World-class potty training?

Our middle school – arguably one of the state's finest – issues laminated punch cards to students at the beginning of each trimester. Each time a student needs to leave the classroom to go to the bathroom, visit her locker, etc., it costs one of the 12 punches.

Sorry, student, that it’s week 7 and you’re out of punches. No going to the bathroom for you.

Inhumane? Degrading? Illegal? What are your thoughts regarding this practice? Anyone else’s school doing this?

Oh, and did I mention that unused punches can be used for extra academic credit in some teachers’ classes?

47 Responses to “World-class potty training?”

  1. I doubt it is illegal. I would imagine the original intent was aimed at a few students who chronically abuse the system and always ask “to make water” right before a test or during the same class each day and have annoyed a certain teacher (probably an after lunch class) and won the administrators ear and approval.

    Probably best to deal privately with those who abuse the privilege than to not.

    I’ve seen some high school’s address their passing periods to put in a longer mid-morning break and afternoon break than the traditional 4-5 minute passing period. They do this to allow the natural “need” as it arises without disrupting classes with frequent requests to use the facilities. This also cuts down on the number of students roaming halls during class times and stretching a few minute “nature call” into an exploratory jaunt through the building.

  2. Probably not inhumane or illegal, probably degrading though. This sounds like there was an issue for a couple of teachers and instead of dealing with those classes and “system” was put in place. Of course without more details it would be impossible to say.

  3. I really can’t believe this practice and can’t even comment on it in a rationale manner as I don’t believe it is respectful. Never mind that is disrespectful to kids for those who do have a need. I can’t even begin to tell you how I feel that they get extra credit for unused punches. I guess I will teach my children to limit water intake and hold it so that they can get some extra credit.

  4. That’s a pretty sad attempt at regulating student behavior. If it’s a problem, deal with those students or teachers. Are the teacher’s held to those standards? Probably not, but teachers also get a free hour every day to use the facilities. Students don’t. If a student is going to go #2, the passing period isn’t long enough. Some students don’t have the system to wait 8 hours, we shouldn’t hold that against them.

    My biggest problem with the policy is that (hopefully) a teacher would let a kid go if they could tell it was an emergency and they were out of punches. I’d hate to think a teacher would tell them no and let a student have an accident. So, does the teacher get written up for not following the policy?

  5. Too funny. As a student I would have been humiliated if my card was all punched up, EVEN if I had a doctors note that made teachers let me go. It would definitely be a deterrent. Of course as we all know, 80% of kids make good choices, while 20% don’t care about good or bad, so these kids would wear their punch card like a red badge of courage. And bad boys and girls are all the rage at middle school. Our principal identified students out of class as an issue that needed to be addressed this year too. Everyone, even the library, has to have sign out sheets at the door for every student to log their leaving class with the date, time, and purpose/destination. These are turned in monthly. I suppose it is to monitor where all these kids are coming from and/or going to. I hope the data is being used to address teachers who seem to have kids out of class all the time. But what I would LOVE is to see is that data shared in a non-threatening way at a faculty meeting. I’d really like to see girls vs guys, grade by grade, hang even the “gap” (since they LOVE to share achievement gap every year with test data, let’s see how that achievement gap correlates to students leaving class.) As I sit here and reflect on this, it sounds like a fantastic research analysis. Our 8th graders are currently looking for a long range projects they can collect data on, so perhaps I’ll suggest this as a possible project. of course they will have to get permission and access to the data each month. Thoughtful post Scott. And funny in a sick way.

  6. First, this is plain wrong. Second, it’s indicative of an inability of the teachers and students to trust each other, or of the school administrators to use anything other than brute force to provoke respectful behavior. Finally, if a goal of our schools is to prepare children for the real (adult) world, this a pretty horrible thing to teach.

    There’s just nothing good about this.

  7. I used to teach high school. I taught in the “vocational” wing of an old school that had been added onto many times. At the time the “vocational” wing was built, no girls’ bathroom was put in the area, which meant girls had quite a walk, 1.5 blocks away. (The school covered 3 city blocks lengthwise.) Inevitably, during my class, many girls would need to go to the bathroom, because my classroom was the farthest away from anything. Even if they walked quickly and only spent 5 minutes in the restroom, it would take nearly 12 minutes just to return back, which was about a quarter of the class period. Poor school design! In the days when the wing was built, it was considered a wing for boys only, since shop and agriculture were located in the wing.

