Bathroom or bust (literally)

At an Illinois high school, students are being asked to make up for lost instructional time when they use bathroom breaks excessively, by serving time after school. A detention. I can’t imagine making such a big deal about this with students, for the following reasons:

1. Students will ‘hold it’ when great things are happening in the classroom.

Certainly, no teacher wants to compete with Angry Birds for attention. However, if we provide great classroom experiences, there’s a major decline in bathroom breaks and “inappropriate use of technology” (cell phones). It’s a barometer for the success of your teaching: lots of pit stops is a great indicator that instruction could improve.

2. Save “political capital” for the rare and truly important situations.

There are rare times when things boiling over in your classroom – anger explodes between students, or your plans blow up in your face, etc. In these times, you need to be able to say

“I don’t have time to explain myself, and you probably won’t like what I’m about to ask you to do, and I’m sorry. Will you support me anyway?”. If you’ve shown respect to your students, and you’ve earned their trust – they will support you.

If you are fighting daily battles with students about something as trivial as bathroom breaks, you won’t have enough respect in the “interpersonal bank account”.

3. Most importantly, if you EVER wrongly accuse a student of abusing bathroom privileges:

If this happens, you have personally failed that individual student, and broken trust with all your students for years to come.

You will have mentally abused that student to some degree. You have asserted your authority over someone else, and that person may model this same behavior when they are in position of power at some point in the future. Whatever embarrassment happens for this student will never be forgotten.

Your reputation as an unreasonable person will quickly spread to students in your other classes. They won’t want to trust you or your judgment in the future. Younger brothers and sisters of current students will hear of your reputation and may hold it against you.

Thoughts on handling excessive bathroom use:

  1. If a student is constantly leaving for the bathroom, just do a GENERAL “check in” with them – not mentioning the bathroom use. “Hey, I don’t want to pry, but I’ve noticed you’ve seemed less interested in class activities lately. Is everything going OK at home and in your other classes?”. It seems like 80% of the time, this question gives me some context as to why class isn’t the top priority at the moment.
  2. If a student asks to go in the middle of class, suggest they wait for 3 minutes, because you’re about to transition to something else. This may cause the distracted student to ‘forget’ they needed to go.
  3. If a student approaches you one on one, say something like “Oh, can it wait?” If they say it can’t, you can really insist that they go. If it WASN’T urgent, you’ve appealed to their higher nature and shown respect. If it WAS urgent, you’ve built some trust with that student, and people don’t like to lose someone’s trust.
Please share your own comments – what do you think about the bathroom issue? Do you have strategies or troubles of your own?
-Phil
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