to teach students proper safety measures and guidelines for an experiment, and a student subsequently spills chemicals on his or her skin, resulting in a second-degree burn. To protect against misfeasance, teachers must provide explicit, clear instructions that students understand. The safety of students in the classroom ultimately falls to the teacher.

3. Nonfeasance

This occurs when a teacher does not adequately perform his or her supervisory duties, and as a result a student is hurt. For example, a teacher leaves the classroom to drop something off at the office, and two students engage in a fight in the interim. The teacher is guilty of nonfeasance because it’s the teacher’s duty to never leave students unsupervised under any circumstances.

Check your daily teaching routine. Are you at risk for potentially committing one of these three all-too-common acts? You may be able to slide by sometimes, but it’s both poor ethics and legally risky to count on always doing so. You want to be the best teacher you can be – and that means being prepared to take responsibility for all of your actions, no matter what. Make sure your teaching behavior is one that you would be proud to stand up and defend.

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