I went through about 20 different ways of dealing with bathroom passes, so I wanted to sumamrize for myself (and anyone else fascinated by such things) all the things that worked and didn't work.
I seriously thought about using Fred Jones advice at the beginning of the year, which can be summarized as "If a 7-year-old can go the night without wetting himself, a high school teenager can wait 50 minutes. Don't let them go without a doctor's note." I agree that they CAN wait, but I feel weird about controlling people's bodily functions to that level. It doesn't seem right, and after all there ARE emergencies. I don't think a young adult should have to beg for a simple bathroom visit - it seems so condescending. So I tried many other things:
1) Decided to give each kid 3 bathroom passes, but didn't hand them out at the beginning of the year. Instead I would write them out on the school hall passes and then collect them back.
Benefits: Didn't require any organization beforehand.
Drawbacks: I would lose them. The kids would lose them. The kids would throw them away on the way back so I couldn't collect them. I collected a huge pile before buying an index card box to put them in. I then proceeded to stuff more in the index card box and never organized them. After kids got their 12th pass in 5 weeks, some of them (why not all????) caught on to the fact that I wasn't keeping track of them. Writing them out wasted time during class and annoyed me. The lack of organization drove me insane and I allowed myself to stress over it.
2) I borrowed a pyramid model from another class (copying something I had seen in another classroom) and taped a green pass inside it. I told the kids that if the outline of my PPT was green, they could quietly take it and leave, but if it was red, they had to stay in their seats.
Benefits: I stopped all my paperwork. The kids did REALLY good at not asking me when the board was red, in general.
Drawbacks: The kids still insisted on asking me when the board was green, so I was still monitoring who got to go in what order. Then some kid broke the corners off my pyramid pass. Then another kid stole it (probably threw it away). Also, if I didn't prepare my PPT ahead of time I didn't have red or green boards up, and that confused them.
3) That annoyed me so I stopped letting them go to the bathroom for the next week (an immature response, I admit).
Over Fall Break I thought a lot about my procedures, and wrote a very late Plan for Success (syllabus):
4) I told them at the beginning of the second quarter that if they had an emergency that was worth leaving the classroom, it was worth coming in for 15 minutes of tutoring. I also told them, to make them think before they asked, that if they asked I would automatically put the 15 minutes up on the board.
Benefits: They asked less.
Drawbacks: They asked all the time, including in the middle of mini-lectures or notes. They had no incentive to come back quickly. I also suspect that they tried to "get their 15 minutes worth" by wandering more than usual (this may not be true). They also quickly forgot that asking=tutoring, so they would ask, then go when it wasn't an emergency.
5) Without telling them I started asking "Are you sure? You know its 15 minutes of tutoring if you leave." every time they asked. I'd also say "After you start working" and "in a few minutes" and "No! Ask during groupwork, not while we're taking notes."
Benefits: Bathroom visits went down.
Drawbacks: I'm sick of nagging.
*) Side issue #1: Our lunch is staggered because we have a closed campus, so my fifth period algebra class is at the same time as fifth lunch. That means that the kids like to ditch and take a double lunch with their friends - or, to "go to the bathroom" and come back half an hour later. We were told at the beginning of the year not to let 5th hour go to the bathroom at all because they just had lunch, but I didn't feel like saying that so I gave them the same rules. It was a disaster! The same four kids asked to go every day, and I distracted them as much as possible but it didn't seem to make a difference. At the end of the semester I lost my temper and said "Too many people are ditching. No going without a doctor or parent note." This stopped the ditching, but caused quite a lot of bad will with that class. On my end-of-seemster evaluation form, a lot of them said "We can't go to the bathroom" as one of their main grievances. And like I said earlier, I just don't feel right being that controlling.
*) Side issue #2: A girl in one of my classes told me that she has a medical problem that requires frequent visits. I believed her (and still believe her) so I've been letting her go more often, and I told her that she wouldn't need to come in for the mandatory tutoring. Result: she took advantage of that and "went to the bathroom" all the time. Its during my 5th period, so I started hearing reports that she was walking around the lunch area with her friends. When I changed to the "no visits without a parent/doctor note" I told her that applied to her as well, and the note never appeared and the need-for-bathroom-visits stopped.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
So I've been weighing the following suggestions and problems:
1) They go too often, just to get out of class or move around.
2) They go for too long - it ends up being a ditch and they wander around campus or the cafeteria with their friends.
3) They get mad when I don't let them go - and frankly I sympathize with them.
4) They ask for bathroom passes as rewards.
5) I'm worried they'll copy the passes and then use them every day with the "But you said we could..." line.
6) I'm worried they'll steal the passes from each other.
7) I don't want to be over controlling.
8) I don't want them missing important information and then falling behind when they wander back into class.
9) I don't want them interrupting notes or mini-lecture to ask, such as when I ask "Questions about that problem?" and they raise their hands and ask to leave.
10) I'm tired of paperwork, tired of nagging, tired of having to repeat myself because they stayed out for 30 minutes, and tired of wasting time and energy and class time dealing with this issue.
11) Keeping track of who did their mandatory detention is a pain in the butt.
So here's the policy I'm going to try next semester:
1) At the beginning of each quarter you get two bathroom passes. (I will sometimes give out bathroom passes as rewards for winning review games or good behavior.) Write your name IN INK on them right away and keep them in your folder or backpack:
2) You may use them during groupwork only. Get your pass out and have it ready when you ask and I'll take it and tear it up. Then quietly take the pass hanging on the wall and go. I will keep track of how long you take so be quick.
3) If you've run out of passes, you must put your name on the board for 15 minutes tutoring if you need to go again - so save them and use. If you bring a parent/doctor/nurse note you don't need to do this. For fifth hour, after you use your two passes you MUST get a parent/doctor/nurse note to go again.
To enforce this I'm doing the following:
a) I'm copying the passes on bright neon paper I got from our VP, so they'll be harder to lose. They have my turtle so they know its for my class, and in the box on the bottom right-hand corner I'm going to initial each copy in red ink so they can't be photocopied (these kids usually don't cheat on that level, but I'd rather head off possible problems)
b) I'm going to redo my seating chart I carry around on my clipboard so I have space to note down the time they leave and come back, and if I see a pattern of long visits I will deal with it on an individual basis.
c) I would prefer something easier to recognize than "during groupwork" but I'm just not organized enough yet. I often change things in the middle of class so I can't rely on my pre-prepared PPT with red and green backgrounds, and often I'm just too tired to make a good PPT lately. I also tried music to signal grouptime but I'm not organized enough yet. Its been a big struggle to admit that I CAN'T do everything this first year, so I'm going to force myself to admit that I can't, and tell them "during groupwork."
d) I'm going to redo my detention/mandatory tutoring bookkeeping, because I've been letting them slip A LOT, so that the ones that get filled only happen because they are mature kids that come in on their own. Right now I'm just losing their respect (and my own!) for having policies I don't enforce.
e) I'm going to try and schedule times to get up and stretch so they have other ways to get our their wriggles. (Right now I've gone to a don't-get-up policy which isn't reasonable)
f) I bought a bathroom plastic logo from OfficeMax, and I'm going to tape a green school hall pass to the back and hang it by my desk in the front of my room, instead of the back (so it won't be as easily stolen). Its also not as expensive to replace if/when it gets lost, stolen, or broken.
g) In fifth hour, if they really have an emergency after using the two passes, I'll discuss it with them in the hall and then let them go in exchange for 15 minutes tutoring.
We'll see in a couple of months how this goes...