(photo @ justbathroomsigns.com)
There was a story in the news recently about a student who ended up wetting his pants in class because his teacher would not let him go to the bathroom. As you can imagine, this has sparked quite a bit of (completely understandable and justified) outrage.
Apparently, the teacher in this story was using some sort of pretend money reward system in which students bought the privilege to leave class and relieve themselves. When the young man in question couldn't pay up, his bladder had to pay the price, instead...
...and since this is elementary school, the dam did eventually burst.
I'll support another teacher on just about anything, but I'm not sure I can follow this fellow educator's line of reasoning. Having to get someone to sign a piece of paper so that you can poop or pee is humiliating enough without the added stress of a rigid and unfamiliar currency system.
The only motivation this provides is to resign myself to credit card debt.
But after reading through the comments section of the article, I was a bit taken aback by the populist rage that rose up against teachers in general for our perceived unwillingness to let students use the bathroom whenever they feel it's needed.
Now don't get me wrong; I'm totally willing to admit that there are evil teachers (or fake currency manipulators) that should probably be on the hook for generations worth of urinary tract infections.
But please allow me, if you will, to explain why most rational teachers (myself surprisingly included) are more than a little reluctant to let our students use the bathroom whenever they claim that the urge arises.
Sympathetic Bladder Syndrome
Much in same way that people feel the urge to yawn when others around them are doing it, kids often times feel the sudden need to go to the bathroom when they observe one of their fellow classmates obtaining the go-ahead to do so.
I've noticed that if I tell one student they can go to the bathroom, 3-4 more will immediately ask if they can do the same as soon as that student returns. Even after I have repeatedly announced that I will not allow students to "chain" the bathroom, it still doesn't stop them from magically developing the urge to pee as soon as one of their classmates returns from their journey to the restroom.
I've taken a pretty firm stance against allowing this phenomenon to play out in my classroom (although I have accidentally let it slide a few times). And in spite of my iron fist liquid authority, I have yet to observe a mass tidal wave of urine occur from the mass of suddenly full bladders that I have denied the right to relief...
...meaning that this urge to go is more likely an empathetic response, or a group psychosis.
Since I teach middle school, I tend to lean towards a conservative diagnosis and stick with calling it a psychosis.
The Definition of an "Emergency."
We've all been there; our urge to release our bowels and/or bladder has become so strong that its sheer physical force threatens to override every mental safeguard we have against soiling our pants.
If you have to pee, then you clench every muscle in the lower part of your body you can while simultaneously dancing around (which actually does much more harm than good).
If you have to poop, you begin to sweat and shift in your seat nervously as the painful intestinal contractions move closer and closer to together while increasing in intensity.
Yes, that's a prairie dog
THOSE are the signs of an emergency. So when a student comes up to me with a look of absolute terror in their eyes, I know that even if it's not a good time to let them leave the classroom (like in the middle of my explanation about what material their next test will cover), I mercifully allow them to go to the restroom...
...but sometimes, a student will come up to me very casually and say they need to go to the bathroom. When I say "no" or "not right now," they will calmly reply "But it's an emergency."
I'll then suggest that they go sit down for a bit so that I can determine if it is truly an emergency or not....which I'm sure doesn't endear me to most people reading this who are not teachers.
But in virtually every single one of these cases the following behavior by the student (who previously claimed to have an "emergency" situation) is observed:
-An incredibly casual demeanor
-An ability to constantly disrupt class by talking to the students around them.
I don't know about you, but when I feel nature screaming, my demeanor is anything but casual and I have absolutely no desire to talk with anyone.
And to drive the point home further, the student that originally had the "emergency" will often forget about it as quickly as it began.
The Lovers' "Secret" Meeting
One thing students seem to forget is that when we're not screaming at the copy machine or calling parents, teachers actually do talk to each other.
During our discussions, we will often point out that two students need to have an eye kept on them because they can't keep their hands off each other. And yes, this even happens at the middle school level.
...but usually with a foot or two of space between them.
It's at this point that we often notice the same students trying to go to the bathroom at the same time. As genius as Romeo and Juliet Jr's plan was, we tend to keep it from happening after the first time.
When Aunt Flo Just Won't Leave
As I've mentioned before, I tend block out any and all volunteered information by my female students about their menstrual cycles. Once a girl comes up to me and begins to say "I just started my p...", I cannot throw that bathroom pass at them fast enough.
"I was just trying to say I started
my paper on Mozart, but okay..."
Eventually, a couple of my more devious girls figured out my aversion hearing about their inner workings and attempted to use it to their advantage.
The first week, I let them go without question.
The second week, I continued to let them go to the bathroom, but began to have my suspicions.
By the third week, I started to realize that unless they had an undisclosed medical condition, no person would ever bleed that much unless they had been on the receiving end of a shot gun blast. That's when I decided to put my powerful skills of interrogation to work on one of the bathroom frequenting duo.
"Flo [not actual name], I may not know much, but I'm pretty sure that doesn't happen for three weeks straight unless something is very wrong. Do we need talk to the school nurse or call your parents?"
At this point, Flo smiled, admitted she wasn't really having a marathon session of "that time of the month," and went back to her seat.
A Leisurely Stroll =/= Explosive Bowel Movements
Diarrhea sucks. When you're caught in its terrible throes, you wouldn't wish that awful, unclean pain on even your worst enemy.
It's also exponentially worse when you have it in a public school bathroom. There is the possibility of someone walking in and hearing you unleash the fury, not to mention the potentially disgusting conditions that you can find yourself in (although I have to give props to our current custodial staff for how clean they keep the bathrooms these days; I don't even line the seat with toilet paper anymore.)
So if a student is gone for a long time and comes back saying that they are having "stomach problems," then I'm usually very sympathetic...
...until five different teachers tell me that they saw you wondering the halls, looking through their windows to disrupt their classes, and doing just about everything but suffering from Montezuma's Revenge.
Once you've broken the trust like that, you've lost your "I've Got The Squirts" card in my classroom for life as far as I'm concerned.
...and don't even think for a second that this
will still work when you get pulled over, either!
The Kid(s) That Goes Every Day at the Same Time
Look, I get having a schedule when it comes to your bowel movements and bladder releases. Back when I drank coffee on a daily basis, it was pretty much a given that I would need to have my way with a toilet by 11:00 AM.
But if I let the same student go to the bathroom every day in my class, then pretty much everyone will think that they can. Combine that with the previously mentioned Sympathetic Bathroom Symptom, and good luck trying to get anything done in a 45 minute class period.
This list is by no means a comprehensive one, but hopefully it gives you some idea of the multitude of reasons (besides having to actually relieve themselves) that students will use to leave class and go to the restroom....which of course none of us ever tried when we were in school.
Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go to the bathroom.
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