Friday, October 28, 2005

Bathroom Breaks

A few weeks ago I was sitting in my classroom doing some paperwork when I overheard a conversation in the hallway between a teacher and a third grade student. The teacher was chastising the child for asking to go to the bathroom soon after the class had had a bathroom break. She told him that THIS time she would let him go, but that from now on he was to make sure he went when the class took their scheduled bathroom break because the next time he asked to go to the bathroom at a time other than the designated bathroom time, the answer would be "no." Her voice was impatient and demeaning. I was appalled. Do teachers still have such insensitive and ignorant rules?

Rewind the clock to over 45 years ago when I was in the third grade. Mrs. Giles was my teacher. We were taking turns going up to her desk and reciting our multiplication tables. I raised my hand and asked to go to the bathroom. Mrs. Giles told me no. Soon it was my turn to come up to her desk to recite my multiplication tables. Standing there nervously, squeezing my legs together, trying to recite my math but with my mind on my bladder that felt like it was about to burst, I could hold it no longer. I peed all over the floor. Mrs. Giles didn't notice. I finished my multiplication tables and went back to my seat - humiliated and terrified of being found out. Another child came up to do the multiplication, and pointed out the puddle on the floor. Giggles filled the air. Mrs. Giles asked for the "guilty party" to raise his/her hand and admit to wetting the floor. I continued doing my schoolwork. Then she gave the class a sanctimonious lecture about going to the bathroom at appointed times so that accidents wouldn't happen. I remained quiet. There was no doubt that Mrs. Giles knew who had peed on the floor. It isn't something you can hide easily -- although it those days, girls wore dresses every day. So it wasn't as obvious as it would have been if I'd been wearing slacks. I guess I could at least commend her on not publicly pointing out who the culprit was. She let it go. Recess came soon afterwards. I ran outside and huddled behind some shrubbery -- embarrassed, but also furious. I had TOLD her I had to go. I was a good student - well behaved and respectful. Unless I was in an urgent situation, I would have waited till the next scheduled bathroom break. The situation should never have happened.

All these years later, I still recall the details of that day - what the classroom and Mrs. Giles desk looked like, what the lesson was at the time, the bushes where I hid out during recess, and the awful embarrassment I felt. When I became a teacher. I swore that I would never allow such a thing to happen to any of my students. Each year on the first day of school, I discussed our class bathroom guidelines with them, and they knew the procedures to follow, and they also knew that if they ever had an "urgent" situation, they just had to let me know where they were going and head out to the bathroom. I was a classroom teacher for 25 years -- and while I'm sure there are children who occasionally took an unnecessary trip to the bathroom, no child ever abused that plan.

As I listened to the teacher in the hall a few weeks ago, I felt bad for the child. I wondered if that humiliating experience would be something he'd still remember 45 years from now. Everyone has experienced times when, despite taking care of such things at the appropriate times, they have to go to the bathroom during meetings, during a class, or at other inconvenient times. I admit that I don't know any other details other than the overheard conversation. However, it is a conversation that should never have taken place.


Anonymous said...

Having had a very similar experience in the 2nd grade, I can relate.

Still remember every detail and the extreme humiliation.

I'm not a school teacher, but I understand the need for teachers to have control in their classrooms - but I don't understand the need to be this controling.

Jane said...

Carol, I heard recently of a teacher who told a student (high school) that if she asked to go to the bathroom again she would get detention!! I find this to be totally reprehensible. I understand having regular bathroom breaks. But sometimes there are situations where students are sick or, in the case of middle school and high school girls, may be on the verge of a very embarassing accident. What happened to using common sense to deal with situations. I am glad that you handle this with some understanding.