This debate is one that often transcends any single plane of argument. One minute it’s about logistics, the next it’s about ethics. The situation starts as a simple hypothetical: A student asks to use the restroom in the middle of your class, at a time when you’ve just started getting your class into gear. What do you do?
Online, I’ve noticed that there are several lines drawn here. Parents almost unanimously cry foul at a teacher’s refusal, citing human rights for why their angels should be allowed to use the restroom whenever they feel the need, and that furthermore, they shouldn’t feel pressured to put themselves out in any way upon feeling said urge – the teacher needs to just let them go and suck it up, they say.
Students feel the same way – “We’re young adults, you can’t tell us what to do. Just go, no matter what the teacher says.”
Teachers are divided: Half say “Don’t let them go.” The other half says “Go, you don’t want to get sued, especially if admin won’t back you up.” Sad truth.
I will first tell you my bathroom policy, followed by my responses to these arguments.
I tell my students that my class is like a car ride, and that they need to go before they get in the car. If they ask to use the restroom, I use Classcraft to take 10HP from them with a preset called “Go on your own time,” or I say “No.” until they ask again. I do tell them that they are at my mercy, as in my class I am the Morning and Evening Star.
Is this a power trip? No. I will explain.
First of all, this argument needs to be put into context so that I don’t have a swarm of Common Sense Media parents clamoring for my execution. I teach high school. Young adults, they’re called. Not elementary students. My policy is based heavily on this factor. The three skills that I focus on in my class are the same that I would want my own kids to develop as young adults, and they’re the same traits that pushed me into adulthood and maturity. Students find that mastering these three things is the only thing they have to do to be sure they will do well in my class – the rest happens by itself, usually.
Phan’s Trinity of Maturity
- Managing Time
- Managing Priorities
- Managing Communication
At my school, students are given a passing period to use the restroom, etc. and of course breaks and lunch. If students don’t use the restroom during this time, then they are not managing their time, and they are certainly not prioritizing their own well-being.
What about a medical condition or an emergency?
The contingency I do allow is reliant on the 3rd skill. If you have a medical condition or an emergency, you need to adequately and effectively communicate it. That’s just survival.
My child shouldn’t have to humiliate themselves in front of the class to use the restroom.
Then certainly it’s their job – or at the very least the PARENT’S job if the student is determined to be helpless – to tell the teacher ahead of time and work out some kind of signal system if they have a condition…
I mean, it’s not like effectively conveying need in an emergency situation in a quick and efficient manner is a life skill or anything.
Communication is the major skill here, because I’m not a robot! If you can convey the gravity of the situation, you probably have nothing to worry about. It’s about knowing why the system is in place. The system says nobody can go, but the system is not in place to stop people with full bladders. It’s to facilitate learning.
If you need to pee and you’re not just trying to escape class because you’re bored, then you’ll have no worries, because you’ll have no problem finishing the sentence you’re on before going. You won’t have any qualms about handing over your phone while you’re gone either, right? Since you’ll be right back and it’s not like you were going to call your friends or tweet for 45 minutes and come back when the bell rings?
It’s messed up to take points away for having to use the bathroom in class!
If you really need to go, you can’t control it, right? It’s like having bad weather that cancels your practice. If you take the hit, then work extra hard to make up for the hit! That’s being responsible. If you accidentally break something, you still own up. If you have to go to the bathroom, it’s not the teacher’s fault, it’s not your classmates’ fault, so obviously it comes down to you to deal with the issue – and sometimes that means taking the hit. You know what? Life will go on. I don’t know what the aversion is to losing points for things that aren’t anyone else’s problem. That’s life. If I’m paid by the hour for a job and an asteroid strikes my car and keeps me from going to work, I’m not going to insist I get paid anyway. No, I take the hit. If your dog eats your homework, you take the hit and then in the future you take better care of your homework – and your dog.
And as for the student insistence that they have the freedom to just “go, no matter what the teacher says?” That’s true, you have that freedom. A teacher won’t bodily stop you. I can technically walk out of the classroom whenever I want, too.
You see, freedom comes only to those who accept the consequences. If a teacher forbids you to go, and you need to go, then by all means go. Then take the referral the teacher writes you, serve the detention, whine about it to your mom, and sleep soundly knowing you were in the right. Then use your knowledge of your teacher’s jerk attitude and the system to avoid having to go in their class anymore.
As for getting sued… well, honestly, no teacher can do anything if they fear being sued. My advice for that is usually just to be smart, be transparent, and always do your very best to do what’s right in your heart, and the world will have a hard time condemning you.
Yeah, sometimes I’m more naive than the students. I don’t really see how anyone who isn’t an idealist in some fashion or another can become a teacher, though.