How I am learning to give up control and trust my students, Part 2: Just take the pass.

It used to just drive me crazy! The class was in the middle of a discussion or I would be lecturing and hands were popping up all over the room.

One kid would have a great question.

The next would have an insightful comment.

The third… “Can I go to the bathroom?”

And the discussion would just die. Crazy making, I tell you! CRAZY!

Last year, I tried something new. I hung the pass from a nail on the wall. I told my kids, “If you need to go to the bathroom, look. If the pass is there, take it and go. If not, wait.”

It took them some getting used to. I still got the bathroom question for about a week, and each time, I would review the new hall-pass policy. Eventually, enough kids saw someone quietly get up and get the pass and go without interrupting our lesson and without consequences that they finally got the hang of it.

I was in heaven. Our discussion and my lectures weren’t getting interrupted anymore. Additionally, I noticed something else… kids weren’t using the pass as much as they had been.

I don’t have evidence to back up my claim, only my gut feeling about what was happening in my room. However, here’s what I think was going on.

The allure of the pass was gone. Now that they could have it whenever they wanted it, the pass wasn’t so special anymore. It seemed like fewer kids needed to leave the classroom.

It didn’t always work. I did notice that John [not his real name] seemed to take the pass every single day. I know this is hyperbole, but it’s how I honestly felt. I was frustrated and felt like I was being taken advantage of.

I might not have minded so much, but John wasn’t getting his work done each day, and the work he was doing was not up to my standard of quality.

Additionally, other kids needed to go to the bathroom and while they waited for John to return, they wouldn’t focus on their studies. Instead, they were focused on the uncomfortable feeling in their bladder.

One day, I took him into the hall to talk about it. I asked him to cut back on his trips. He agreed, but nothing really changed.

A week later, I took him into the hall again and gave him a piece of paper with four pre-printed hall passes. I told him that these were his new passes, he only had the four for the rest of the semester, and he had to get me to sign his pass before he could leave.

“That’s not fair,” he complained.

“I know,” I replied, “Luckily for me, I don’t care. I care about whether or not this is going to work.”

John tried to complain to a fellow student, but I overheard her tell him that four passes was more than most teachers gave a student for the whole semester, let alone the seven weeks we had remaining. She also told him that he had been abusing the pass and keeping others from being able to go to the bathroom.

I was silently pleased that one of the students backed my play.

This year, the school has a new pass system. Now it’s a small plastic clipboard with a sheet for students to write the date, their names, the time, and where they are going.

This change hasn’t affected my policy. My students can still take the pass whenever they want. They do have to fill out the sheet before they go, but, like last year, I try to stay uninvolved in the whole process.

What I do like, a lot, about the new pass is this. At the end of the semester I’ll have actual data about hall pass use in my classroom. Stay tuned, dear reader. In January, I’ll run an analysis of how many kids go out with the pass and with what frequency.

What’s your hall pass policy?

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