• Sun, Nov 24 - 1:22 pm ET

New York Pre-School Teacher Sends Hygiene Note To Parents (But There’s Got To Be A Better Way)

Hygiene note

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What would you do if you received a letter from your child’s teacher complaining that the class was coming to school smelly and dirty? Hygiene note Well, that is what one upstate New York teacher is being accused of, and to be honest, the hygiene note is pretty depressing.

The note, sent from the pre-school teacher at the BUILD Academy in Buffalo, NY reads”

“Several children aged 3-4 are coming to school (sometimes daily) with soiled, stained, or dirty clothes. Some give off unpleasant smells and some appear unclean and unkept [SIC]. It is a health and safety concern. It also makes it difficult for me to be close to them or even want to touch them. Enough said.”

Of course, parents are upset by the note, and I can kinda see why. I am a big supporter of education professionals, and I understand the challenged they face, but the tone of this note was unnecessarily harsh, especially for an area where 30 percent of the local residents live in poverty. One parent, Kimberly Wells noted that her granddaughter asked ” Does my teacher think I stink?” Wells went on to say that she wishes the teacher had acted in a more compassionate manner, maybe calling parents with this issue on the phone and offering support, or a meeting. When Wells tried to talk to the teacher about the incident, she was allegedly less than forthcoming:

“I did try to talk to the teacher about this and she didn’t want to hear anything I had to say.”

Though the note was sent without the permission of the school’s administration, they have decided not to punish the teacher. I can’t say I disagree with that decision. I understand how difficult a teacher’s job can be, especially in a public school located in a low income area, where there is usually a lot less funding and support for teachers. I do think she should be given some sort of sensitivity training, because the note was far from professional, and probably did more harm than good.

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  • keelhaulrose

    I’m back and forth on this. Parents should be informed when their kids are un-hygenically dirty, but this isn’t a subject for all parents to hear, it should be a one-on-one private discussion with the offending families (perhaps they can’t afford to do laundry or give regular baths, things happen and water isn’t free).
    And the way the note is written is very unprofossional. “Enough said” is not a proper send off to a professional note.

    • Courtney Lynn

      Exactly. “Enough said” is right up there with “just saying”. It’s a biting comment without being utterly rude.

    • http://fairlyoddmedia.com/ Frances Locke

      Exactly. When I was a kid we had issues keeping the water on for a while, when my dad was hurt on the job and recovering. I can imagine that if the situation had been different, and he hadn’t been there to specifically make sure I was clean (sometimes resorting to donated spring water to do so) I might have gone to school being less than hygienic. This note also didn’t take into consideration that the parent(s) might be depressed or have something else going on. A nasty sounding note isn’t going to help in that situation.

    • Emil

      This is what I was thinking. Some parents have very real barriers that could affect hygiene and a note like this does nothing to address those barriers. Now if you will excuse me I am off to bathe my children…again. This topic is making me feel like everyone in my house needs a bath.

    • carosaurusrex

      Sure they might have something else going on, but the result is that they are neglecting their children and that is not OK, regardless of the reason.

    • http://www.whatwouldshethink.com/ Rachelle

      My exact reaction was that it may actually compound the situation in the case that the child was being neglected due to a depressed parent. Letting all the parents know through a note showed a lack of compassion. If she knew which children it was specifically (since she mentions not wanting to be near them due to smells), wouldn’t a personalized note to the parents in question have been more tactful?

    • FaintlyXMacabre

      I was thinking this, and it makes the line about not wanting to touch them even worse. I have been in situations that require interacting with neglected kids, if you don’t interact/touch them (hugs, pats, etc.) they may not get that at all.

    • Andrea

      If there is something going on that’s preventing a child from being properly taken care of, then the proper authorities should be called. No child should be neglected. Ever.

    • Rachel Sea

      That should be a last step, not a first step.

    • cabecb

      The note was rude and the manner it was written in was unprofessional. This is a delicate issue and it can be hard to know how to handle it in the best way. The way this is usually handle is by talking to the parent one on one instead of sending a note home addressed to all the parents. If the teacher is not comfortable, he or she can invite admin to come and help.

    • Andrea

      They would have gotten outraged if the teacher had done this one on one. And that’s assuming the she could even do that. How? Calling them in for a conference? I don’t see that happening. A phone call? As many pointed out, in low income areas is not uncommon for a phone number not to exist. A visit? Please, they would have been seriously pissy if the teacher showed up at their home to tell them their child is smelly.

