We’ve all had one of those bathroom students at some point in our teacher career – or maybe you have a handful every year. As soon as the bell rings, his or her hand darts up and there’s a plea to use the bathroom immediately because it is a dire emergency. Never mind the fact that the student has been chatting with friends for the past few minutes before the bell rung, or the fact that the student just came from lunch. There’s the hall-walker who never even makes it to the facilities, and instead spends their time like a mayor of the hallways: shaking hands, dapping, and texting their friends. Finally, there is the student who would rather be in the bathroom for 15 minutes than be in your room. (Don’t take it too personally, it’s usually because of something in the student’s personal life and not that your lesson is equivalent to hell for the student).
What to do? From the very beginning of the year set the tone of being firm with the bathroom. Students love to test boundaries to see how much they can get away with. Don’t let them think you’re a push over.
The First/Last 5 Minutes Rule
No one goes to the bathroom during the first or last 5/10 minutes of the period. You pick the time based on what you’re comfortable with. When students balk, you usually have a great explanation: this is the most important time of the class and you don’t want them to miss any of it. You’re giving instruction or they’re usually working on an assessment or assignment. They will learn to plan accordingly as long as you stick with it. I love this rule because students often get caught up in the lesson anyway and forget they were so desperate to leave to begin with.
The Five-Minute-Wait Rule
Similar to the rule above, ask the student to wait five minutes until you explain something, see some work from them, whatever the reason. I like to use this if I catch someone look at their phone (a text) and then suddenly need to use the bathroom. Again, keep with it and their friends will realize your class is not a good time to try to meet up in the halls.
The Five-Minute-Limit Rule
Set a time limit on the bathroom. I give my students five minutes and tell them to have their parents contact me privately if there is a medical issue that would require more time than that. If they take longer than five minutes, I give them one warning. If they do it again, I give a final warning: “if it happens again you’ll lose bathroom privileges during my class for one week.” I hate denying someone the right to use the facility, but your students will learn quickly to use the bathroom during another period if they can’t during yours. I call the parents whenever I restrict bathroom use and hopefully I have written down the times. If it’s just six minutes, I don’t enforce it as much and give the benefit of the doubt. However, when the student is gone for 8-15 minute intervals, I usually have the parents’ support in shutting it down. Another tactic I use, depending on the student, is to ask if they are okay since they were gone so long. I tell them I’m really concerned about their health that they’re in the bathroom so long and that I’ll be reaching out to the parents out of concern. Depending on the student, that’s enough to make them stop.
Make it a Game
This absolutely depends on the class, but I have in the past encouraged other students to time the student using the bathroom. It happens like this: One student will accuse me of being a sucker because the bathroom student will, yet again, take forever. I turn to the bathroom student, hurt, and insist they would never do that to me. Bathroom student agrees saying they would never do that in my class (even though they have). I say, “Great! Destiny will time you!” Destiny gets excited being part of something out of the routine. The bathroom student hustles in an effort to prove everyone wrong. I don’t do this often, but I will on days where we need to lighten up a bit or if it feels right with the class.
The One-Student-Out-At-A-Time Rule
Only let one student out of the room at a time. I think this is a good rule in general and one most schools abide by. This helps the students police themselves. If student A takes forever, student B will call them out for having to wait so long. Sometimes it works; sometimes they don’t care what other people think or say. But like I said, it’s generally best practice to not have more than one student out at a time anyway.
Avoiding Power Struggles
I’ve had students try to fight the bathroom ban or delay with threats about how they are going to pee their pants or how they will use my trashcan if they can’t use a toilet. And the power struggle begins. Shut it down immediately with this one statement: “I can’t stop you from leaving the room to use the bathroom. You need to do what’s right for you. But I will send a referral to the office for walking out and your argument that you couldn’t wait just five minutes is more than a bit flimsy.” As soon as you finish saying this you go about with whatever it is you were doing. Continuing eye contact with the student continues the power struggle. Usually, as long as I go right back to the flow of the lesson or whatever it was I was doing, the worst a student will do is to sit down and grumble how stupid I am.
Bathrooms can be a tricky subject. Sometimes there are legitimate reasons for a student to be out frequently to use the facilities. Sometimes there are legitimate reasons to take longer than five minutes. Use discretion with the above tips and advice.
I’d love to hear what works for you. Please, leave me a comment or feel free to ask a question about any of the advice I’ve proffered.