Are Teachers allowed to go to the Bathroom?

So usually I focus on creative teaching strategies and projects here on my site. But over and over I hear teachers joking about how they never have a chance to go to the bathroom. And it bugs me that so many of us feel that is true. Do new teachers really have to get nervous about this as August approaches? Do returning teachers need to put their water bottles into retirement when they start decorating their classrooms?

It seems a bit absurd. 

How are we supposed to be our best creative selves in our classrooms if we can't even go to the bathroom on a busy day? 

Thus, this post. 

When I was a new teacher, I once spent a weekend in Carlsbad, CA by myself. I drove down with the dream of taking a surf lesson and seeing the beautiful flower fields I had heard about. Six a.m. found me walking down a sandy strip in search of my surf instructor. But he never showed up, so I ended up lying around on the beach all morning. Yes, I was reading. Of course. And I guess I just got too comfortable, because I fell asleep as the sun reached its peak.

Teaching the next day was insufferable. Did I mention I'm a redhead and sunburn easily? At one point, I simply had to go put some lotion on my back in the middle of a lesson or die trying.

So I did. My students continued working while I ducked out for three minutes. 

I don't think they even noticed. You see, it wasn't the first time I had disappeared for a few moments. I had already made my peace with the question this post poses. Of COURSE teachers are allowed to go the bathroom. 

Enough is enough, peeps. EVERYONE is allowed to go the bathroom. It's a basic human right. 

If my answer wasn’t yes, I probably would never have been able to be a teacher. Growing up, I was diagnosed in fifth grade with a genetic digestive disorder. My stomach is “easily upset.” Though I’m much better now, there was a while there when about sixty percent of food would make me feel sick. Stress made it worse. Worrying that stress might make it worse made it worse. 

Rrgh. Not ideal.

At the same time I was getting all that worked out, I was also realizing how much I loved teaching and coaching. But could I do those things with the stomach my genes had given me?

When I first began teaching my solution was not to eat before practice, class, extra help, faculty meetings, etc. Boy was I wiped out at the end of a fifteen hour day when I hadn't had anything to eat since toast at breakfast time. 

That couldn't last. So I got real, and so can you. When I have to go, I just leave. And so can you. 

Yep. I can’t pretend I haven’t left my students in the middle of quizzes, movies, group work, writing workshop, play practice, tennis practice, and more so that I could go to the bathroom.

In almost a decade not one has ever said they thought my need to go the bathroom was inappropriate. Not one parent or administrator has ever mentioned it to me.  Not once has it led to any major misbehavior or chaos in my classroom.

So let’s put this issue behind us as teachers. It’s OK to go the bathroom.

Wondering what exactly to do when you need to go? Chances are, once you realize it's OK, you'll devise your own easy commentary. But just in case, here's some of mine...

If students are mid-way into their work, chances are they will barely notice your absence. Simply say “I have to step out for a moment, just continue what you’re doing and I’ll be right back.”

If you’re in the middle of a lecture, think of a brief breakout session students could do. Perhaps “Turn to a partner and write down three questions about what we’ve covered so far. I’ll be right back.”

If students are just arriving for class, have them take out journals or independent reading books and get started without you. If you’re really worried about their behavior, say you’ll be back in five minutes and everyone who is quietly working will get bonus points for the day.

It's really not very tricky once you get started. Acknowledging your own humanity is not just healthy for you, it's good for your students too. 

So while we are on this potentially awkward subject, let’s talk about it from the student’s point of view too. For me as a student, bathroom policies in school were not only ridiculous, they were truly hurtful. I had one teacher who asked us to carry a giant rock to and from the bathroom. There was no way I could do this when I was feeling sick. 

Do students ever go to the bathroom just to take a break from class? Sure. But do we really need to make such a big deal out of it? Plenty of students just need to go, and they can’t fit it into their day – kind of like us, as teachers. Let them know on the first day that you might have to step out sometimes to use the bathroom, and you know they might have to too, and you hope it doesn’t have to turn into a big deal.

Bottom line, we're all human. And we might as well be real so we can eliminate a pointless worry from our day and focus on ROCKING it as creative educators. 

Speaking of ROCKING it, if you're looking for an amazing community of creative teachers to share your journey with, hurry over and join our Facebook group "Creative High School English." 

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