In high school, the bathroom is still a big deal. In the high school where I teach, students have five minutes between classes to race across a very big, very crowded building. Often, they can’t find time for a break until lunch, some four and a half hours after school began. My school also has a 10-10 rule: students may not leave class during the first or last 10 minutes of any class. Some teachers allow students only three bathroom trips in a semester. Some teachers, when asked, deny permission to leave class.
I find it bizarre that human beings ask me to use their bathroom. I find it even more bizarre that I have the authority to deny a human being their request to relieve their bowels.
I don’t want that kind of power.
In my classroom, if a student needs to go to the bathroom, they are to just go. Don’t ask me. You don’t need permission. You are human. Just go.
If a student abuses my policy, leaves too often, stays away too long, we have a different problem altogether. That student would not feel what was happening in my classroom was interesting, or relevant, or important. I try to make my class all of those things. I try to make it so a student doesn’t want to leave my class, because if he misses five minutes, he’s missed something fascinating and critical.
Or maybe that student is task-avoidant – she feels she can’t succeed, she has given up, she feels like it doesn’t matter if she’s there or not. Again, that’s a different problem. I try to make each student feel she can do it, I believe in her, I won’t let her give up.
Some teachers think my policy is awful, I’m sure. They think students would take advantage, or can’t handle that kind of free, loosey-goosey, hippie-style environment. Maybe they think in the absence of clear order, chaos will ensue.
In 15 years of teaching, I’ve never had a problem with my policy. I don’t think it’s because of how I run my classroom, or how I encourage my students. I think it’s because my policy is one of respect. I believe if we treat each other with respect, as equals who ALL have bathroom needs, sometimes urgent, we are treated the same way in return.
I want my students’ respect. I know I’ll never earn it if I don’t also give it.