Class Management, Classroom Perspectives, Popular

No More Permission To Pee

No More Permission To Pee

Originally published August 2014

By Chad A. Donohue

“Can I go to the bathroom?”

I’ve been thinking about this common question, asked so often by children in schools all across the nation. Certainly, it makes sense for very young students to ask for permission to use the restroom. It isn’t using the restroom that is an issue, it is being out of the classroom. I get that. Teachers need to know where their little ones are at all times.

But at what point should students be able to stop asking for permission to go? Middle school seems the perfect proving ground for such an experiment. As students transition from elementary to high school, teachers have an opportunity to practice the GRC approach (gradual release of control). Restroom privileges are a good place to start.

I start by teaching the procedure for going to the restroom. (Wait, that didn’t come out right!) (Whoa, pardon the pun!)

Deep breath. Regroup.

I start by teaching the procedure for exiting the room in order to use the restroom. Near the door, there hangs a sign-out/sign-in sheet on a clipboard. Taped to the sheet is a pen attached to a string. Above the sheet is a piece of construction paper covered with small sticky note strips. Each sticky note strip has my stamped initials. These slips become the disposable hall passes kids take with them. Upon returning to the classroom, they promptly recycle the slips. (I gave up on the permanent hall pass years ago. A friend visiting my classroom once looked at my hall pass—a plastic ice scraper—hanging near the door and said, “Middle schoolers have been taking that thing to the bathroom with them for years, and you still have it here?”)

Then, the procedure. There is always the possibility of a “right-now, rapid-response, get-out-of-my-way!” emergency. I understand that. I tell my students I haven’t ever actually seen one, but I realize it is possible.

Barring an all-out emergency, here’s my policy for restroom visits:

  • Choose an appropriate time.
  • Check the sign-out sheet to make sure nobody else is currently signed out.
  • Sign out (date, name, time, destination i.e., RR, or restroom).
  • Grab a sticky note and write the time on it.
  • Go immediately to your destination, and come right back.
  • Sign back in by writing the time.
  • Return quietly to your seat or workspace.

I then explain that as long as the procedure is not abused, it will remain the classroom policy. “As 7th graders,” I say, “you are mature enough to monitor your personal needs in this area. I am not required to ask for permission to use the restroom during staff meetings, and if you can handle it responsibly, you should not be required to either. I want to treat you like young adults. I want you to be comfortable in this class. We talk a lot nowadays about hydration, and I realize that this means more frequent trips to the bathroom. I don’t want to create a difficult situation for you. If you are being responsible, I cannot think of any reason why I should prevent you from using the restroom.”

This approach also eliminates the potential embarrassment of having to ask in front of others. Middle school kids are changing, physically and emotionally, and the need to use the restroom can be for a wide range of reasons. Interrupting class to ask permission can be both degrading and disruptive. Also, a blanket policy requiring verbal permission might be culturally insensitive, depending on the child. Finally, requesting permission to pee can be excruciatingly difficult for introverts.

And yes, many of us remember the terrible scene in grade school, a solitary child sitting at his or her desk, head down and crying, a puddle of urine on the floor. I never want to be responsible for that.

As teachers, we want to be cognizant of a few things:

  • First, be sure to monitor the sign-in/sign-out sheet so that students are filling it out completely.
  • Watch for patterns, especially if you are concerned about a specific student. (Are they leaving at the same time daily? Maybe it is time to meet quietly with the student in between classes.) Also, it’s a good idea to file the sheets in case you need to go back and look.
  • Watch for any academic impact. Is the student making poor choices about when to leave? Are they missing important content? This warrants a discussion as well.

I know there are systems in place where students are allowed a set number of restroom passes per quarter, or issued a tardy if they really need to go, but many of these things feel arbitrary and unnecessary. They are, yet again, examples of policies we have long since been exposed to, yet have spent little time unpacking from an equity-centered perspective.

Chad Donohue is a middle school English teacher in Monroe, Washington. He also teaches university courses in composition and public speaking. 

10 comments on "No More Permission To Pee"

  1. WbmaryvilleTN

    My teacher says we are only allowed to use the restroom in her class once a week Is that okay? I mean we’re in high school, should she be allowed to do this.

    • WhatzUp2498

      Once a week? I only get 1 every quarter! And I’m in high school too!

  2. student

    Students are not prisoners in jail. They need to go to the bathroom to pee, poop, change tampon, get water, take meds, splash water on their face to keep from falling asleep, deal with depression or anxiety problems, and so forth. Teachers do your job and teach. Support and respect the students without casting judgments. If the student is leaving the class room all of the time for long periods of time then maybe they have a good reason. OR, Maybe the teacher is a jerk or is boring them to death with their crappy style of so called teaching.

    • Gregory Lipford

      No, they aren’t prisoners, they are children required by law to be in school for specific reasons. Regardless of the teacher or subject, some students will look to do anything to avoid doing what society has deemed critical to a healthy community. Adult skills include going to the restroom during the ample time provided and to explain when exceptions are necessary. If you’d like to change mandatory attendance laws, I’m all for it, or if you would like to impose the same responsibilities as an employment situation, I’m all for that too. But at this point, such comparisons are fatuous.

  3. Andree

    If the students ask for restroom without needs then you are a boring teacher not teaching at your class level. To restrict children with real needs or to make them explain them is plainly idiotic. And yes I taught for years at university advanced math classes, which were both difficult and essential. As a young professor I had students walking out, being late. After a few years I did not have them anymore.

  4. Jessie Yonkovit

    I allowed unlimited bathroom passes for the first three quarters this year, but I am instituting a “3 passes per quarter” policy for the last quarter. Some days I am have more than ten students using the pass during a 42-minute class period. If I was showing a video, I would have a revolving door of students in and out, sometimes even running to let the returning student into class so they could be the next to leave! Repeated conversations about why this behavior is inappropriate fell on deaf ears.

    • Mason

      Using the bathroom is a right. I’m a senior in high school and I don’t give a damn if you let me or not, if I have to go, I will go.

    • Name Withheld

      By doing this, you are both opening up your students to UTIs, stained clothing, potential home abuse escalation and hospitalizations. Holding in urine has been linked to severe infections and kidney damage. Female or AFAB students also have needs after adolescence of visiting the bathroom to change their pads or tampons; there’s also the fact that some diabetic students wish to check their blood sugar in peace without outing themselves to potential bullies.

      Don’t be that teacher. Let them pee. Maybe they rush to leave because you aren’t understanding or compassionate to their needs.

  5. Natalie

    Thank you for this article.
    I am a substitute teacher, and came across this exact situation the other day.It was my first time subbing in a middle school, at that school, so I wasn’t sure of the policy. My inclination was to say no.
    When I was in middle school, we were supposed to go during the passing period,so that was my stance. I ended up asking an administrator, since I wasn’t sure.
    For classroom teachers, I would add your restroom policy to your sub plans. It doesn’t have to be a big deal, nor should it, but I quick note stating the policy. If there is a way to do so, without breaking privacy rules, please include exceptions to the rule, especially for health reasons. As a guest teacher, it helps to have a general feel for how the teacher runs such issues.

  6. Chris S

    Seems reasonable.
    Someday, maybe an e-device built into the students desk.

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