    • keelhaulrose

      As a poor person who has done things like send the wrong pencils because I couldn’t afford the tri-corner Ticonderoga and had to apply for a fee waiver I’m pretty sure most people in that position would not mind a private note. I would hardly be outraged if I got a note saying “hey, I noticed little Bobby has been coming to school without a bath/in dirty clothes/etc. Is everything all right? Is there something I could do to help?” If the kids are picked up instead of taking the bus that would be a good time to talk if you don’t want a note.
      I’ve worked in school districts and in day cares. I’ve seen my share of smelly kids. I know most parents are not intentionally neglecting their children’s hygiene, and when I’ve let parents know their child is extremely dirty I’ve always done it in private and with an offer to help. I would never open speculation by other parents, or put them in a position where they’d encourage their kids to identify the smelly kids. Part of my job was to care for kids well being, and I did give one a bath in a tub at our daycare once to help out a parent.
      Sending an unprofossional note to the whole class would never be a possibility in my mind. There’s always a way to contact parents that doesn’t involve humiliating kids in a public way.

    • Andrea

      I am more inclined to give the teacher the benefit of the doubt. She was not disciplined and to me, that speaks volumes. For all we know, she tried other venues too.
      And before you (or anyone) accuses me of privilege narrow mindedness, I have had utilities cut off in more than one occasion in the past. I KNOW what it is like to have 3 dollars (or worse, negative) in your bank account and not know exactly when you will get more money and to get some kind of note from school that kids need to send in [insert whatever super necessary item that kid needs to have by Friday] and me not have the money for it.

      I have not, however, sent in my kid dirty or hungry to school.

    • keelhaulrose

      And I’ve worked in districts where we kept breakfast in our desks for the kids who came to school hungry because we knew there were three days until the food stamps got deposited and that cheese stick want going to cut it but that was the parent’s option. Places where having a negative balance in the bank wasn’t possible because that requires a bank account, and when you’re getting paid in cash you don’t get a bank account. People like to say “that’s what food banks are for” but when the nearest one is five miles away and you have exactly enough gas in your car for work and that’s it you can’t go five miles out of the way.
      Most people don’t neglect their kids on purpose. They think their kids can make it one more day without a bath or those jeans can go one more time without a wash, and to some people it’s easy past due, but when you’re desperate, you’re desperate and willing to push things for the sake of making it to your next paycheck.

    • LaidbackLiz

      THANK YOU Andrea! I wish I’d read more of these comments before I posted. While I mentioned that I’ve (very, very) fortunately never been in the situation many of these parents are in, I can’t imagine my son being dirty, dressed in dirty clothes or that my mom would have ever let me be dirty, dressed in dirty clothes regardless of the circumstances. Assistance is there for those who need it and my PERSONAL embarrassment at tight finances would never overrule asking for it if it meant that my children would be at a disadvantage because of it. There are basic things that parents should be expected to provide – those additional school supplies, no, those should not be ‘expected’ – but a bath and a meal? Absolutely, ask for help, apply for food stamps or utility assistance but as a parent to my child, these are things I should always provide for him no matter what.

    • TheGiantPeach

      I don’t know if you read the papers, but food stamps and other forms of assistance are taking cuts right now. What if the food stamp cut meant that parents had to choose between feeding their children and paying the water bill, and they chose food? If you’ve never been in the situation then please don’t judge. Most people are doing the best they can with what they’ve got.

    • LaidbackLiz

      I absolutely understand that with what’s happening in the government right now some people are in precarious situations. I wasn’t talking about government aid solely though. I don’t know a church out there that wouldn’t let a family in need use their facilities to bathe if needed, or food banks that haven’t helped several people I grew up with recently bridge the gap in their grocery bill with their food stamps taking a hit. A girl I went to school with from kindergarten to 12th grade has a large family that she was able to provide for with no assistance until she lost her government job where her salary and benefits combined with her husbands never left them wealthy, but taken care of. When she was forced to apply for help she did and when her food stamps didn’t come for a month and she mentioned how panicked she was on Facebook I went grocery shopping with her and picked up the tab. I realize that not everyone has someone to do exactly that but my point is that as a parent you HAVE to figure out how to provide both food and running water, electricity and clean clothes, etc. If you’re unable to you don’t quit seeking help until you find it, we bring our children into the world without their asking to be brought here and once they arrive it’s our job to see that they have everything essential for a healthy and safe upbringing regardless of how difficult that task may be. I’m not judging based on financial situation, I’m saying that I know wealthy parents who neglect their children, and beyond poor parents that are some of the best I know – every parent has the ability to provide what their children need in some way, shape or form and it’s our duty to make that happen.

    • Kelby Johnson

      This. I have struggled more often than I haven’t since becoming an adult, however, my kids are always bathed, fed and they have nicer clothes than I do because their well-being comes before mine and I know kids can be mean. I haven’t bought anything for myself since my son was born (he’s 11 now). I don’t agree with the last 2 lines of the note though, I think more professional words could have been used.

    • AlexMMR

      You’re approach is great, if you’re in a position to offer additional help and are inclined to do so. But let’s also remember that such an attitude and volunteering time like that is above and beyond.

      It’s the responsibility of parents to make their children appropriate for public interaction. That means keeping them bathed so that they don’t have offending odors, and teaching them manners so they aren’t neanderthals.

