Thursday, October 7, 2010

Restroom Breaks: How Do You Deal?

One of my least favorite things about subbing, especially since I mostly work in elementary schools, is dealing with a few basic, biological needs:  restroom and water breaks.  In fact, I prefer older middle grades (4th and 5th) partly because you don't have to escort the entire class on a restroom break all the time.  It seems like with Pre K-1st, their tiny little bladders require hourly restroom visits.  Then, you have to trek down the hall, maintain silence and order, wait for everyone to go, keep kids from playing in the restroom, get them out quickly, go all the way back to the room, and then resume instruction.

On some days subbing with older students, there appears to be an endless stream of students asking me, "Can I go to the bathroom?  Can I go get a drink of water?"  The first couple of requests, I usually comply. But then I may notice the same kid will get up maybe an hour or two later.  Or a girl will get permission to go, and suddenly everyone has to go.  It gets annoying.  It also doesn't help that many teachers and schools find a million different ways to handle restroom breaks, so there's no real standard to follow.

I've been visiting some teacher boards lately and, just since the beginning of the school year, several topics have arisen about whether restroom breaks are required (atozforums) and how many restroom breaks are normal (proteacher) and so on.  This sparked some lively discussion as teachers shared different philosophies that ranged from absolutely no restroom breaks during instructional time EVER (particularly due to vandalism) to letting students get up and go, without asking, whenever they want.

Generally, I have no set way that I handle restrooms.  I usually let a few kids go, and I deny several requests if I think it's getting excessive.  If enough students ask, I'll take the entire class to the restroom.

Occasionally, with older grades, I'll let one table or group go at a time.  I like doing that because students can keep working and quit asking me to go, since they realize their groups' turn for a break is imminent.  The only problem is that this only works in trustworthy classes.  Some groups will go and linger too long, and I've also had a teacher escort a group of boys back to report that they were all playing in the restroom.

I've seen somewhere that subs can make their own restroom log for their classes.  Just have students sign in and out with the times that they left and leave it for the teacher, who will then see how long students were in the restroom and how frequently they went.  I haven't tried it yet, but I'm seriously considering it.  It would also be helpful to me to see exactly who has already gone and how long ago they did.  I sometimes find myself asking students with uncertainty, "Didn't you just go?"

I mentioned on AtoZ that one classroom method I liked was one I saw in, I believe, sixth-grade at one school.  Because of restroom abuses, teachers in the entire grade printed out small restroom passes marked with 8 or 10 boxes.  Students had to write their names on it and keep up with it each week.  Whenever they needed to go to the restroom or get water during class, all they had to do was give the teacher this pass.  No questions asked.  The teacher hole-punched a box on the pass and let them go.  The catch was, once those boxes have all been punched, there were no more restroom breaks for the student until the following week, when they all get new passes.  So if a kid wanted to get up and go three times in one day, fine, but they've already used nearly half of their breaks for the whole week.  If I recall correctly, students who had unpunched boxes at the end of the week got some small reward.  I think I like that method because it was simple, pretty fair, forced kids to use discretion about their restroom visits and, because the whole grade did it, made it easy to follow for subs to know what to do.

What do you think?

How do you deal with restroom breaks?



  1. I don't sub elementary, so this is about the older grades. A few of the middle school teachers give out detentions for restroom passes. If the student really has to go, then a few minutes after school isn't a big deal. Even some of the students who really have to go think twice before deciding to leave class.

    I subbed for a teacher yesterday who does this. It limited the number of students who asked.

  2. Hi, Liz! Wow! Detentions seem kind of severe, but I think it's more understandable for older grades since they actually have plenty of time between classes to go. And I know how students can abuse the restroom, so whatever works!