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Teacher's Bad Breath Stinks Up Classroom

Dear Harlan: I have a teacher who has terrible breath. I’m in high school and don’t know how to tell him. It’s hard to handle it when he offers help or checks our work. He will lean in and his breath smells like toilet water. His bad breath is a running joke in the class. I want to tell him, but I don’t know how to do this in a polite way that will not embarrass him. We have thought of writing an anonymous note, but that might seem like we are joking or trying to give him a hard time. This is no joke. Is there a way for a student to tell a teacher something like this without having it be weird and awkward?

— Stuck

Dear Stuck:  It’s hard to tell a person in a place of authority, “Your putrid breath makes me want to tear my nose off my face.” He might not be open to feedback. And if he doesn’t like what you’re sharing, it will make it hard to maintain a relationship. You need to maintain a relationship with this person. Therefore, you need some help. Start with a vice principal, a counselor or the head of the department. Politely bring up what is making you uncomfortable. Bring a friend from class. Avoid using words like “vomit,” “stinky” or “putrid.” These will distract from the point. Make it clear that his bad breath is interfering with the learning process. Then give it a week. Just so you know — there could be a medical issue causing the bad breath. The teacher might not have any idea that this is happening. All you can do is respectfully let the right people know and hope they will take action. Then smell what happens next.

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