Bathroom issues can really throw off a lesson. In my twenty plus years in grades 4-8, I’ve seen my share of “bathroom bluffs” and untimely “bathroom necessities”. For the sake of survival, I had to developed strategies to improve my classroom management and reduce interruptions due to bathroom issues. I am happy to share them.
Be aware of student accommodations
It’s critically important to know about health issues your students may have. Generally, you’ll learn about these before school starts. This may come in the form of a meeting, or it could be that you receive a 504 notification noting bathroom issues that may arise in the classroom and how to make sure these students have the access they need. You may also receive and email or phone call from the family letting you know about the issue.
To manage these situations, I quietly let the student know that all they need to do is give me a signal that they need to use the restroom. It could be a tilt of the head or a glance from them as they stand by the door. In some cases, a student may just need to quickly leave. I generally let them know ahead of time that if they cannot wait to give me a signal, it’s okay.
The rest of this post does not refer to students who may need special consideration.
In regards to classroom issues outside of the medical realm, here are some tried and true strategies to limit classroom disruption from students who do not have identified medical issues.
Don’t make it easy
Use a sign out sheet. REQUIRE that the student fill it out and get it signed by the teacher. If students know there’s a procedure, they realize that they’ll have to “work” for it. And it will be that way EVERY time they use the restroom.
Here’s a bonus: when a student wants me to sign the hallway passport, I can see how many times they’ve been out of class that day, week, month. If there is a trend, it’s easy to spot. Which leads to my second tip…
Ask about medical issues
If there’s chronic use, I always say, “You sure need to use the restroom a lot. Have you been to the doctor recently? Should I let your family know there may be a medical issue?” Maybe there really is an issue. If so, the family will appreciate your observations. However, if there isn’t a medical reason, this student is going to be more aware of bathroom use because you are noticing a problem. Remind students that recess, lunch, and passing periods are perfect times for restroom use. With all this time out of class, there should be very little need to “go” during class time.
Set a rule about bathroom use
There’s no using the restroom 10 minutes before or after a bell (beginning or end of class). Most kids can wait 10 minutes. If they can’t, and I know they really need to go, of course I’ll let them use the restroom. However, I will let them know that this can’t be a recurring event. Most students will try to meet class expectations, so set the limits and make exceptions when necessary when dealing with bathroom issues.
Have a few set lines when responding to bathroom requests
Here are my lines for when a student asks to use the restroom during class: “Can you hold it for a bit? I’m just about to make a really important point, and if you miss it I’m afraid you’ll be confused. So if there’s a way you could wait, I’d sure appreciate it. If you can’t, I understand.”
This allows think time. Students notice that I’m concerned about the impact of their leaving class. Many have never even considered that leaving the room can be problematic. Quite often a student will say they can wait. After several minutes have passed, if I see the telltale signs of needing to “go”, of course I let them use the restroom. However, many simply forget that they’ve asked or didn’t really need to go in the first place. This is the magic of a good line.
Line up outside the room before class begins to reduce bathroom issues
If it’s the beginning of the year or there are chronic bathroom problems after lunch or recess, the line is the time to say, “If you haven’t used the restroom and you need to do so, now is the time. Tomorrow (or next week) you won’t have this option because it’s time to start monitoring yourself. Please remember to use the restroom during your recess.”
Leave the bathroom door propped open
I love this idea. I work at a middle school, and bathrooms are places where a lot of messing around can happen. As a school we decided that all doors leading into the restrooms are to stay open. We have signs on the doors stating this policy. Amazingly, the bathroom issues have decreased dramatically because it is no longer an unseen area on campus. It really works! (and no, people can’t see into the bathroom stall area). Students still have privacy.
Use an individualized bathroom plan to deal with bathroom issues
Some students really push the system and need an alternative. One option is giving a student two passes at the beginning each day. All the teachers are in on the pass plan and know that if the student needs to use the restroom, one of the passes must be handed to the teacher. When the student runs out of passes, there’s no more bathroom use that day. At the end of the day, the passes are returned to their first period teacher. It’s the student’s responsibility to make sure this happens. The system works because they’re “in charge” of it and they may still use the restroom, but there are limits.
What’s your best strategy for minimizing the dreaded bathroom issue?
Thanks to I Teach. What’s Your Superpower? for the graphics.