Friday, November 12, 2010

The Tale of the Cursed Commode

Back in the late 1800’s, when Lincoln was President, I was in second grade, and you youngsters were just a glimmer in the milkman’s eye, a girl sitting in front of me in Ms. Redding’s class raised her hand to go to the bathroom.
She was refused.
So the girl raised her hand again, and again, craning it skyward with increasing alarm, waving it all the more frantically, but was always refused by the teacher, who grew more irritated. The girl began to whimper, then to cry, and the teacher started to yell at her for disturbing the lecture.
And so it came to pass, as the whole first-grade class looked on, that the girl suddenly stood up in shame, revealing upon her thankfully-concave plastic chair a puddle of fresh, steaming urine of surprising volume. The girl stood there crying, her hands aquiver, her gingham dress besodden at the rump, and the image indelibly seared into the mind’s eye of every one of us.
Ms. Redding, shocked, dismayed, and apparently ashamed of her own stubbornness, excused the girl from the class. Upon the student’s damp and humiliated return, the two of them mopped up the urine with those starchy brown paper towels so common to industrial settings. It was a touching scene of true teamwork, brimming with pathos, as the rest of the class stared in silent discomfort. The girl was assigned some clothes from the emergency hand-me-down bin of clothing, probably scarred for life.
The girl had held out for as long as she could, raising her hand politely, following class protocol diligently, her youthful sphincter performing with valor up until the sudden, dreaded gusher. I felt so sorry for her, amazed that she hadn’t just left without permission to evacuate the steaming whiz somewhere more appropriate.
Nowadays, while my students rarely pee all over themselves (except at parties) they still do need to use the facilities. However, they don’t raise their hand, since we’re in college, and that’s usually considered unnecessary in adult populations. They just get up and walk out, usually letting the door slam, and off they go, somewhere in the building, maybe (but probably NOT) to the bathroom, returning at slothful leisure to let the door slam again—all right in the middle of my lecture. Multiply one of these ventures times six or seven students per class session, sometimes with multiple exits per student, and it becomes VERY, VERY annoying.
On the rare, rare occasion when freshmen raise their hand to ask me if they can use the bathroom, I am filled with glowing appreciation for their quaint and anachronistic politeness. They must have been home schooled, or maybe they went to Catholic school before college, but they sure didn't learn to be polite in our public school system. I sincerely salute them and the covered wagon they probably rode in on.
It seems to me that I sit in on quite a few meetings with quite a few colleagues. How many times do we teachers and staff have to get up to use the toilet in a 75-minute meeting? Approximately ZERO. If we can do it, why can’t the students? Is it something about being a teacher that allows us to repress things, including urine?
The decorum at our meetings is laudable. We always raise our hands to speak. We don’t usually have side conversations. The room is quiet, even with 200 of us in it. And we don’t get up for a journey to the restroom pretty much EVER.
So I have found myself giving my Peepee Lecture to a group of ostensible adults.
I loathe having to do this, though deep down I find it oddly mirthful, surreal, and a testimony to just how pathetic our society and students have become. I remind them of what should be obvious, but apparently isn’t: The best time to use the bathroom is BEFORE or AFTER class, not DURING class. Yes, if you have explosive diarrhea from eating your mother’s cooking, then I understand. Yes, if you have a bladder infection from screwing that dirty skateboarder in the back of your 1991 Buick Skylark behind the abandoned bowling alley, I can make an exception. But the rest of you, please, please show some maturity and plan ahead.
My question to you is this: How do you deal with repeated trips by your students to the (supposed) restroom? Short of installing an illegal, Chuck Berry-like surveillance system in the bathroom, we can’t prove that they actually have to use the bathroom, or even visit it during their absence.
When I feel that students are scamming me, lying to me, I get angry. When they arrive to class two minutes early, put their pack down, then vanish for 20 minutes, showing up late because they were “going to the bathroom,” I get angry. When they make a habit of “going to the bathroom” three times in 75 minutes, I get angry. When I give them this lecture, then they interrupt the class with a trip to the "bathroom" anyway--as they did yesterday--I get angry.
In fact, after a whole semester of this sort of needless, rude disruption in all of my classes, I get downright pissed.
Yes, I said it. I just had to!


