Behaviour mangement: Bathroom breaks, stop your students taking the pee

Weekly updates from Tom Bennett with advice and tips on behaviour and classroom management

I have a rule that some teachers think is a bit harsh: I don’t, in general, allow my kids to go the bathroom. Obviously there are some exceptions: if they look like their eyeballs are swimming inside a goldfish bowl, for instance, then I might crack and allow it. Similarly, I will be more lenient if they have a medical condition or a note from their mum that explains they wear incontinence pantaloons (the kid, not the mum). In other words, if I know something that makes a bathroom break more than simply a matter of expediency, I will permit it. Otherwise I am a stony statue of a man, refusing all such requests like Caligula. Why? Because 99 per cent of the time, they don’t really need to go to the bathroom. As every teacher knows, pupils usually want to use that time to take five, stretch their legs and dodge work. They also - and I have witnessed this - plan to meet up with colleagues in other classes by synchronising their pee breaks. Can you imagine? That actually takes a degree of ingenuity and chutzpah that I’m not sure I don’t find charming. You can see now how people broke out of Alcatraz.

It seems harsh at first, but by doing this, you train the kids into taking bathroom breaks at a time that is convenient to the running of a school, not the running of their busy social lives. You know how kids run into lessons after breaks, and lunch, and the first thing some of them say is ‘Can I go to the bathroom?’ That is them basically saying ‘I would like an exra five minutes of break please; I needed the rest of it to call my broker, set up some deals, and generally structure my weekend. Now I have to pee, and clearly your lesson is the least of my concerns. So?’ Brothers and sisters, you know what my answer will be to that.

It also discourages escapes. As I mentioned, it is an attempt to appeal to your better nature, the part of you that understands that rules are imperfect and occasionally accept exceptions. This is the part you need to quash a little. Water flows along the path of least resistance. You owe it to them to offer them a little more than the least. Put up a fight to kids trying to leave your lessons.

That said, this is all dependent on the school having a system of fair access to the bathroom. I know it sounds odd, but I have encountered schools that literally only let students go to the bathroom at lunch time. This seems bizarre and draconian. I know of no man who can hold on throughout the whole day, excpet that he have a bladder made of iron. If you’re in one of those odd institutions, then you’ll have to work something else out.

Otherwise, stand firm. Trust me, almost always, they don’t really need the bathroom. So you don’t need to let them.



Tom Bennett is the TES adviser on behaviour and a teacher at Raines Foundation, an inner city state schoolin Tower Hamlets. He regularly supports teachers on TES through our behaviour forum and monthly newsletterson behaviour. Read more from Tom on our behaviour forum or on his blog or Twitter

His latest book, Teacher, is out now, published by Continuum/ Bloomsbury


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