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A Classroom Restroom Policy That Works


We’ve all been there. You are in the middle of teaching, and a student raises their hand. Expecting a question, you call on them, only to hear “can I go to the bathroom?”

Ok… so the title of this blog post is slightly misleading. I’m not here to tell you which tried-and-true bathroom policy will work for your classroom, because there is no such thing. What works for me won’t necessarily work for you. And what works for your 1st hour class won’t necessarily work as well for your 7th hour class. It’s going to take some trial and error. BUT, I have some suggestions to get you started. I’ve tried most of these, and again, some worked great for me and others didn’t. It’s all going to come down to your own classroom management style.

But first, a few things to consider…

When figuring out which policy works for you, you should consider a few things:

  • Do you teach middle school or high school? High school students tend to plan ahead better, and also have a better idea of when it is appropriate time to ask. You can generally be a little more lax with them.
  • Second, how long are your class periods? When I teach 50 minute classes, I’m a little more strict than when I had to teach 93 minute blocks. That’s a long time for anyone to hold their bladder.
  • Lastly, what policy can you stick to? Once you choose one below, it’s important to be consistent. If you aren’t, expect students to call you on it.

Bathroom Policy Ideas (ranked from less-strict to more-strict).

  1. Just let em go. Are you type-B? Or do you teach older/honors students who are good about only leaving at appropriate times? Maybe you have a very lax policy that looks something like, “you can go, but not when I’m right in the middle of teaching.” When I taught 93 minute block classes I generally went with this option. I would break the period up into chunks with transition time between activities. When breaks are built in, they get an idea of when it is appropriate to snag the pass and go.
  2. Use extra credit bathroom passes. At the beginning of each quarter, pass out a set number of bathroom passes. (For me, this is a half sheet of paper with squares I can rip off each time they go. You could also initial their paper instead of tearing them off). In the past I would give out 4 passes per quarter. Tell students if they don’t use their passes, they can be turned in for extra credit at the end of each quarter. For me, this policy tends to work well. The only hiccup is that students in your 1st hour almost never use them and will earn the extra credit, while students at the end of the day almost always run out. It’s not completely equitable, but it is an incentive to stay in class unless they truly need to go.
  3. Take the pass, but leave the phone. One thing I’ve learned over the years, is often times students leave to go chat with friends in the hall, not to actually use the restroom (shocker, I know). If you teach on a big campus like me, taking their phone limits their ability to schedule a “meet-up.” When I say “yes, you can go, but leave your phone on my desk” sometimes they magically don’t have to go anymore, or they send a frantic text before leaving the phone. You’ll quickly get an idea of who actually needs to go.
  4. Put a sign-out sheet or QR code by the door. Do you like knowing where all your students are at all times? If you are an accountability guru, maybe this method is for you. Put a sign-out sheet by the door. When a student has approval to leave, they have to put down their name, and time they left before taking the pass. When they return, they also have to sign in. This allows you to have a record of who leaves most often, and how long they are gone.
  5. That’s a no for me dawg. You might be very type-A (which is ok!) and don’t like letting students leave very often. Maybe right after lunch your answer is always a hard no. Maybe during the last class of the day the answer is generally no unless it is a true emergency. If this is you, be prepared to own it if you get a parent phone call.

Pro tip: Once you find one that works, put it in your syllabus. That way if you get any angry parent emails you have documentation to back up your policy.

When is it okay to JUST SAY NO?

Regardless of the policy you implement, there are going to be times you truly need students in class (aside from emergencies). This could be during a data-collection portion of a lab, during a socratic seminar discussion, or maybe your school has a policy like mine where they aren’t allowed to leave the first 10 minutes or last 10 minutes of class. Sometimes, it’s okay to say no (especially when you teach big kids).

Yes, you are allowed to say no. You should be able to judge from the look of terror on their face if it’s a true emergency or not. And if it is an emergency and you are bending your policy a little bit, be sure to tell them that. You could say something like, “I don’t usually let students go in the middle of a lab. I’m making an exception right now because I trust you. Please don’t abuse it.” If you have built good rapport with your students, you generally won’t have an issue here.

Alright, that was long winded, but hopefully helpful! Best of luck my teacher friend.

Rock on,

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Hi, I'm Becca!

I help busy science teachers get your prep back by providing you time saving lessons, labs, and resources.

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