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Bathroom Breaks

What if they really gotta go?

Gale asks:

I teach all high school girls. The class lasts almost two hours and I am having trouble with frequent bathroom breaks. I normally give two, one at the beginning and one in the middle. However, girls are constantly asking to go. I'm sure they will lose all focus if they are not allowed to go right away. So I'm struggling with interrupting the class constantly or losing their attention. Any suggestions?

SANDY: Two breaks are enough. Most students are going for a walk. Still, two hours is a long time to focus. Try a few two-minute stand-up breaks where students can move about. Simon Says is fun, even in high school.

Some students will insist. Do not argue. Keep a clipboard handy and have the student record name, date, and time. Tell them you keep track because if someone goes too frequently or their period comes more than once a month, their parents must be notified so they can see a doctor.

Of course, any student with a medical issue may be excused with a doctor’s note.

DIANNE: My classes range from 90 to 110 minutes. I don't have bathroom breaks for the whole class. I find less time is lost if I allow individuals to go as needed for an established number of times (not every class period).

Students sign out on a log. If the limit is exceeded, I talk with the student privately.

Students are asked to sign out only during independent or small group activity, and only for emergencies.

JAN: I teach middle school. My students get three bathroom passes for each six-week triad. Once they are used, students may not leave the classroom unless there is obvious necessity.  At the end of each triad, they turn in unused bathroom passes for ten extra-credit points per pass.

KATE ORTIZ: Great suggestions! Keeping a written record is always a good way to recognize patterns and show them to the student when talking about behavior.

I have had good luck asking if it’s an emergency. Students almost always say no, to which I reply that they should let me know if it becomes one. Generally, it doesn’t.

Also, as a female teacher in a middle school, I had a supply of feminine products in my cabinet and let the girls know they could always come to me in an emergency. This saved them from having to go all the way to the office and allowed them to handle things quickly and privately.

rachel: I am having a rough time this year with bathroom breaks. I teach kindergarten and I usually go twice a day, morning and afternoon. I have had two students go potty on themselves already. Any kindergarten teachers facing this problem?

ROBERT: Rachel, it isn't just kindergarten teachers.

I teach high school, and at my former school, we were discouraged from allowing bathroom breaks. I misjudged a student who was whining to go, and she lost control at her seat. Not a pretty picture, I can tell you. She crying, me feeling like a heel for refusing. If in doubt, let them go! Perhaps say, can you wait until break? If they say no, grant permission. That's my advice, even if you need to deal with an administrator who disagrees.

By the way, when I had to deal with an administrator about this, I told her a true story, in front of other teachers: In high school during my senior year, I had an accident when my bladder would not wait. Against permission, I ran out of the classroom and didn't make it. I was on meds for the flu, and that can make a difference. Even near-adults can misjudge their body’s limitations.


NEA’s classroom management advice column

Kate Ortiz, a teacher and classroom management expert from Chariton, Iowa, responds to every question posted online within 24 hours, and many other colleagues contribute, too.

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