  1. Teach online. Then they actually attend class while sitting on the shitter - with a bottle of beer in the hand that isn't holding the laptop on their knee.

  2. My department--and I'm not kidding about this--forbade all bathroom trips during exams without a doctor's note. I know exams aren't the same as classes, but it was a necessary step, and it basically worked. When students were allowed to use the potty, I'm told, the restrooms were like libraries, packed with textbooks and notes and whatnot. It's very easy to cheat when all of the surveillance is happening in a different room. So this policy came about because of cheating concerns, not because of politeness, but it's been in place for some time now.

    I've proctored three-hour exams in which students were told, well in advance, that leaving the room means turning in your exam for good. And, in a 300-person class, there really weren't any problems. No one was scarred, and no one urinated in the seats. Everyone just planned ahead. And the one student who'd had bladder surgery and legitimately needed to pee every hour gave me a note, and he was accommodated. (Granted, they still found plenty of ways to cheat within the room, but that's a different story.)

    Then again, an exam is a three- or four-times-a-semester occurrence. Getting them to do this every day during your lectures might be difficult.

  3. We have a mandate to lock our doors after the first 5 minutes of class. Supposedly this is to protect us from a shooter (unless yours is the unlucky class that has the little hoo hoo), but it also helps with lateness and bathroom breaks. Someone has to let the little darlings in or back in, and it ain't going to be me. It makes them think twice about going out because it's an inconvenience to have someone let them back. If they try propping the door open, we can cite policy.

  4. Except for exams, I'm OK with comings and goings as long as they are performed in a slinking, utterly abashed manner, with no noise at all.

  5. I'm going to do a rare stand-up for the students.

    Sometimes, when I'm in a meeting/class/conference panel, I leave in the middle. I pretend it is a bathroom break. But often it's because I'm tired, I have to walk around the building to stay awake.

    I was working full time and taking school full time as an undergrad. My shifts began at 4am. I needed wake-up calls. And, sometimes, CLASS WAS BORING. Sometimes now, meetings are boring. Conferences are super boring. The walk helps break up monotony.

    So even today, in meetings and conferences, I watch the clock and get up halfway through. It revitalizes me. Then, when conference hits the Q&A, I'm wide awake, ready to ask questions, be alert, start talking.

    Sometimes a break is necessary. Not always. But sometimes it makes for more alert students than sitting in stony silence 75 minutes straight.

  6. ** of course, this isn't possible if I'm presenting or teaching or whatever. It's only when I'm a passive attendee.

  7. I'm in te process of switching medications. This means I no longer have my "teacher bladder", but have to make sure that in between every class, I can stop at a bathroom. 2 of my classes are back to back in the same room; fortunately there is a lab-aide who can watch my stuff while I run to the can. I've let other classes out 5 minutes early (and pack uup my gear during the last parts of class so I can be ready to run w/o talking with students) so I can go, also.

    I really hate this -- I feel so inferior that I have less control now, even if I drink less water throughout the day. My doc assures me this side effect should fade in a few more weeks (dose is going up this week to get primary effect going).

    TMI? sorry.

  8. @Ruby -- Given that women have smaller bladders then do men, and that there are, uh, feminine-hygiene related reasons that many women can't always sit through a three hour exam without a bathroom break, I'm pretty shocked that this regulation hasn't been struck down by the university's equity committee. Or human-rights office, for that matter. Peeing is a pretty basic human right, in my humble opinion.

