Managing Bathroom Breaks

Do bathroom breaks in the middle of your lessons drive you bonkers?

It seemed for me that every time Janelle needed to use the restroom, it started a chain reaction.  First Janelle went, then it was Ayisha, then Jacqui.  I’m fairly certain they were plotting the end of the world on the back of a bathroom stall door.  Ha!

But it does become obvious very quickly into a new school year who will constantly test out how often you will allow a student to use the bathroom – and for how long said student can be out of the room before you start asking questions or sending out the search parties.

Do bathroom breaks in the middle of your lessons drive you bonkers? Here are some tips to help.

Can I Go to the Bathroom?

This is a question we hear a lot and without even mentioning the infamous “I don’t know, can you?” reply, perhaps we need to take a closer look at why the student may be asking to leave the room.

You would assume that all teachers would know of any medical conditions that required the student to use the restroom more often, but you know what they say about people who assume {If you don’t, then it means it makes an ass – out of – u -and – me}.

Perhaps if you notice that a specific student needs to go more often, the first step would be to check a cumulative file, and make a quick phone call home.

There are probably officially laws and maybe even a school policy about appropriate bathroom usage, but honestly, you might just want to make that parent phone call something informal and keep it light.  

Simply ask if there is an underlying medical issue or if the student has mentioned anything about not wanting to be in class for a reason. That one quick discussion may cut down the requests immediately.

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How many bathroom breaks is normal?

Every child will be different.

True story:  a a child I was a bed wetter.  Embarrassingly until I was well into high school.  Apparently I had an immature bladder.  Not cool for me.  And I needed to use the restroom more than my peers.

My teachers probably assumed I was lallygagging in the hallway, but no one wants to wet their pants at school in front of everyone.

How Long Should a Bathroom Break Take?

This is where you have a little more control of the situation as you can collect data that shows how long a specific student is missing learning while he or she is out of the room.

Some teachers even create hall passes that discourage leaving the classroom at all so that students are using the bathroom during transition periods instead of during academic time.

Do bathroom breaks in the middle of your lessons drive you bonkers? Here are some tips to help.
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Obviously these are for older students – and some may even raise a sanitary concern (blehhhhh germs), but you know your students and school culture the best to know what it is needed.

Teaching a Routine for Managing Bathroom Breaks

Regardless of your age range though, students should be aware of your classroom system for taking a break when an emergency bathroom request is needed.

Make sure you are explicitly teaching these (and other) classroom routines from the very first day of school so everyone knows how to ask, when to ask, and what is the procedure.  

It will save you from making a not-so-fun phone call home about a potty accident and needing a change of clothes.

1 – Expectations

Explain to students in no uncertain terms how to let you know if they have to go.  Will you have a hand signal such as this?

Do bathroom breaks in the middle of your lessons drive you bonkers? Here are some tips to help.

Or perhaps you have a little nurse station where they need to check in?

Do bathroom breaks in the middle of your lessons drive you bonkers? Here are some tips to help.

2 – Choose the restroom

Every school will be different.  At the upper levels, there is a school bathroom.  At the elementary level, there may be facilities right in the classroom as well.

When I taught third grade, we were lucky enough to have one boys and one girls restroom that was shared and located in the middle of 2 classrooms, so students didn’t have to go far out of sight.  

But, we also had hallway bathrooms, which I made sure we utilized as we were coming from or going to specials.  That way there was less reason for students to begin the bathroom chain reaction cycle once we were settled back into our classroom and ready to learn.

If your students are older and will be traversing the hallways unattended, make sure you specify which restroom he or she should be walking to.  Otherwise that student may be walking 5 miles to the other side of the school as an extra time waster.

3 – Know your hall pass right away

If your students will be leaving your room completely, use a hall pass that is appropriate to the age of the child.   Obviously, if you are an elementary teacher, you would have something completely different than a middle school teacher.

Lanyards, a bottle of hand sanitizer, or a plastic keychain might be a good bet.

I know for middle and high school teachers, they are fully aware that a small hall pass will get left and lost in the bathroom quite quickly.  

So the trick is figuring out how to make the hall pass something most students wouldn’t want to use, thereby encouraging students to instead utilize the facilities between classes, not during them.

As with so many other things in the classroom, it becomes a balancing act.

4 – Document who is out of the room

You will want an easy way to see who is out of the classroom and for what reason.  Mostly in the case of a lockdown drill or other emergency.

Have all student names on a magnet and have the student move his or her name to the Restroom space on a magnetic board.  Or even write the child’s name a she or she leaves the room.

I used to allow students to take bathroom breaks during our independent reading session daily and they would silently come to the board and add their name to the boys or girls list.  After he or she had returned, they erased their name and the next child went.  

It was a pretty seamless routine and one that worked without any noise or fanfare.

In that same breath, make sure you are teaching students what to do if there is a fire or other emergency while they are in the bathroom.

5 – Set a timer if necessary

You know your students.

You know who is abusing the restroom privilege or who is using the restroom more than usual.

If one student in particular is gone for an excessive amount of time, start setting a timer when he or she leaves the room and documenting how long that child is out of the room.

If nothing else, it gives you black and white data to take to parents and/or an administrator if it becomes an issue that needs to be addressed.

6 – Have conversations

You know your students and who is most likely “farting around.” 

Use empathy if it’s a student who doesn’t normally abuse the situation. Perhaps there is more to it why he or she just needs a learning break. Something going on at home, not feeling well, menstrual cycle started, or an issue with a student sitting near them in class.

TALK with students before jumping to conclusions.

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As with most everything else, having solid classroom systems set up can make the difference between chaos and a class that pretty much runs itself even when you’re not there.

What are your best tips for managing bathroom breaks in your room?  We would love to hear in a comment below!

~Charity

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