By: Katy Z. Lynch
It’s August, and our schedules have been posted. Now comes the influx of texts from my teacher friends: “What period do you have lunch?” and “When is your planning period?” but most importantly, “What duty did you get this year?”
When the schedule shows “Main Floor Hallway” during last period, I am well-aware that, first, this does not simply mean I get to finish my day by getting my steps in and walking around the hallways, and, second, I am going to be BUSY. High school bathroom duty has a reputation for being a, well, crappy job. Pun totally intended.
Five minutes into the period, I find myself greeted with a line of students already waiting to go. I have to enter each restroom before they do, smelling all the smells, and checking all the stalls. So. Much. Fun.
I sit down with my computer and log each kid in via our computer pass system. I have to be on high alert because high school bathroom duty comes with the responsibility of checking for vandalism and vaping. I average 30 to 40 students within a 40-minute window. That leaves no time for the stack of papers I brought to grade, no time to catch up on those emails I need to send, and no time for any type of peace, quiet or decompression.
But do you know what it does leave? Time to connect with kids. I cannot accomplish anything else. I’ve realized this after day two.
What I CAN do is say hi to “Tony,” a student who was in my class for two years—after failing the first time during the 2020-21 pandemic year. I can tell Tony I’m so proud of him for making the honor roll this marking period. Yay, Tony! He smiles and blushes at the attention, but he’s proud. I can tell.
I can check on “Liam,” who is going for “Round 3” of World History, but he is still in school, still trying for that diploma.
I can give “Andrew” a place of refuge when he needs it. He sits on the floor in the hall next to me, feeling comforted by my presence when the rest of the world just wasn’t so kind today.
I’m there for “Maria” when she comes out of guidance crying and just needs a space to breathe before she can reenter her classroom.
I can check on all my babies who have since left my freshman English class; those who don’t walk by my room anymore but are so happy just to talk about life for 20 quick, but oh-so-important, seconds.
Changing my perspective
Bathroom duty is not supposed to be fun. It never has been. This year, I decided I was going to change that. I’m stuck there, as are eight other teachers for one glorious period of the school day. It is a necessity, though, and as we trudge our way down the steps (or up them). Why not take these lemons and turn them into lemon bars? (Lemon bars with powdered sugar are better than lemonade anyway.)
For my eighth-period duty, I’ve decided that all kids that come by have to answer a question of the day before they can go into the bathroom. It gives me a chance to learn the names of those I don’t know and learn more about those I do. I ask them each something lighthearted and fun, like “What’s your favorite cookie?” or “Dogs or cats?”
The kids who don’t know me, look at me cross-eyed at first. Who is this lady, asking me all these weird questions? I’m just trying to pee! But, as they got used to it, most of them come to love it, and many even look forward to it.
One of my current freshmen, Akshita, comes and sits by my side any day she can to be my “question assistant.” She giggles, she has fun, and most importantly, I see kids talk to kids, in-person again.
An opportunity for SEL
Social-emotional learning (SEL) is so important for ALL of us. Administrators often want it to be structured, but some of that learning can happen in the smallest, quickest and slightest of ways.
It is no secret that duty periods are often the most dreaded periods of our days. In that dread, I decided that I wasn’t going to dread it anymore. We should rethink those moments and turn them into moments of social, emotional and intrapersonal productivity.
High school teachers love teenagers. They have to love them in all of their awkward, immature, emotional glory to keep coming to work each day. We want to make a change in their lives that sets them on a better life path. So whether it be cafeteria duty, bathroom duty, study hall or office duty, rethink your purpose. Think of those duties not as a mundane task, or something that is a hindrance in your day, but as another chance to make a change—a change that we all want to help make anyway.
Katy Lynch is an English language arts (ELA) teacher at the Gloucester County Institute of Technology. At the time she wrote this article, she was an ELA teacher at Woodstown High School in Salem County. In both schools, Lynch notes, has been coincidentally assigned bathroom duty. When she’s not teaching or monitoring restrooms, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.