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Monday, April 14, 2008

The Sensitive Issue of Smelly Students.

Teenagers smell. They can't help it. It's hormones combined with the sad attempt to disguise the said stench with gallons of deodorant. If televised commercials are to be believed, they should- in theory- be swarmed by women like flies on poo. I guess if the women were interested in poo, they'd be set, because quite honestly it smells like some of them have made more than a passing acquaintance with a steaming pile of dung.

Some of my students have come to school sharing a variety of delightful odors. I've had one who refused to bathe and didn't change sanitary pads and so once at least one week a month it meant no work would be done because all my other students who would complain about the smell the entire time. Also, trying to speak without breathing through your nose is pretty damn obvious, and not wanting to hurt feelings, I had to be discrete. That was back when they used to give us money to buy rewards for our students... That year, I made ALL my prizes for the girls things that smelled nice, so it wouldn't be so obvious. She got a nice little bath set. I asked the nurse if she could talk to her about hygiene, as that is more her field than mine but she refused. She told me she doesn't "do that."

Another student came from the family home from hell. He worked on cars in his spare time and literally smelled of feces every single day. It was all I could do to not gag when I had to work close to him. He was a very angry, depressed young man and so it wasn't a topic I was going to touch... Ten foot pole or otherwise.

Last week, the topic of malodorous students arose with a kid who normally only stinks of cigarettes, but this time he was sporting something particularly nose-hair curling. His first bell teacher approached me and told me the smell was enough to almost make him lose his breakfast. I saw the kid later and had totally forgotten about his "Odor Report". He asked to stay with me all day instead of going to his classes and promised to do all of his work. I said I'd think about it after the next class he had which I would also be in.

I was rudely reminded of what his first bell teacher had told me when I saw his best friend approach him then promptly turn away yelling "Aw hell naw, I'm gonna work over there by myself. It stinks like butt up in here." Oops. The penny dropped, I was able to correctly add two and two, the light turned on, etc... He didn't want to be in his classes because he smelled so bad.

Towards the end of that class, I told him he could stay in my room and I'd be there to teach him all he would be missing in his classes. He gave me the sincerest thanks at the end of that day, it was quite sweet. And he was even thoughtful enough to open one of my windows and sit by it the whole time.

Many students reek of cigarette smoke, and (as I've been told) weed too. Being the naive little person that I am, I have no idea what weed smells like so whenever I'm told a kid stinks of it I'm half tempted to stroll past said pot-head repeatedly until I memorize the smell for future reference. Problem is, having permanent allergy issues means I struggle to identify smells other than recognize their intensity. I know that sounds weird, but sometimes I'm aware there is a strong odor, but my olfactory senses are so shot to hell I can't tell what it is I am smelling. Some days are better than others. Needless to say that with spring upon us right now with a particularly pollen-laden vengeance, I'm incapable of smelling much of anything at the moment.

Thank goodness.


'liya said...

Please let me know if you ever come up with a solution to politely address this issue, I have a few who I avoid walking past too and I want to help them, I do, just don't want to offend someone you know? Sometimes it really can be unbearable :S

Saudi Stepford Wife-Daisy said...

I had that the same situation, only I couldn't determine exactly which student stunk. There were a pair of girls who were always together, cousins, and I'm not sure exactly what the odor was or which one of them smelled sooooo bad. It was a constant smell, no matter which day of the week it was always the same. I knew when they'd been in the classroom the lecture before me because the smell lingered for hours after they'd left. When I discreetly brought it up to a co-worker, she immediately knew who I was talking about within a few words.

This was at a university too, and they were bright girls. I'm not sure if there was some kind of physical issue or they just didn't wash and luved their garlic and onions. I found out I was pregnant the same day I accepted that teaching position and started my lectures immediately with my morning-sickness afflicted preternatural-pregnant-nose being assaulted daily by THAT SMELL..augh!

and their wasn't a thing to be done about it...I couldn't bring myself to talk to the girls about it and NONE of the other staff were willing either.

Saudi Stepford Wife-Daisy said...

glancing at my previous comment, as I rambled on about teaching English of all things, I just found at least 4 glaring errors. It's 3 a.m. so even an over-educated uni lecturer needs to be given a stupid-pass from time to time. Is it any wonder why my own blog is so neglected these days while I wade through my insomniatic haze. Can't bring myself to embarrass myself on my own blog:-P

TeacherLady said...

Liya, I really think the best thing would be to give them one of those books on your changing body which identifies hygiene issues. My mum gave me one when I was turning 13 and it described how I was to expect to look/feel/smell different as I went through adolescence. I was so much of a tomboy that at first, I didn't even notice so the book helped me realize it.
Now this really should be down to the family to do, but as we all know, as teachers we tend to do a lot of things that USED to be the responsibility of parents but now falls to us to address... Maybe it will take the teasing of others, the kind word of a friend the same age, or the concern of a parent... But I don't really think there's a gentle way for a teacher to point it out, unless it were brought up in a health class, that is.

Oh heck, Daisy, don't ever be embarrassed about simple human errors! I don't pick on things like that. I was on an airplane when my morning sickness had started, so the stale smell of the plane made me feel even more pukey. Bad timing. I guess we all have to do a little mouth breathing sometimes!

Cairogal said...

No school counselor to talk to them about this (since the nurse doesn't "do that")? Fecal matter? How old is this kid?

TeacherLady said...

The counselors at our school are a unique breed... Some are a billion times better than others, and with all my luck most of my kids have the one who wouldn't know how to do her job if you give her directions with pictures. They already complain, quite rightly so, that their jobs are already overwhelmed with the enormous numbers of emotionally disturbed children AND helping them all to schedule their classes AND co-ordinate their applications for uni etc...
It certainly is an option, depending on which counselor the kids have.

They're 14 years old...

Dana said...

That nurse is a fool- teaching about proper hygiene should certainly be part of her job.

Suggestion: before each school day, dab some Vick's VapoRub under your nose/above your lip. I think that's what people who work in morgues do until they get used to the smell.

TeacherLady said...

Dana, I know... You would think that, right? Ah well. I like the Vicks idea, only I don't think I'd want to smell THAT every day either! :) I'll live. Thanks, though!