After writing a guest post for Elizabeth A. White’s blog, another bathroom story came to my mind from my years of teaching. Thoughts continued after the link:
Bathrooms are seemingly impenetrable fortresses to the subconscious student mind, though, in reality, they are not. Teens can effortlessly hide cheat sheets during tests. They can sign and tap in code. They can weave a tale of woe so convincing that most teachers cave at the end of the semester and adjust students’ grades. But students still haven’t realized that the bathroom doesn’t expunge the rule-breaking that occurs inside it.
At least three students have been expelled over the course of my eight years of teaching due to smoking weed in the bathroom. And two sets of students at different schools were suspended for sexual activity. One of the cases had an added case of awkward.
One day at a previous school, the bathroom by my isolated corner classroom, usually a hub of students congregating, was quite at 5 o’clock. I only knew this because we had to stay until 7 for parent-teacher conferences. And since I only saw, on average, four parents over four hours during conferences, the halls and bathrooms were quiet.
I pushed through the door, shirt already untucked. I had been chugging water all day to make up the previous night’s indulgences with co-workers. With eyes glued on the urinals, the two male students standing by the sink blurred. What I saw clearly, though, was one student standing with his pants by his ankles. The other student’s shoulders were perpendicular to the depantsed boy’s shoulders, pressed closely. His right shoulder moved rhythmically side to side until he spotted me.
I had to pee. I also didn’t know what to say. So, I peed.
“Oh, uh, hey Mr. B.”
It’s hard to carry a conversation with someone while squeezing out stuff from inside your body. It’s even harder when it’s a teacher and student dynamic and you just walked in on something you wish you hadn’t. I cleared my throat in response.
After I finished, I calmly walked to the sink and washed my hands, staring at the water instead of glancing into the mirror at the two students. I left without saying a word, and, like a coward, turned the case over to the disciplinarian. The students confessed as to what was happening.
It was a rough way for the one student to come-out: having to explain to his parents why he was suspended. As I write this, I still feel a deal of shame at not having handled the situation better. As to what better looks like, I don’t know. That’s the tricky part of teaching. Teens need consequences. What those consequences are and how a teacher administers them, however, is the art that I still haven’t mastered.