    One thing I really hated throughout my teaching was “regulating” student’s bathroom habits. It was crazy. I hated to see them leaving during class to go, especially girls, since they would miss about a quarter of the class period. On the other hand, I hated being the one responsible for whether they got to go or not. I knew there wasn’t time for many of them to have to go before or after my class because of the distance my classroom was from most of the other locations in the school. There didn’t seem to be a good solution.

    I also think people reading this ought to think of the struggles of the teachers – when we have students miss out on material, chances are they cannot complete the work that needed to be done during that class time. I also saw students start “the potty parade” (my name for it) where many would try to go at once and call it an emergency – to get out in the hallway together, out of class. If I let them go, I might get a call from another teacher or the principal, finding a pair or more of students of mine congregating in the hallway and making noise or causing mischief at other classrooms. It was a constant struggle.

    All-in-all, having to regulate and give permission for people to use the bathroom is a strange part of the teacher’s job.

  8. Interesting post here, Scott. A bit off the ed. tech rant, but still on the topic of ‘dangerously irrelevant.’ When’s the last time an employer gave their employees punch cards for bathroom breaks? Now that I think about, as an educator I have a ‘punch card’ and it’s called lunch break and/or the few minutes in between classes. On the flip side, I liberally allow my students to go to the rest room. Sometimes I ask them if they can wait for a better ‘time’ (if we’re getting ready to re-group for new concepts, for example) or if there is only a few minutes left in the class. Because I teach in 84 minute blocks, I understand the need that students may have to use the restroom. I sometimes have the same ‘need,’ but I find myself being the one with limited ‘punches.’

  9. Is it one punch for number one and two punches for number two?


  10. I work in a high school and we are told we cannot refuse to allow a student to go to the bathroom. I don’t know how your administration can limit student bathroom use. All it would take is one lawsuit and your policy will most likely be revised. Students aren’t allowed out of classes to go to their lockers for forgotten textbooks or assignments.

    In my school, teachers give students two bathroom passes a quarter. Once they’ve used up their passes, students are still allowed to go to the restroom, but they give up equal time during their lunch period. Sort of a, you’re using up my time so I’ll use up your time. Don’t know if I agree with it, but it forces the students to decide do they REALLY have to go or not? Students are advised to go to the bathroom between classes. We have a small campus and they have plenty of time to visit the facilities and still make it to class on time. Most student who ask to go to the bathroom don’t truly have to go, they just want to get out of class.

  11. It depends on the amount of time allowed for passing between classes and how long the classes are.

  12. Every January for 5 to 6 weeks we institute a classroom economy in the third grade. It costs $0.37 to use the bathroom during classtime. There are also costs for desk & chair rental, pencil sharpening privileges, etc. Salary is earned by getting your planner signed each night. We have a big auction at the end of the unit.

    It’s my favorite time of the school year. no one interrupts a class with “Can I go to the bathroom”? They just get up quietly, pay the $0.37 and go.

  13. Although I’m not yet a full time teacher, I have been a sub teacher MANY days in all grade levels. I use the same bathroom policy on kids as young as 2nd grade and as old as 12th grade. If you need to go, it will cost you one minute after class. If it’s an emergency, they don’t mind waiting the minute. If they really didn’t need to go, they just say they can wait. I’ve been using this system for years and never had a problem.

    Punch cards seem like an excuse for poor classroom management.

  14. I tell my students if they need to go somewhere (bathroom, locker, nurse, wherever) during class then they should just go.

    If my class is as engaging as it should be nobody will even think about leaving (When is the last time I left a great movie to go to the bathroom?)

    This is really not that different from the whole laptop issue and students surfing facebook etc. during class.

  15. My school uses a system similar to this one. We implemented it because we had students who “had to go to the bathroom” every period, where they were selling drugs. We had students who “had to go to the nurse” far too often, usually during the class of a teacher they didn’t like. The clinic was always full of kids who didn’t really need to be there, but who had to wait 10 minutes until it was their turn. We had kids who “left it in my locker” every day and spent 10 minutes meandering through the school. I was opposed to implementing this policy, but I have to admit it has cut down on needless hall traffic. And if someone needs to go to the restroom, I let them go. I might roll my eyes in protest, but I let them go.

