What Should My Bathroom Pass Policy Be as a High School Teacher?

Bathroom Pass Philosophy

To pee or not to pee — that is the question. Bathroom pass philosophy runs deep and divides. Should you monitor and micromanage that magical pass? Or should students self-regulate by the time they reach high school? The answer is the same as many of life’s questions — it depends.

Perhaps because teachers don’t get to use the bathroom whenever they want or need to they feel it’s necessary to pass on that pain to their students. Or maybe teachers do not want students — oftentimes the struggling ones  — to miss one minute of the lesson. Maybe, just maybe, they don’t believe that all the students who ask really have to use the bathroom (gasp). Could it be that teachers, who often have very little control over so many parts of their job, hold onto the last bastion of their fiefdom, the ubiquitous bathroom pass?

I’m guessing all of the above.

Every teacher must decide what their bathroom policy will be at the beginning of the school year and indoctrinate their students. This may seem like an inconsequential aspect of teaching, what with all the big stuff we need to decide and mange. It is, however, an integral part of who you are as a teacher. 

A Few Bathroom Pass Teacher Personalities

Wendy Whiner has a Bathroom Log that includes time in and time out. She carefully studies the comings and goings, calculates average time and conferences with students who are a standard deviation from the norm. “Why did you take 6 ½ minutes when the average student only needs the pass for 5 minutes? You’re not respecting my classroom rules. What other rules don’t you follow? This habit can affect your future and maybe ruin your life.”

Military Mike almost never lets anyone out of the class. He is making a statement, making it clear who is in charge. So you have to go to the bathroom really, really badly? Life’s tough, get a helmet. “When I was a student there were no bathrooms in school, only outhouses. And you had to walk 5 miles uphill each way to get to them. So grow a pair.”

Soft Suzy is afraid to say no. She might offend someone, so it’s better to always say yes. “What if June has a urinary tract issue? Maybe Jose really does have to go to the bathroom every day exactly when it’s time to answer the hard question. And Michelle would NEVER take the pass just to do a few laps around the halls; she’s so sweet!”

bathroom pass

So what is your bathroom pass personality?

First and foremost you have to follow your school’s policies — or at least appear to (shhh). Our school has a mandate that there is no bathroom pass the first and last ten minutes of class, each student pass sign out in a bathroom log (hence the photo in this article) and they must carry the teacher’s official pass. For a 45 minute class that is basically half the class that the pass is not available. Why did they institute this rule? Why are you asking me — I just work here! Seriously, I’m sure there’s a very good reason.

So follow your school rules. And if you do break them do it with the upmost of ignorance. “Oh, it wasn’t ten minutes yet and I allowed Jaden to use the pass? I’m sooo sorry; it will never happen again!” (Note to my administration if you’re reading this: I, personally have never, ever done this. And I’m not giving this advice to any teacher at our school!)

As a veteran teacher this is my philosophy: 

  1. In a very short time after the start of the school year I know my students. 
  2. The bathroom pass is not where I want to wage my battles.
  3. There are students that I know are not using the bathroom — they’re just taking a lap around the floor or peaking in other classrooms. I’m okay with that for several reasons. One, ADHD kids need to move, and if a quick lap lets them release and come back to do some work, great. Others are complete pain-in-the-a*# students who continually disrupt the class. I am happy to allow them and the rest of the class a break.
  4. Teenage girls really do suffer 25% of the month. They often have sudden-onset of their menstrual cycle, or are just miserable and need to stretch. 
  5. Unless a student proves themselves to be someone who completely abuses the pass I let them go. Every time.

I have been a bit cavalier and flippant so far in this article about bathroom pass policies. Let’s do a reality check. It really depends on where you teach. A teacher in a suburban school district vs. one in an inner-city urban school may have very different policies and for good reason. 

Actually, I want to take that back. Kids everywhere have commonalities. Some students, for a plethora of reasons, need a brief break from the classroom. Give it to them. What’s the harm? Students will really appreciate a liberal bathroom pass policy. Those who abuse the policy will know it and understand when you conference with them and explain that they have lost pass privileges in your class for a prescribed amount of time.

I believe that high school students should be given autonomy as much as possible. There’s a reason “they” say that 30 is the new 21. Helicopter parents and micromanaging high schools are part of the problem. Self-regulation is a necessary transition into adulthood. These small steps to independence allows young adults to make decisions and to reflect on bad decisions when applicable.

I want to add that, although I’m a “softie” when it comes to the pass, students are held accountable for completing their classwork and cannot use their time out of the room as an excuse.

Tips for managing the pass

I HATE this scenario: the class is having a discussion and someone raises their hand. I call on them, hoping for an analytical, awesome comment, only to hear, “Can I go to the bathroom?”

So in the first week of class I train students to give a hand signal. The sign language symbol for bathroom is the forefinger and the middle finger crossed or making a fist and placing your thumb through your middle and forefingers. You can use whatever you like, but I think that’s kind of cool. I simply give them the signal back if it’s okay for them to take the pass and leave.

I find that teachers feel very strongly about their bathroom pass rules and procedures. In some ways it is a microcosm of who they are as teachers. It is also one of the last bastions of control for many teachers. I don’t know about you, but I am micromanaged in most facets of my job and it gets worse every year. There are school wide bathroom rules, but in my class I still have some latitude to employ my judgement.

You should think about this topic concretely and  philosophically. Wherever you fall on the spectrum please communicate clearly to your students so that they know where you are coming from and what is expected of them.

Classroom management is all about the details. You SHOULD sweat the little stuff; it matters. You pass policy is an integral part of the classroom environment. If you want to read about other classroom management techniques check out this post.

Enjoy – your job, your students & your life!

Teach and Thrive

A Bronx, NY veteran high school social studies teacher who has learned most of what she has learned through trial and error and error and error.... and wants to save others that pain.

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