A curly blonde-haired, green-eyed first grader raised her hand with her pointing finger sticking straight up high in the air obeying the rule to indicate #1 or #2. The teacher gave her a glance and shook her head NO. With tears stinging in the little girl’s eyes, she grimaced, she shifted in her seat, and she just couldn’t hold on any longer.
Overflowing the wooden chair seat, the urine dripped onto the floor leaving an obvious puddle for the whole class to see. Total humiliation.
That little girl was me. And that incident was over 50 years ago.
I remember that “accident” like it was yesterday. In my memory, I see myself sitting quietly in my cute blue polka-dotted dress with lacy bobby socks and white tennis shoes in the second desk of the row that was closest to the room closet; row one on the west side of the classroom which was directly across the hall from the bathrooms.
A fifth grade boy asked to use the bathroom right before getting on the bus at the end of the day. He was told no. Bus rides aren’t short. He didn’t make it. Everyone knew because of the smell on the bus. Rightfully so, the parents of this boy were extremely upset and paid a visit to the principal.
A third grade girl sat in her desk during a test all while squirming frantically and crossing her legs trying her hardest to ‘hold it.’ She didn’t succeed. The expectation was students were not allowed to ask permission to go to the bathroom during a test and because she was a rule follower, she didn’t ask. Public embarrassment.
A second grade boy asked to use the bathroom and was told no. He lost control but thankfully his jeans soaked it up. He also had on a long t-shirt which covered his saturated blue jeans so none of his classmates knew what had happened. Whew!
A first grade girl asked to use the bathroom and was told no – she was to wait until after the spelling test and go before recess. She didn’t make it out to recess. The new teacher graciously asked her if the plant had spilled on her – as that sometimes happens. Oh dear. My first grade self knew better, but the teacher who didn’t let her go to the bathroom helped her recover in front of her peers.
A preschooler asked to use the bathroom while lining up from recess. He was told no. This little boy was fortunate as he told his mommy “I squeezed my cheeks together and I tried to hold it in.” He was fortunate and didn’t have an accident in front of all his peers, which could have led to teasing and bullying.
Schools are the only place I know that don’t allow a person to use the bathroom when needed. I was an elementary teacher. I get it. We don’t want our students to miss any of our important teaching.
When I first began teaching third graders, I had cute wooden spoons with cute little faces painted on them. These were my ‘Bathroom Passes.’ If a student needed to use the bathroom, and that spoon was hanging up, they could grab the spoon and take it with them into the bathroom then return it when finished.
Yeah, that didn’t go so well. The spoons were left in the bathrooms most times and when you think about it, the spoons were probably full of germs. Yuck!
My second year of teaching third graders, I had an epiphany. A family requested that if their son asked to use the bathroom, to please let him go. I am so grateful to that family because it changed my approach to using the bathroom. And it was only my second year. From that year on, if a child asked me permission to use the bathroom, I would simply ask, “Can it wait? If not, go now. Only you know!”
I understand we teachers like to have our students present during instruction. However, we ALL know there are times when needing a restroom is immediate! So, please…trust your students, and let the children go to the bathroom.
Please share in the comments below any successful bathroom classroom management technique(s) you have used in your classroom.
Stay Calm & Let Them GO!
Profs Dr. Wendy & Dr. V.
(Pics linked to resources).