The bathroom is one of the few places in school that often is unsupervised. As a result, the bathroom is a frequent site of behavior problems. Those can range from writing on the wall to plugging up a toilet with paper towels to festooning a bathroom stall with toilet paper. The bathroom also can be the site of such social problems as students harassing one another. Then, of course, there are the dawdlers -- those students who hang out in the bathroom to avoid going back to class.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Review bathroom policies with your students. At the beginning of the school year, make clear your rules for using the bathroom, and then review them as needed throughout the year. Those rules might describe when students can go to the bathroom, how many can go to the bathroom at one time, whether they need permission to leave the class, and so on. Make sure they understand that writing on the walls or damaging property in any way is unacceptable.
If necessary, teach students how to use the bathroom. Young elementary students might need some guidance in this area. You might have to take them to the bathroom and show them such basic practices as flushing the toilet (once!) after using it; placing toilet paper in the toilet and paper towels in the trash; and washing their hands. Also show them how to use the locks on the stall doors.
Have students sign out when they go to the bathroom. Monitor students' whereabouts by having each student write his name, destination, and times of departure and return in a sign-out book or on a 3 x 5 card. A simpler method, but one that does not provide a permanent record, is to have each student put his name in a designated area of the chalkboard or on a wipe-off board near the door, and then erase his name when he returns to the classroom.
Monitor bathroom use. If students do use a sign-out book or 3 x 5 cards to record trips to the bathroom, you can review those records to see if any students are leaving the room excessively. Let the class know that you will look at those records often to determine who might be abusing the bathroom privilege, that you will call their parents to discuss this concern, if necessary.
Contact a student's parents if he uses the bathroom excessively. Ask the parent(s) if his frequent use of the restroom is caused by a physical problem. If they don't know of one, but have noticed a similar pattern at home, you might suggest that they talk with their child's pediatrician.
Require students to carry a hall pass when they leave the room. A hall pass will save you the trouble of writing a pass each time a student needs to go to the bathroom. You might create the pass out of a block of wood -- at least the size of an eraser. (Consider asking the school's custodian to make one for you.) Limit the number of passes to two -- one for the boys and one for the girls. That way, you can control the number of students who are out of the classroom at any one time and lessen the likelihood they will dawdle. Tell students they should see you if the pass is being used and they have a genuine bathroom emergency.
Check the bathroom periodically. Because leaving your classroom to monitor students' bathroom use will be difficult, ask an aide, parent volunteer or responsible student to check on a student who seems to be taking an unusually long time in the bathroom.
Encourage students to tell you about problems in the bathroom. If the problem involves a classmate, you might need to problem-solve with the complaining student or get the two students together to resolve the conflict. Of course, if a student is being harassed by a classmate, that calls for your direct intervention.
Have students clean up any messes they make. If a student causes a mess in the bathroom -- and you are sure he was the one who you did it -- have the student help clean it up. If the custodian has already cleaned up, have the student help clean up the bathroom at another time. Notify his parents of that disciplinary measure.