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The Olfactory Offender

  • What's that smell?

    I didn’t notice it until about midway through the class when I approached the front row to ask a question. There was a certain aroma in our little classroom...and it was quite pungent, but not altogether unpleasant. It was unmistakable to anyone who’s ever been to a rock concert. I’m pretty sure it originated on the left side of the classroom, but I don’t think I could localize it without weaving in and out of each row. I probably smiled to myself, shook my head a little, and then went on with the class. My thought at the time was that class wasn’t being disrupted. Everyone seemed focused on our discussion and most were participating. Class ended and I didn’t think about it again.

    The next day though, I received an email from a student, a good student, who had taken previous courses with me. He was complaining about the smell. He couldn't escape the odor and was having trouble focusing on classroom discussions. He couldn’t identify the scent-giver, but asked me to try and do something about it. I replied that I would say something to the entire class at our next session.

    Let me say right off the bat that I don’t think students should come to class high. Nor should faculty. I've heard from students and colleagues alike that a former faculty member was regularly high when teaching. Teaching while high seems like a bad idea. I can't even imagine what the classrooms in Washington and Colorado must be like!

    But then I started thinking about the repercussions of telling someone in class that he or she stinks. What if the person had bad body odor? Would I feel comfortable speaking to the class about that...even if it was distracting the other students? I don’t really think this is the same thing. Is it?

    I also don’t think it’s appropriate to perform a sniff test on my students to identify the olfactory offender. Finally, what if I say something to the class and the odor returns next class? What then?

    What would you do?



  • Rich Olexa
    Rich Olexa I had this happen! A student had terrible body odor, and another student came to me about it. She approached me after class and asked if I could/would speak to the olfactory offender about the issue. I had noticed the body odor, and it was indeed bad... B...  more
    February 18, 2014
  • Robert Vann
    Robert Vann In my case, I teach a captive audience, literally! My students are inmate offenders in a State prison. I would simply inform the security officer of my beliefs and as they were being shaken down when leaving class, they would do the sniff test and write t...  more
    June 2, 2014 - 1 likes this
  • Tammy  Perez
    Tammy Perez One of my colleagues had a student in class with a colostomy bag that would routinely cause a terrible odor in class that students complained to him about. He ultimately pulled the student aside and spoke with him. He said it was the hardest conversation ...  more
    June 5, 2015 - 1 likes this
  • Bob Ertischek
    Bob Ertischek Tammy, that colostomy bag issue is a tough one. What can the student do? Empty it before class? Certainly that student shouldn't be excluded because of this health issue. Tolerance here sounds like the right thing, but then again, what about the other stu...  more
    June 5, 2015