How to Handle Restroom and Water Breaks
If you teach kindergarten, life can often be somewhat easier for you than for other teachers when it comes to restroom breaks. That's because many kindergarten classrooms have two little bathrooms, one for girls and one for boys, right there in the back of the room. You can keep an eye on your wee students and if they take too long, you can send other students to knock on the door and ascertain if there's a problem.
But for those of you who teach first grade and up, you'll have to devise a game plan to handle the constant requests you'll get from kids wanting to visit the restroom.
Regarding my legal responsibility to keep my kids safe, what does in loco parentis mean?
In loco parentis is Latin; it's a legal term meaning “in place of parents.” The law lets you curb a student's misbehavior, just like a parent; but it also legally requires you to act in the student's best interests, just like a parent.
First, you'll recall that you have a sacred, legal responsibility to keep your students secure and accounted for to the best of your professional ability. Parents trust you, as a highly trained professional educator, to watch over their children and keep them safe. Therefore, you can't blithely send students traipsing around the school by themselves. The possibility of accidents and injuries is ever present, even for the most careful and responsible students.
Also, some students may misbehave while on a restroom break, perhaps even committing acts of graffiti or vandalism in some cases. After all, it's not only your trustworthy students who will ask to go to the restroom. The temptation to act out may be too hard to resist for some of your more immature students, and they may succumb to the impulse to do something inappropriate.
Moreover, you can't escape the reality that some students continually ask to go to the restroom for the purposes of disturbing other classrooms, roaming the hallways aimlessly, evading their responsibility to do schoolwork, missing important classroom instruction, and generally wasting time.
On the other hand, there's another extremely important issue that you've got to face: Human beings frequently have to go. The call of nature can't be resisted for long, either by responsible students or by your not-so-responsible students. If you arbitrarily issue a blanket, “No!” to every restroom request, you can cause a lot of discomfort, such that many students won't be able to concentrate on anything else you say or do. After all, how would you like it if you really had to relieve yourself and some authority figure told you, “Nope, Miss Smith, you can't go to the bathroom, and that's final.”
Therefore, you might want to think about handling the restroom-break dilemma in this way:
Remember your classroom rules? Have your kids occasionally review the rule about breaks: Students may only leave with permission, and must return promptly. Students with medical problems requiring frequent restroom trips must bring a parental note.
When a student asks to go to the restroom, you courteously and immediately ask, “Can it wait?” In other words, does the request reflect a pressing emergency? Often, you'll be surprised to hear a kid answer, “Yes, it can wait.” Problem solved.
If the child says it can't wait then you should tell her she may leave the classroom, use the restroom, and return promptly. Remind the student that excessive time spent outside the room (more than five minutes or so) can result in disciplining.
Provide a sign-out list for all students allowed to leave. On each line record the date, the student's first and last name, departure time, and return time. Then, have the student sign at the end of the line. With practice, all this information can be recorded in mere seconds.
Fill out a hall pass as discussed earlier, with the same information as the sign-out list. With practice, this information can also be recorded in seconds. Avoid large, hard hall passes, as no information can be recorded on them and they can be used for hitting, etc.
Remember, only one student at a time in the hallway from your class. Send more than one student out only if extenuating circumstances and time constraints truly require it, in your professional opinion.
If a student takes too long to return, inquire as to the reason for the delay; and if the student's response seems unsatisfactory, either threaten to impose discipline the next time the infraction occurs or call the parent that afternoon to immediately discuss the problem.
Promptly record the returning time on the list and on the hall pass, then immediately file the hall pass in the student's dossier.
An issue closely related to the eternal restroom-break saga is the granting of water breaks. But this little matter will prove a somewhat easier nut to crack. Almost every modern classroom has a sink with a working faucet as well as a drinking fountain. Just make sure your kids ask your permission before jumping out of their seats for a drink.
However, if you work in an older classroom and you have to let your kids leave to find a drinking fountain, follow all the steps detailed above for granting restroom breaks. Ask, “Can it wait?” and then complete the sign-out sheet and hall pass for the student. In this way, you're still fulfilling your responsibility to safeguard your students while not arbitrarily or unreasonably denying water, a basic human necessity.