  9. This is the kind of thing you proffies just have to accept in the US anyway, because OSHA really frowns on refusing permission to use the restroom. The reason I do not ask for permission is because if the professor says "no," it's not going to stop me from going to the bathroom, so why bother to ask. Even back when I was in elementary school in the 70s, teachers were not allowed to deny students permission to use the bathroom. At my university, most profs give a ten-minute break for a three-hour lecture, but some choose not to. So, after working a full day till 6 p.m., then gulping down a reasonably-sized cup of coffee to stay away for a long lecture class, sometimes I can't wait three hours to pee. I have to slink away. However, if the prof gives a break at the 1.5 hour mark, then I can usually hold it in.

    I understand if you're teaching 100 students and they're constantly in and out for reasons you suspect are not related to elimination, it can be annoying, but there is no reasonable alternative. Denying the use of the restroom to students (or employees, for that matter) is bound to lead to trouble. In fact, it's not legal to force students to remain in the classroom, either. If they want to get up and leave for a half-hour, you can't legally stop them from doing so. Supposedly students are in the classroom voluntarily, not like public school where they have no choice but to attend class. However, you can refuse them permission to re-enter the classroom. But I don't think there's any way to know if you are refusing permission to a genuine slacker or to some unfortunate student with a urinary tract infection or sudden feminine emergency that requires marching all over campus trying to find the one bathroom with a Tampax machine that still functions.

    I really think that the less said about bathroom breaks, the better. If you have real evidence that the student is slacking off and not actually using the bathroom, perhaps you could dock the attendance if they are missing a half-hour of class. But you have to be careful not to punish the occassional student with a UTI or IBS or awful diarrhea or whatever. And not all students are going to be entirely comfortable discussing their medical problems with a professor, so I really think that the less said about it, the better.

    And yea, people slink away from our departmental meetings to use the bathroom all the time. No one comments on it; I suppose we're a reticent lot but it's sort of frowned-up to quiz people about what they're doing in the bathroom or whether they really had to go or just felt like taking a walk.

  10. They're not going to the bathroom. Seriously, they're not. Or if they are they've put it off to text because they know they can cut out of your class.

    The way I deal with it is that I have finally instituted a "no leaving class" policy. Or rather, a "you can leave class if you are sick or urgently have to use the bathroom, but take your things with you and we'll see you next class and you'll receive an absence" policy.

    So, those really sick or needing a toilet can leave, but they know it will cost them an absence. I also tell them that if they have a doctor's note I will alter my policy for them.

    You know how many students leave now? None. Zero.

    Like I said, they weren't going to the bathroom.

  11. In grad school, I once went to the loo before class and discovered it was out-of-order. So, I went to the one 1 floor up, which was also o-o-o. So, I went up to the next floor and well, you know.

    When I finally got back to class, a guest lecturer had started her show. The door wouldn't open, so I knocked lightly. The stink-eye from my ADVISOR totally pissed me off. I would have been back on time if the crappy-ass building we were in hadn't been in disrepair. And the diuretic I was on made the loo trip imperative.

    So, 1 - there *might* be a reason they get delayed. 2- if they're up and gone several times, it's so not to use the loo. 3 - sometimes ya gotta go when ya gotta go. And 4 - don't get me started about the trips necessary when you discover a lack of TP when you enter a stall. If your school is lax in re-stocking, it's like a treasure hunt as you go a-looking for a properly equipped rest room.

  12. I am so glad that I am not the only one who finds this annoying! I am a mature student, 56, and I can go through five consecutive classes without having to visit the washroom; yet I watch numerous students in my classes make trips - getting up in the middle of the lecture, slamming the door, then doing the same on return. It drives me crazy; I can only imagine how the Profs feel. If students are taking washroom breaks what is with the bladders of young people these days?! I think it is about time that some of our Profs give this same advisement to our classes.

  13. @sharon Lucky you. Maybe you could have some compassion and realize that you are in the 90 percentile when it comes to regular human bladders.

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  15. Early morning posting makes for badly written posts.