  16. I for see a huge black market in pass cards…

  17. P. S. Some teachers at my school also give extra academic credit for unused passes. I strongly oppose this practice, but I know it’s done.

  18. Great comments!
    What another great way of the brick and mortar schools demonstrating how the real world works. Do teachers and staff have the same punch card system from the school leadership?

    Does the school system pay for the doctor visit and antibiotics when the students come down with UTIs? The ambulance ride when a student falls out from dehydration because going to the bathroom requires their ticket to be punched? Is the student allowed to make up work if this happens or are they degraded for missing school to make this type of doctor’s appointment?

    My daughter’s school bathrooms were in such disarray that no one would use them unless it was an emergency. If I subbed or volunteered I left the premises. We took pictures of the bathrooms and posted them on the PTSA website because the school board did not believe the status.

    What a concept…don’t ever leave a classroom and you can get extra credit? Is this a written district policy?

    And the decision makers are wondering why students are switching to online schools, home schools, charter or magnet schools. Nothing like an awesome middle school experience to make you want to go on to high school.

    I look forward to Darren Draper posting a visual for this topic.

  19. We “survivors of Catholic school” could go months without using the bathroom if needed!!! I’d like to see the creative uses of the punch cards – “holding out” for extra credit in classes that are a challenge, trading (or do they have their names on them), scanning to make new ones, etc. Get the creative juices flowing any way you can…

  20. If my class is as engaging as it should be nobody will even think about leaving (When is the last time I left a great movie to go to the bathroom?)

    We implemented it because we had students who “had to go to the bathroom” every period, where they were selling drugs.

    These two comments make stark that trying to apply the same rules to every situation is folly.

  21. When I was in the classroom teaching 1st and 4th grades, I dealt with this a lot. Those little guys just don’t have the bladder size we adults do LOL.

    To minimize disruptions, I instituted a ticket program where students received 3 tickets at the beginning of each to use towards the bathroom. When a student needed to go during class, he/she would simply put a ticket in the box on my desk and go. No drama, no interruptions. If a student ran out of tickets, then they just let me know they ran out. No big deal.

    At the end of the week unused tickets were placed into a raffle at the end of the week. A number of tickets would be drawn and those students would be able to dip into the prize chest I loaded up each month. The students really loved this system and it taught them to make responsible choices about when to use the restroom during recess and lunch.

  22. I work in an elementary school. I learned pretty early in my career not to refuse kinders and 1st graders a trip to the potty. Especially the boys.

  23. Add this degrading practice to the list of reasons why we homeschool. Prizes, raffle tickets and academic credit for having the biggest bladder? A potty competition? No thank you.

    We’ll educate at home where we can use the bathroom when we need to. That’s what teaches responsible behavior.

  24. It is an interesting approach to teach students the value of time. We all know that on a daily basis there is at least 5 minutes of lost instructional time because of these activities. So let’s do the math for one classroom …35 students in a classroom. 182 days in a school year. On avg each student will need to leave the classroom 5.2 times over the course of the year. If each student leaves the classroom, one per day for avg of cost of lost instructional time of 5 min (entire classroom is interrupted). That is 25 min per week or 910 min per school year. If the class is 45 min that is 20 lost days of instruction. Now my math may be off but you get my point. We need to look at all interruptions to the learning environment (announcements, teacher cell phones, student cell phones, etc)

    Although this may not be the best method, it is a method to try to hold the instructional time sacred!

  25. Joe the 'what's wrong with your plumbing.' :) Reply December 7, 2008 at 4:51 pm

    What is really interesting is when you have a class with a lot of students who were in a teachers class who does not let students go to the bathroom. (After all, the class is only 72 minutes and this teacher only goes every second day…) Suddenly a bunch of students need to go. I let them.
    Also, no one mentioned that school bathrooms during a 5 minute passing can be very busy and not really a place to relax and let it out.

  26. I have a laminated card in my wallet. When it has 10 punches in it, I get a free medium coffee at Dunkin Donuts!

    It’s a good thing my school doesn’t use punch-cards for bathroom visits.

    I would have been in trouble come September 18th.

  27. Teacher’s should always be good models for their students, so I assume that they, too, need punch cards in order to perform certain bodily functions. After all, this is an award winning middle school and as such, I’m sure they pay attention to such important matters.

    I suppose teachers with unused punches should get credit for something. Let’s see. Perhaps a box of Depends….

