Bathroom business. It’s pretty basic stuff, a part of every human being’s daily life. When my eldest daughter, after years of homeschooling, enrolled in public high school, she had to deal with the restrictions placed on all students about their bathroom use.
By the time she was an upperclassman, I guess she was a little tired of it. For her video production class, her project was all about the bathroom. In it, she portrayed a student frantically raising her hand while “holding it,” being ignored by the teacher, then told by the teacher to wait, until finally being granted a hall pass. Change scene to student madly roaming the hallways in search of an unlocked bathroom, with the score from “Mission Impossible” playing tauntingly in the background. Finally, she finds an unlocked boys room, enters, and with great relief, does her business. Upon exit, she’s found out and chastised by the always-on-duty police officer, a touch my daughter particularly liked, since it was unplanned and authentic.
This piece of work didn’t make the teachers and administration rethink how young people might be feeling about they way they were controlling and regulating a basic, private human function. Instead, when the subject of her project became known, she was told not to go forward with it. She ignored that, and received a failing grade.
That story is in stark contrast with the philosophy of Shanna Peeples, a National Teacher of the Year award winner who says her most radical teaching practice had zilch to do with reading, math, history, science, or anything else resembling academics. It was all about the bathroom.
She describes it like this: “I allowed kids to quietly leave class whenever they needed to go without asking my permission.”
For extending this basic respect to students, Peeples says her professional judgment, classroom management skills, and even her intelligence were questioned. Kudos to Peeples for disregarding those criticisms and going with her instinct to treat kids with compassion and respect.
Peeples also understands something fundamental about relationships. They’re built on trust. Extending respect and kindness builds trust, and trusting relationships between students and teachers can only benefit learning.
Teachers don’t need to stop at simply trusting kids with their bathroom business. Trusting their intelligence and competence would be nice, too.
It doesn’t surprise me that Peeples, as an award-winning teacher, respects her students. Other award-winning teachers I’ve read about or read writings by have the same attitude. John Taylor Gatto, Jaime Escalante, and Erin Gruwell come to mind. These teachers couldn’t be more different in their approaches, yet they have one major similarity. They all trusted, respected, and believed in their students.
Models of teachers respecting kids, paying attention to who they are, prioritizing relationship, and trusting their students are out there. The more all teachers learn from them, the better off their students will be.