    I'm surprised this hasn't gotten more dissenting replies. As a sometime TA, I don't really give a damn if the students are leaving to go to the bathroom, get some fresh air, drink sodas, smoke, or have wild orgies. If they're good students then I have confidence that they're not just doing it to waste time, and if they're bad students then my attitude is good riddance to the deadwood. Of course, I would have to follow my profs' lead if they chose to make attendance mandatory, but they seem to see things the way I do.

    It might be the luxury of being in the sciences, where there is really no adequate substitute for lectures. I can see how student participation, and thus constant attendance, may be more important to the humanities classes. When we do get around to classroom participation in my classes it's during labs, and then fear of being away too long and screwing up the lab keeps them there more effectively than my disapprobation could.

  16. I caught a student cheating earlier this week. He was on the phone in the restroom trying to get answers from his friend. He was not being subtle and was too dim to realise that maybe, just maybe, I might not be a student, and that I might care about what he was doing. I followed him to the classroom and alerted the prof. His defence? My friend wasn't able to help.

    "Given that women have smaller bladders then do men, and that there are, uh, feminine-hygiene related reasons that many women can't always sit through a three hour exam without a bathroom break, I'm pretty shocked that this regulation hasn't been struck down by the university's equity committee. Or human-rights office, for that matter. Peeing is a pretty basic human right, in my humble opinion.

    Give me a break! At the UK universities I attended, our 3 hour finals were strictly administered. (It was a pretty big shock to me to see how softly they're managed here. It's no wonder cheating is so rife.) Bathroom breaks weren't *banned*, but you would certainly be accompanied from and back to your seat. Since the 3 hour time limit was actually *needed* (those who left early were the ones who bombed the exam), you were very loathe to squander 10 minutes of your time. Result? Change "many women" in your statement to "hardly any women". (Or guys.)

  17. I think it's important to distinguish going to the bathroom from a)disruption and door-slamming, or b) cheating. I can't and don't stop bathroom-goers. But anyone who slams in or out, or walks across the room between me and the students, gets the stink-eye from me and a word after class, and yes, it's in my syllabus that this is not OK with me. And I admit that I do check the exams of bathroom goers much more carefully than others -- plus, I have my TAs "sweep" the nearest men's and women's rooms during the exam, and woe betide the students who left if there is any evidence of cheating. Since electronic devices must remain in backpacks at the front of the room during exams, texting isn't a problem.

    So, you know, I hope that leaves legitimate bathroom-needers the room they need to come and go quietly. 'Cause when you gotta go, you gotta .... etc.

  18. I also don't see why No Cookies is slut-shaming her students for having a bladder infection. It seems to me that s/he just wants to go all out against her/his kids for leaving the classroom. Newsflash: adults go to the bathroom. And if you are a very interesting person, they might leave the classroom less. But some still will. Think movies. We all end up trying to stay the whole time but ducking out during a boring scene where New Guy is caught up to the plot.

    The more I think about this post, the more it makes me groan that there is a prissy prof like this trying to police their student's bladders.

    Stop giving your students a pee pee lecture. They will lose respect for you as you do it.

  19. @Academic Monkey:

    No, there's no sign that they've lost respect for me, and I have a "leave and you leave for the day" policy. But that might not be exactly the same thing as telling them they "can't" leave (which could not be enforced anyway). I can't force students to stay in their seats. But I can tell them that if they leave, they shouldn't try to reenter class. Authentic medical conditions are accomodated.

    In my classroom, any student must exit directly in front of me and reenter directly in front of me as well. This is extremely distracting, and disrupts class. If several students leave every class, and then reenter, it gets pretty maddening.

    The fact that my policy has resulted in NO students leaving class, EVER, leads me to think the dire emergencies that previously beset them don't in fact exist. That they were answering/making phone calls, stretching their legs, getting a coke, etc.

    At least for 99% of them, 99% of the time.

    I'm not trying to police bladders. I'm trying to provide a distraction-free classroom environment.