  28. This is inhumane. I taught elementary school for 38 years (34 in Ames) and I always let students go to the bathroom. If it became a problem we had a one-at-a-time rule but they could still go. I retired five years ago and I am glad I did. Things seem to have gone downhill since.

    Thanks to my friend Craig I have found this blog and have subscribed to it.

    Oh yes – As to raffles and putting names in hats and drawing them out. Well that just teaches that gambling is all right. I didn’t like them when the PTO had them and I still don’t – I saw too many kids spend their money and have nothing to show for it. We need to be careful what we teach the children.

  29. Probably not illegal, but certainly dehumanizing, demoralizing, disrespectful and mean. Somehow it seems that going to the bathroom is a very basic human need and to deny that just seems wrong. If too many kids are wandering the halls aimlessly rather than being in class, there must be a better way to deal with that.

  30. This is just more evidence that proves adults in schools don’t treat students like human beings. If I were in a situation where I was told I could not go to the bathroom, I would probably end up being arrested for assault.

    It may be an amazing concept, but if we treat our students with respect they will have a reason to respect us!

  31. If this practice carries over to the “home” I am in trouble in a few years.

  32. We have a page in the planner with about 30 passes for “personal reasons” and 30 passes for “business” per quarter. This is supposed to cover all of your classes.

    It is pretty rare when a kid gets to the bottom of the passbook. I don’t think I have ever said no to leaving the room.

    If I see a trend developing, like the same kid asking me to sign at the same time every day, that may start a discussion about being in class, sometime after they got back.

  33. You can’t judge a school by its potty card (PC). Or can you?

    Hum, since when did a school PC mean something other than a personal computer. At least this school has 1 PC per student. I could only dream…

    In fact, in some instances, a trip to the restroom is much more engaging than the drone of instruction occurring in period 3. Think of the data that could be mined from an analysis of punch card, sorted by instructor.

    In any case, students will always vote with their feet (or whatever body part might be relevant in this instance).

  34. Last week my son’s 5th grade teacher made a special note in his folder home. “You son is doing great but the other day he spent 20 mins in the bathroom.”
    My wife called him over and asked what he was doing. It was all I could do not to laugh.
    Turning red, he said, “I was going poo.” It seems there are no cool words for this function at that age.
    Is a BM a noteworthy event for a parent? Should schools attempt to track such things?
    It is insane to think that a child could be refused access to a restroom. Does that fall under zero tolerance somehow?
    I must admit that my son’s note made me giggle all day. I wanted to write a smart-alec note back requesting more detailed info just to underscore how ridiculous it was, but my wife talked me out of my childish behavior.
    I don’t agree with body function punch cards. Dehumanizing…

  35. When I read Scott’s comments I could not believe that the school’s leadership would sanction this type of policy. It is another reason why many kids dislike school. If a student is abusing restroom visits deal with the individual but do not saddle all students with this type of policy. I was a secondary principal for 38 years. Twenty of those years at the junior high school and I believe our primary goal is to make young people life time learners and make every effort to turn them on to learning. Why do waste our time with this type of trivia?

  36. It’s sad when a few students that abuse privileges make a system like this “warranted”. I understand the logic behind this, but maybe the school should say that students are only able to use the restrooms when they have independent work time. This would eliminate this crazy issue. agree?

  37. I’m not overly concerned with the idea that a student might be degraded or humiliated by having to punch a card. I’ve never been much of a fan of that kind of sensitivity to their hypersensitivities. I think tiptoeing around teenage embarassment and angst is enabling behavior and does not help to create resilient, adaptable people. Hey kids! You have to punch a card and be mindful of your bathroom use. So what? It’s a rule in school and if everyone follows the same rule, it’s school culture not psychic damage.

    That being said, I don’t think it’s a very effective rule. If there’s anything that can be said about middle school students it’s that they challenge rules as a way of establishing their individual identity and will. Better is to make going to the bathroom a non issue. Personally, I have students point at the door to leave the room, come up for a signature and go and return quietly. Only one student can leave at a time and there is no getting on a line for who goes next. If the work is too important, I won’t let them go. If they tend to over use leaving or leave for too long, they could lose privileges (informally). Otherwise, they can go without incident. I don’t want bathrooms, waterfountains and etc. to get in the way of the instruction. Because it is not an arena for self assertion, I find that my students don’t use the bathroom all that much.

