It’s senior year—I’ll pass on the bathroom pass

Sydney Hilbush

It’s the first day of senior year. Energy pulses through my veins as I walk confidently through the hallways on my way to my first-period class. I look down—well, technically, up—at the freshmen frantically weaving through the hallways with expressions of absolute terror plastered across their faces. As one of the oldest kids at Redwood, I take a moment to reflect upon the maturity and responsibility that I have developed over the course of high school. I barely remember the girl I was three years ago, and honestly I probably wouldn’t be friends with her today. As a senior and soon-to-be legal adult, I feel confident in my actions, decisions and behavior, and as I grow older, more of my teachers have come to reciprocate that trust.  

As I walk into the door of my first period, I am handed a syllabus—as expected—and a yellow sheet of paper with five bathroom passes that I am allowed to use throughout the semester.

I am dumbfounded. As a freshman, bathroom passes were something I could expect, but as a senior, this felt belittling. Even after 12 years of education, my teacher assumed that his 17 and 18-year-old students still didn’t know when was an appropriate time to use the bathroom.

High schools expect their students to act like young adults and fulfill young adult responsibilities, yet they prohibit them from going to the bathroom without asking for permission. If high school is supposed to prepare teenagers for the adult world, doesn’t asking for permission to use the bathroom contradict that purpose?

Some teachers dramatically underestimate young people’s ability to know their needs and adjust their behavior to align with societal expectations. Instead of treating students as capable young adults, teachers see them as unruly children who can’t control themselves or their bladders.

It is important for teachers to prepare students—especially those graduating soon—for the world beyond high school, and to do so, teachers must treat their students as the young adults they are, by fostering a classroom environment that upholds respect and trust.

Behavior is often a self-fulfilling prophecy: you get what you expect. Teachers who anticipate immaturity tend to focus on controlling their students, and they get resistance in return. It’s much more productive to treat kids as young adults and support them in the maturity process than to treat them like kids by imposing childish restrictions on bathroom usage.

Illustration by Sydney Hilbush

Treating students like young adults will foster positive teacher-student relationships, heightening academic and social skills as a result. According to Emily Gallagher, a professor at the Department of Applied Psychology at New York University, positive teacher-student relationships improve the classroom environment and increase academic achievement.

“Positive relationships with teachers are important in supporting higher levels of self-esteem, higher academic self-efficacy and more confidence in future employment outcomes,” Gallagher said. “Self-confidence and future aspirations have a significant impact on students’ interest in school, their academic self-efficacy and in turn, their academic achievement.”

Additionally, offering students more respect and independence will provide a sense of trust within the classroom, which in turn lowers the achievement gap between underserved (primarily Latino and Black) and well-served (White and Asian) students. According to The Atlantic, underserved students might have trouble connecting with or trusting their teachers because of racial differences, as 80 percent of high school teachers are White, according to Education Week. However, a study conducted by Hunter Gehlbach, associate professor of education at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, found that strengthening student-teacher relationships reduced the achievement gap between these populations by 65 percent.

In other words, increasing trust inside the classroom directly correlates to stronger academic achievement. Students will trust their teachers more when given increased responsibility and independence, two things bathroom passes take away.

Bathroom passes are a microcosm when dealing with the larger topic of respect in the classroom, but it is still important to create an agreeable system that incorporates both perspectives and resolves potential controversy. Teachers might feel unwilling to impose a free-for-all bathroom system in fear of students taking advantage of this independence to roam the halls during class. A solution that deals with this problem would include an unspoken rule where students are allowed to get up and use the bathroom without asking permission from their teacher, a style we use during Bark classes, but only one or two students may go to the bathroom at once, and privileges could be further restricted if students exploit this freedom.

Additionally, I understand the importance of shifting classroom expectations and policies to be more restricted based on age. Younger grade levels can have more restrictive bathroom policies, while upperclassmen should be allotted more leverage in classroom freedom and responsibility, as they know the expectations and consequences of acceptable and non-acceptable behavior. Teachers in subjects such as math, science and history might feel the need to enforce stricter timing for bathroom usage, such as only allowing students to leave the classroom after lectures. This is completely understandable, and almost always heavily enforced during freshman and sophomore year. However, once a student becomes an upperclassman, they are already adjusted to these rules from prior experience, and it becomes unnecessary to lay out a consequential bathroom policy when students have already learned the consequences themselves of missing critical instruction time.

As an awaiting legal adult, I would like to be treated as one inside the classroom. Restrictive bathroom policies downplay my ability as a young adult to make responsible decisions on my own, ones that are expected to be followed without the need for enforcement after high school.

Although I understand that each teacher has a different bathroom policy, I would like to encourage our faculty as a whole to reassess how students are treated in the classroom, and if individual teaching policies are preparing students for what to expect from the adult world. We are no longer children with uncontrollable bladders. We are young adults and should be treated like ones.