  20. I think it's related to the fact that the hand not holding the phone is holding a 96 oz. caffeinated beverage. What is up with the *constant* beverages?! The letting the door slam is the annoying part.

  21. All I can say is that it's really hard to focus on the lecture when you've had to pee for two hours and know that you have another hour yet to hold it in. Please, have some compassion for your students. I'm sure some people can pee once or twice a day, but for me, it's more like 5+ times a day. I'm not prepared to dehydrate myself just so I can make it through a three-hour lecture without having to pee. 8 glasses of water per day is normal, not extreme. If your lectures are longer than two hours, consider a ten-minute break, most everyone can wait for the break to pee.

    I'm all for boundaries between faculty and students, and I really hope I never have to explain my urinary habits or tendecy for sudden unexpected menstruation to my professor.

  22. So what do we do about this? I don't have a good answer any more.

    It's the right of adults to use the bathroom. If I were sitting in class, and I really had to pee, and a proffie forbade me from doing so, I'd find that ridiculous.

    On the other hand, having a policy that allows peeing opens the door to students taking voluntary "breaks" during your lecture--which is all well and good when they need a drink of water or a quick stretch, but terrible when they make a big show of disrupting everyone and use "bathroom" as an excuse to cover all of the other breaks they don't realize are nonessential--allows for all kinds of tomfoolery that makes it more difficult for you to teach and for them to learn.

    Give them choices, yes, because they're adults, but guiding their choices will probably help them more in the long run. Stella, who forbids bathroom breaks and now has students who can't and don't leave during class, probably has students who end up learning more since they're there more. Sometimes they don't know what's good for them.

    So I'm of two minds about the whole thing. We say on this page all the time that our students are adults and must live with the consequences of their choices, but then we list funny anecdotes about the extremes to which they stop behaving like adults. We shouldn't HAVE to have a discussion about whether to forbid peeing, but here we are. I don't know. Luckily, it's not an issue in my classes, but I don't envy those of you who have to make a decision about this.

  23. I have been wondering about this phenomenon! In particular, I wonder about it because in my 190 student class, there is perhaps one person who gets up to pee in a 70 minute period. In fact, I've long wondered how so many of them manage to hold it! (Okay, to be fair, about 70% of them are actually IN class on a given day.)

    By contrast, my sixty person, 50-minute lecture at Overly Privileged State School (those do exist) is regularly interrupted by pee breaks.

    So why do Second String State U students stay put while the others don't?

    And, in the lady-bits TMI category...I'm one of those women who sits firmly in the "I have it pretty damn bad, and you should just slap on a pair of Depends because I've done that shit myself" camp.

  24. I'm with No Cookies on this one, and, like Stella, I have adopted a policy discouraging students from leaving class once it's started. I even have a peepee talk on the first day of class. Why? Because the problem isn't that someone needs to go to the bathroom. It's because I was getting the *same 4 students* leave my class *everyday*. I only had 19 students in the class, so each departure was quite noticeable and distracting. More than that, it was rude. I understand that nature may call once in awhile and you need to answer. I have no problem with that. But if nature calls every TR or MWF at 1:30, maybe you should plan ahead or see a doctor. Oh, or just wait until *after class* to text your BFF about whatever it is you think just can't wait.

  25. I don't know. Ultimately, it doesn't bother me if they are leaving to text or pee or rescue gramma from the Empire State Building. If they leave they leave. Maybe I'd feel differently if leaving discretely were impossible because I lecture right next to the door. But my rooms all have entries near the back and it doesn't seem to disrupt anything.

    Furthermore, as I said above, I know it used to save me from the monotone lectures. And I was a super-keener straight A student who just sometimes needed a break because I was working ridiculous hours and still attending school full time and making decisions based on the fact that I'm an adult with adult responsibilities.

    As long as they don't bother other students, I try to let them do as they need. And that means they can decide when and if to use the bathroom. Some teachers need to let go of their arbitrary power just a tiny teeny bit.

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