Principal Peter*: “Miss W, can I speak to you in the hall for a minute?”
Miss W: “Uh, sure.”
Principal Peter: “Did you have Johnny from Mrs. H’s second grade class in here last period?”
Miss W: “Yes, I did.”
Principal Peter: “Well, he had a little accident and is in the nurses office right now.”
Miss W: “Oh no. Is he okay?”
Principal Peter: “Yes, but he said you wouldn’t let him use the bathroom last period.”
Miss W: “What?”
Principal Peter: “He said he asked to use the bathroom during art class and was not allowed to. Is this true?”
Miss W: “Well no, that’s not right at all. Johnny never asked me if he could use the bathroom. In fact, no students from that class asked to use the bathroom today.”
Principal Peter: “Oh. Okay. Well, I didn’t think you would tell a student they couldn’t use the facilities, but I needed to check.”
As any “specials” teacher can tell you, deciding whether or not to allow students to use the bathroom is a tricky thing.
There are many factors one needs to consider when trying to determine when it’s appropriate and necessary for a student to leave the classroom in order to use the bathroom. The age of the student is one factor. As students get older, it can safely be assumed that older students are better at managing their bathroom needs outside of class time. Many middle school and high school teachers, in any subject matter, choose to limit use of the bathroom during their class (or forbid it altogether). It is often assumed by these teachers that older students who need to “use the bathroom” rarely in fact need to and are more likely looking for an excuse to leave the classroom. From what I remember as a middle and high school student, this was true 90% of the time. However, despite their classroom bathroom policies, I know quite a few male teachers who get nervous about telling female students they can’t use the facilities. What if, heaven forbid, it’s “their time of the month?”**
When dealing with elementary students in a “specials” classroom, it is hard to determine whether or not to allow students to use the bathroom. As an art teacher, I work under the assumption that the regular classroom teachers give students plenty of opportunities to use the bathroom during the day. Unfortunately, little kids with little bladders and little ability to plan ahead don’t always take advantage of these opportunities.
Most elementary art teachers are working with limited class time (usually 20-40 minutes). When, within the first five minutes of class, just as you’ve begun your lesson, little Becky raises her hand and asks, “Can I go to the bathroom?” you groan inside and think, “Oh, well, here we go.” While wrestling with whether or not to allow Becky to use the bathroom, you study her, looking for signs of a real “emergency” (wiggling, rocking, an overall look of distress). You quickly analyze Becky’s voice for levels of panic and/or boredom. After completing this millisecond evaluation, you will decide on one of three possible answers:
Based on the casual manner in which Becky asked to use the bathroom and her overall bored attitude, Becky is obviously looking for a way to waste time and get out of listening to the lesson. “No” is the best answer in order to show Becky that this is simply not allowed and to discourage other students from trying as well.
- “Yes, but not until I’m finished talking.”
This answer is suitable when it can’t immediately be determined if Becky really needs to use the facilities. It also sets the precedent for the rest of the students. Once work time begins, Becky will either happily get to work, forgetting she had ever asked, or she’ll immediately shoot you “the look”, letting you know that while she patiently waited for you to finish talking, her need to use the bathroom has now reached “emergency” status.
Becky’s level of discomfort is immediately recognized as high, and if you don’t allow her to use the bathroom, you’ll soon have an “accident” on your hands. Of course, after allowing Becky to use the facilities you must now prepare yourself for the three new hands that will immediately shoot into the air upon seeing your mouth begin to form the word “yes” instead of “no”. Miraculously, these students suddenly realized they need to use the bathroom as well. You will now need to bring in the fourth answer option
- “Put your hands down.”
At this point you will need to be strong and stick to your guns. You will be bombarded with “but, but, but…”. Be firm and reply that now is not the time for questions. The students will then burst out with, “But I need to use the bathroom too”. Proceed with caution. If you choose to pull out answer #1 here, you will then have to listen to, “but you let Becky go.” Your best option, at this point, is to safely to fall back on answer #2 for all students.
Navigating the ins and outs of bathroom use in the classroom is tricky business, obviously. If you’re lucky, you have a small bathroom located in your classroom, as I once did. I discovered, that with a bathroom in the classroom, very few students ever had to “use the bathroom,” Kindergartners aside, of course. When removing the novelty of using the bathroom in the hall and presenting students with a perfectly usable facility in the room, wherein other students might here them go, most of my students were able to take care of their business prior to class. Of course, there were always be those occasional “emergencies”.
How do you deal with allowing students to use the bathroom during class? Have you ever had any “accidents?”
* All names have been changed. The Principal was not named Peter, but since he beared a striking resemblance to Peter Griffin, I chose to call him Peter.
** As it turns out, from what I’ve heard from colleagues, male teachers are often terrified of the enigma that is a teenage girl.