  38. Hi Scott, I am an administrator at a middle school in British Columbia and no we don’t have a similar policy or hard and fast rules around bathroom use. I don’t believe that a policy around bathroom use respects the majority of students who would not and do not abuse the expectations. The analogy in the techie world for me would be around the use of tech at the school. We don’t ban access or sites like Facebook because it is part of our job in the digital age to teach students how to interact in the web 2.0 world respectfully.
    I would hate to be the one making the phone call to the parent explaining that their child had a toileting accident in a middle school class because their cards were full up.
    Thanks for the post it has certainly attracted some discussion.

  39. School cultures that don’t pay attention to children’s emotions and feelings create students who hate school, disengage and drop-out.

    As adults, if our basic human rights are ignored and we’re humiliated and degraded on a daily basis, do we want to return to that environment the next day? Do we want to give our best to those who treat us like we’re sub-human? Are we willing to take risks, speak up or try harder when the folks in charge try to control everything about us, including how many times we can urinate? Of course not.

    Why do we expect anything different from the children we teach?

  40. Degrading and a lawsuit waiting to happen. Some child gets sick with a UTI or worse has an accident and parents hit the roof.

    I teach Technology as part of Specials (PE, Art, Music, Library rotation). I have the students for 45 minutes. During direct instruction time, I ask if they can wait until independent time. During independent time I let them go. The last 5 minutes I tell them teacher will be here in 5 minutes can you wait (the all have a restroom break after our class) or do you need to go now? If they need to go they get to leave.

    I kept a running list of when kids left and returned. This was on my desk and I was the one signing them in and out. THe tutors were not pulling my kids like they were supposed to and I needed documentation, and I had one kid that was having math phobia issues. He would leave to go to the bathroom for all of math instruction – I needed documentation for his mom.

    Another Mom complained to me, because her daughter had renal issues. Daughter thought she was going to get in trouble for going to the bathroom so frequently. I had asked her privately if she felt ok, after 5 trips to the bathroom in less than 2 hours.

    I explained the pull out schedule to the concerned mom (not saying I was having problems with the tutors not pulling my kids) and explained I needed to be able to account for all my students during any emergency. Mom was alright with it and we explained to her daughter that she wasn’t going to get into trouble.

  41. Al Doss –
    I have sent similar notes home or called. Sometimes it happened everyday during the same subject – because the child was avoiding a subject they have problems with.

    Sometimes it is because there is a tummy virus going around, that tends to start this way. She may have been wary of saying something about a tummy virus because of the whole – you aren’t a doctor don’t make diagnoses thing. Also small kids are often embarrassed if they have a problem in the bathroom, but parents need to know.

  42. Content and classroom management are functionally the same. If students are engaged, excited, and own their learning, schools don’t need to have silly, degrading rules such as the one in your post. Another example of treating the symptom rather than the illness–something we are so good at in education unfortunately. Makes me sad to think of children treated this way.

  43. I had a similar system, and when I introduced it. Kids invariably asked what happens when I lose my three punch cards? What if I have an emergency? Can I still go, sure, but now it will cost you a tardy, you have used as much of you learning time as if you had been late and so it’s going to cost you.

    The reason I wanted to make sure kids new they could go is because I know of teacher who are so hardnosed about letting kids go out that they have had kids wet their pants rather than ask to use the restroom. I don’t want to explain that to a parent.

  44. Jorgieq, if you are afraid to explain your bathroom policy to parents, then it’s the wrong policy. If your policy won’t pass the scrutiny of the public, then there is something inherently wrong with it.

    Punishing kids with a tardy because they need to use the restroom at a time that’s inconvenient for you is indefensible.

    A policy that promotes immature thinking – you did something to me so now I’ll do something painful to you – demonstrates to kids the very behavior we want them to outgrow.

  45. I find this “punch card” process disrespectful of human needs. Having been a classroom teacher, there are obviously students who want to abuse the process (I don’t think that I should call it privilege) of going to the bathroom. Most of the students DON’T abuse it. This is a classroom management issue and the teachers need to deal with the students who use the bathroom pass as a key out of class.

    Dr. Z

  46. My 8-year-old son came home today in tears because he’d wet his pants after the sub denied him access to the bathroom. The other kids teased him. He was embarrassed and I was very upset. Does that teacher even realize what kind of trauma he put my child through? Just for the sake of getting through his lesson without a disruption?


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