I learned this tip from my alternate route night school teacher, Captain David Wick. He is a real captain who sails boats on the weekends. And I cannot tell you how much it has helped my classroom function. It truly has helped more than anything else I learned in night school when I was going for my certificate.
What is the most disruptive thing that happens in the average high school classroom?
Yep. You know what it is.
The bathroom request.
Right in the middle of the class, when you are just getting into the exciting, meatiest portion of the content, your students are on fire, asking great questions, getting excited. Maybe you’re teaching about Toxoplasma and how it controls its hosts? Maybe you’re teaching about mutations that provide immunity to HIV?
And then a student raises his or her hand and asks “Can I use the bathroom?”
All your momentum is gone. Now you are stuck. If you say no, the student (and the other students) will consider it cruel and unusual punishment. If you say yes, you have to sign a pass, everyone watches the student go (and then come back), and every other student is thinking, hey, maybe I need to go too?! After all, they all know (just like you do) that the student will probably take a leisurely stroll, do some texting, and maybe use the bathroom. Maybe even for the purposes that one SHOULD use the bathroom.
Here is the big secret tip to stop this from happening ever again! (Or at least severely limit these requests)
In the beginning of the school year, I set my bathroom rule.
You can only go to the bathroom in the first 5 minutes of class. Ever. So if you need to go, ask when you enter the classroom. I will let you go. Go. Hurry back. And that’s it. Don’t ask in the middle, because you won’t be allowed to go!
I am a teacher who doesn’t believe in warm-ups. It always takes me the first few minutes of class to collect papers, hand out papers, note who comes in late, and write announcements on the board. I have always had to share a classroom, so I often get into the room at the same time as my students, after the previous class leaves. It isn’t my room, so I have to immediately begin setting up whatever I had planned for my class in those first few minutes.
Often my high school students need a few minutes to decompress, process, and finish the conversations they started at the end of their last class or in the hall. They really appreciate a few minutes to get their notebooks out, get focused, and take care of any business that needs to be done. These first 5 minutes are the best few minutes for them to miss if they need to take a trip to the bathroom.
Does an occasional student ask to go later in the period? Rarely! And when they do, I always ask, is this an absolute emergency? And they almost always say no. If they say it is an emergency, I say ok. And they know not to ever use their “emergency” excuse ever again.
What is your favorite classroom management tip to limit bathroom trips?
For more Teacher Tips: