As promised last week, today’s question is about bathroom breaks in primary school. The “asker” is not a teacher, but a grandmother who is raising two of her grandchildren. She pulled them out of foster care to raise them herself — so let’s call her SuperGrandma!
After reading your “Why I don’t do behaviour charts” story, I forwarded the link to my grandchildren’s principal along with my opinion of the story on asked whether they were using these in class and if so, they may want to rethink. Coincidentally enough, last night I mentioned open house next week at school and my grandson,7, in 2nd grade, stated that he was not going. (…) I dug a little further and he blurted out that in class they cannot use the restroom unless it is at recess or after school because their teacher says it takes time away from learning. If they need to go during class they must “pull a stick” to red. Trying to give the teacher the benefit of the doubt, I suggested to my grandson that maybe it was his behaviour coupled with having to go. He said it wasn’t and was so upset that he HAD to pull his stick because he was going to go in his pants and he loses 5 minutes of recess for pulling the stick to red. This morning I called the teacher and asked her if it was true. She matter-of-factly told me it was and that it is 2nd grade policy. I am appalled! I bit my tongue, but told her that my grandson actually has medical issues and has signed forms in his file from a doctor, stating he is to go to the restroom every 2 hours whether he needs to or not, and must be allowed to go if he needs to. All she said was, she didn’t know and she would check his file. Does this happen in any other classroom? Are children punished for having to use the restroom? I can understand if there was a consequence for abusing restroom breaks. I am angry, but don’t want to start the school year off on a bad note. I would like to bring this up with the principal, any suggestions? Advice?
So, to recap: the second grade teacher has a system whereby children must “pull a stick” if they need to go to the bathroom during instructional time, and if they pull a stick, they lose 5 minutes of recess. Also, the teacher was less-than-responsive to the possibility of a legitimate medical issue that should allow SuperGrandson to use the bathroom whenever he needs to. As a result of all this, SuperGrandson is already hating school after only a few weeks.
Ok, so let’s just start with the fact that every time I have re-read SuperGrandma’s message, I have felt my blood pressure rise and my heart start to pound. There are so many pieces of this that are upsetting to me, and, while all the pieces are related, I’m going to try and stay calm and address them separately. So, take a deep breath, friends, and lets dive in….
First a preface: all of my points below assume that there are no other behaviour issues relating to the use of the bathroom. I’m thinking here of things like: wandering the halls instead of going straight to and from the restroom, asking for bathroom breaks to avoid classroom activities that may be “boring” or difficult, having “bathroom parties” with other little boys who may be in there (someone PLEASE tell me I am not the only teacher who regularly breaks up this sorts of parties, which usually involve splashing water and squirting soap at one another…?!). That said, on to my thoughts:
1: The use of a behaviour management “system.” You all already know how I feel about this. This particular situation is actually a great illustration of why I think these systems do not serve children well at all. A class-wide system does not allow for the particular needs of this particular child without his medical issue becoming public, possibly embarrassing, knowledge. In a relationship-based classroom, the needs of individual children can be accommodated INDIVIDUALLY, in a way that reinforces an important life lesson: Fair doesn’t mean same.
2: Bathroom use being considered a behaviour issue, and having a consequence. Even without SuperGrandson having a medical issue that affects his toileting needs, second graders are still very young, and many still have pretty short warning periods before they are at risk of having an accident. Even in kindergarten, we can work with children to start being aware of the best times to leave the classroom. (I have been known to ask “Is it an emergency, or can you wait until the end of circle/your friend is back/after the story?”) but a child who reports that it is an emergency should ALWAYS be allowed to go the bathroom when they need to go. This policy is also a little self-serving: I’d really rather not deal with toileting accidents if I can possibly prevent it. I’m surprised that a second grade teacher is willing to risk accidents by being punitive in her approach to bathroom routines.
Illustrative example: when I was in third grade, my teacher had a system where we had to write our names on the board the first time we went to the bathroom each day, and we had to add a checkmark to our times every subsequent time. At the end of the day, she would point out who had been to the bathroom the most times. I have NEVER seen or heard of so many toileting accidents – in THIRD grade.
Bottom line: The system of “pulling a stick” turns normal toileting into a behavioural issue, and that makes me very uncomfortable.
3: Losing recess as a consequence. Ok this probably deserves a blog post of its very own, but I am of the opinion that primary-aged children should generally NOT lose recess time as a consequence for in-class issues (never mind something like toileting, which should not BE an “issue” to begin with.) Recess is not a “treat,” it is an important and valuable part of the school day. Exercise, fresh air, unstructured time with friends are POSITIVE, important, contributors to children’s growth and learning. Taking these things away is likely to make behaviour challenges WORSE, not better. Considering toileting a behaviour issue makes this practice even more questionable to me.
4: Poor response to a legitimate medical concern. If SuperGrandson has a medical concern that requires him to have free access to the restroom, that should immediately trump any classroom system or “second grade policy.” Additionally, any medical issues (especially one that affects something as sensitive as toileting) should be dealt with as discreetly and respectfully as possible. To me, that would mean completely removing toileting from the list of offenses that require “pulling a stick” for ANY of the students. (I would take it one step further, and suggest it would mean dismantling the entire “stick system,” but that may be too much to ask for.)
So, SuperGrandma, my advice is this: first, I would request a face-to-face meeting with the teacher, and ask her to describe the philosophy behind the “system” as well as share the complete list of offenses that require kids to pull a stick. I think that listening to her first will create a more positive environment for both of you. I would then explain SuperGrandson’s medical concerns, and request that toileting not have any negative consequences for him. I don’t know if you will have any success requesting the removal of the behaviour system, but it may be worth asking if the “second grade policy” could exclude toileting for ALL the children. If that meeting is not productive or satisfactory, I would then speak with the principal.
This is a tough one, because there are two “levels” of concern: 1 – looking after SuperGrandson’s specific needs, and 2 – questioning systems and policies that affect ALL of the children in 2nd grade. While I am hopeful that SuperGrandma can address level 1 satisfactorily, I am more cautious about the likelihood of change at level 2.. My best hope is that this conversation, about THIS child, may, at some point, prompt the teacher to re-consider….
Readers – anything I missed? Any light to shed?
SuperGrandma – any updates now that we are several weeks into the school year?
Happy weekend to all!
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