Teacher’s Corner: Can I Go to the Toilet, Please?

Periodically I come across post and articles on social media where schools have punished kids for going to the toilet, especially girls on their period. And while in all the cases I came across outrage is more than warranted, there are always people who think that all rules about bathroom visits are bad, and surely, if you look at it from the outside, this seems reasonable. After al, we all have to pee and we rightfully class it as a human rights abuse if people are denied sanitary breaks. So why do schools still need at least some rules?

The first and major issue is safety. When you send your kids to school, you expect them to be safe there. You would object if we let strangers into the school yard and talk to your kids, or let them just run out into traffic. That’s why some of us always spend our breaks in the school yard, supervising breaks. If a kid leaves during lessons, we cannot guarantee safety. I once posted about a kid who went to the toilet and came back with dog shit on his shoes. That kid had definitely left the school premises. And even a simple accident could go unnoticed for quite a while. If there’s something all teachers dread it’s a kid getting hurt and then you having to justify yourself as to why this could happen on your watch.

The second one is that it simply disrupts class. Even very quiet systems where kids just get up, pick up the “toilet pass” and leave, create noise and disturbances. Doors are opened and closed. the kid misses part of the lesson and then comes back and needs to ask others or can no longer follow your explanation because they missed the start.

Number three is linked with number one: vandalism. It’s not unusual that toilets get damaged, walls get smeared, stalls get flooded, it’s a huge mess, somebody has to clean it, somebody has to pay, and the culprit is never found. Everybody suffers. Including the idiot who damaged the toilets.

In the end, it’s also not unreasonable to ask kids above primary school to use the breaks. Exceptions can and will always be made (nobody here will ever deny a bathroom break. But if it happens too often we’ll ask your parents to take you to a doctor), but in the end, 45 minutes is not that long a time. They manage to play video games 4 hours straight, travel for an hour or more, and of course they can hold it for an entire lesson plus the entire break, just to ask you the very moment you start teaching.



  1. robert79 says

    Elementary school teachers generally have done their job so well that I get adults (okay… 18-21 yo, legally they are, in practice I’m not so sure, especially if you still have to ask for a bathroom pass!) asking if they may go to the bathroom during exercise sessions (or during the coffee break between lectures…)

    I don’t know how you do it, it’s really impressive!

  2. says

    From experience, the break times are 5 minutes or less, and when you need all five minutes to get to the other side of campus, there’s no time to stop off at the toilets, and that’s just if you need to pee! If you need to do something more time-consuming, you’re completely screwed.

  3. ionopachys says

    I had summer school and then had to change high-schools because of irritable bowels. It’s not fun having to jump up and run out of the class without time to ask permission, and maybe still fouling oneself anyway, and then getting in trouble for it.

  4. says

    WMD Kitty

    From experience, the break times are 5 minutes or less, and when you need all five minutes to get to the other side of campus,

    We have 2 twenty minutes breaks every hour and half, and 5 minutes between two lessons, and in Germany teachers change the room, kids don’t. Yet mysteriously kids return from the 20 minutes and then need to go… They also return from break and start unpacking their breakfast and think it’s unreasonable for us to tell them to put it away because they’re hungry, now, can you believe that?


    I had summer school and then had to change high-schools because of irritable bowels. It’s not fun having to jump up and run out of the class without time to ask permission, and maybe still fouling oneself anyway, and then getting in trouble for it.

    You see, this is where communication between teachers and parents is necessary. For many reasons a student jumping up and running out makes our alarm clocks go off. I had a student attempt suicide just last week! I therefore cannot ignore a student just jumping up and running out. It means I need to run behind the student, yell at a colleague to watch my class, and find the kid. Now that’s two classes whose lessons didn’t take place and two teachers totally out of their minds. But of course I do have students with medical needs that their parents told us of who then get the appropriate accommodations.
    Though, from what I hear, American schools tend to be extra cruel towards kids in this area.

    BTW, a particular student’s bathroom breaks have become significantly shorter (just 5 minutes) now that his girlfriend is forbidden to use the toilet next to the boys’ toilet (for some reason our school has two toilets for girls and one for boys). That’s another thing: if the girl becomes pregnant while she should have been under our guard, me and the other teacher would have to pay child support…

  5. ionopachys says

    This wasn’t a case of poor communication. My mother explained and then complained repeatedly. Of course the first time it happened it was absolutely reasonable for the teacher to be upset (even though I was nerdy and quiet and never caused trouble in any other way). The problem is IBS is a catch-all diagnosis that basically means “yeah, his guts don’t work right, but we can’t find any physical reason.” After lots of unpleasant tests, since the doctors couldn’t actually see anything wrong, the school decided I was just a problem. The second school was much more patient. Many school administration simply do not want to deal with students whose needs might create more work, so they just punish the kids and their families for being trouble makers. Of course, being starved of money makes it hard for the schools to accommodate “special needs” students.

  6. Ice Swimmer says

    When I was in comprehensive school (in 1980s), we had 45 minute lessons and 15 minute breaks and a 30-minute lunch break. I mostly didn’t care about the rule using the bathroom during breaks and not during lessons, especially after having peed my pants when trying to heed the rule. I was just way too preoccupied with other things to think about going to the loo unless I felt the need. Still, I think the rules are justified if they are enforced reasonably.

    Leaving the school premises was forbidden, of course, because of the reasons Giliell gave (I’m not disagreeing with her). I’m not sure what would happen in USA, UK or Germany now, if kids there broke that rule with the abandon we did back then (starting around 4th grade, by playing/wandering in the woods). In grades 7-9, most smokers left the premises each break to smoke just outside fence, which was mostly openly tolerated (I think teachers raided the smoking spot once during the 3 years and handed out sanctions). I didn’t smoke regularly, but often went along with my classmates to the local supermarket, playing the arcades games, sometimes the gambling slot machines (while being underage for that, but nobody seemed to care then). The supermarket had a cafe in which school kids would smoke and have coffee and pastries, but I think they would only have sold cigarettes to the ones who looked somehow of age (not that anybody tried, they charged extra for cigarettes in cafes and bars, AFAIR).

    I’m not telling this to brag or to be nostalgic or to justify breaking the rules. I’m telling how it was and I’m interested in hearing how it was or is elsewhere. The schools then did have rules which were enforced, and there was no anarchy all the time. Now, 30-40 years after my school years, you can’t smoke in a cafe in Finland (yay) anymore, age limits on gambling are actually enforced (I think they’re introducing or introduced a mandatory electronic ID system for gambling) (yay, I guess) and fewer kids smoke (yay). Whether kids still slip out of school premises here, I don’t know.

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