      You’re proposing that the teacher should offer to assist in these parental duties. While that would be very nice of her, why the hell should she have to? Teachers have their own lives going on. I know of one teacher who recently had twins and was simply exhausted for a solid 6 months. Should she be expected to volunteer her precious time above and beyond her job to assist other parents in accomplishing the bare minimum of their parental responsibilities? I certainly don’t think so.

    • keelhaulrose

      Every teachers job is to help look after the well being of the kids in their care. Maybe they don’t need to have the number for the social worker, but I haven’t met one who wouldn’t At least forward the case to the school nurse or social worker, as their jobs are to deal with possible neglectful situations. If they can’t get through to the parents then there’s more cause for concern. Your job, as a teacher, is not to set your kids up for potential humiliation. It’s too be compassionate and discrete in these situations, and to at least let someone know there’s a family that might need help if you’re unwilling or unable to offer the information yourself.

    • Blueathena623

      I think a teacher is helping a family out more by sending a note first instead of immediately informing the nurse (who is probably more likely to report it as neglect) or a social worker. As I’ve said, the last two lines are not professional, and I would add a line about contacting the school with any questions.
      I’m not exactly sure how this teacher was expected to talk to parents in private. The note says “several children” so trying to arrange those private talks could take some time, as opposed a general note that does not single anyone out. If the parents hadn’t talked to the news station, this WOULD have been a private issue.

    • LaidbackLiz

      My sister is a 5th grade teacher at a Title 1 school who packed ‘extra’ in her lunch every day the first year she taught for her hungry children that often didn’t get dinner at home. While I think she has a heart of gold and gave her $20 grocery gift cards every week to help these kids I also think you’re saying there’s a LOT of responsibility on a teacher and giving the parents myriad excuses. I sincerely hope that when my son starts school he has a teacher like his aunt who sincerely loves teaching and the children in her care HOWEVER I’m his mother – when it gets down to it I am the one responsible for bathing, clothing, and feeding him. I am very lucky to not be in a position that I believe I’ll ever have to reach out for help but if it was a question of my embarrassment or jumping hurdles of transportation, food banks, standing on a street corner if it came to it asking for help – I would put my pride aside and do what I needed to do. In becoming a parent I feel I made a ‘promise’ to my son to always care for the necessities in his care and upbringing. Being hygienic and having clean clothes fall under that category to me.

    • keelhaulrose

      I will not excuse chronic dirtiness or anything like that, but when I worked with these kids I did notice a pattern of when kids started going without baths or would come in wearing dirty clothes; When we had a cold snap or it started getting colder, and the heaters had to go on, if gas spiked and it suddenly cost an extra few bucks to fill the tank, if rent went up and there was a gap between the rise and when benefits went up, the car needed a repair, stuff like that. Yes, they’re excuses, but they’re excuses I’ve heard before from parents who fell on hard times. A lot of these parents didn’t rely on government assistance, and didn’t know they could get a little quick help. It was also more of a rural area, with no food bank for five miles, and that one was open once a week for three hours right in the middle of the work day. You can’t take off work to go get food, the next option was twenty-five miles away, which, in many of their cars, was two gallons of gas each way at four dollars or more a gallon. There was no public transportation save for the school bus who would take your kid fifteen miles to school, and there wasn’t enough traffic to stand by the side of the road (cars went through at 55, no stop lights or signs, the only people in town were those struggling like you). I get putting your pride aside, but I also get that sometimes there are hurdles that are too much to overcome. As I said before, if there was a child who came in who was chronically ‘smelly’ and the parent ignored or rebuffed every attempt at assistance I wouldn’t hesitate to report them for possible neglect. But most of our kids came in clean in clean clothes every day, so you’d notice if things start slipping and you’d reach out to help because hard times happen.

    • Kelby Johnson

      Some teachers don’t use the “If there is anything I can do to help” approach though. I think this is because personal hygiene is never an easy topic to bring up and essentially with kids, you are telling the parents they aren’t bathing their kid enough or washing their clothes. (I know that most are genuinely concerned, I am just stating how it can be taken the wrong way) My son fights with me about wearing deoderant (he has oily skin and he is hitting puberty, so he smells sometimes) and I am just waiting on a call/email/letter from the school about his hygiene. He showers every single night, he just won’t put on deoderant =(

  • Sarah

    I don’t blame this teacher one bit! The first observation i made when I entered my daughter’s kindergarten class to serve cupcakes was that it reeked of children. I have three kids of my own and have encountered enough filthy socks, uncut dirty finger and toenails and untreated rashes from their sleepover friends. I’ve actually got a method to handle this: in the summer, we have pool party and outdoor activities, then they come inside and rinse off! I keep spare toothbrushes and extra changes of clothes. But how is a teacher supposed to tactfully approach parents? She probably should have involved the school’s counselor’s to talk to the children first, then they could have involved the parents if that didn’t work. The teacher may not have had a touchy-feely way of approach but certainly some of these kids parents will be at least embarassed enough to buy them a toothbrush and change their clothes once a week now.

    • http://fairlyoddmedia.com/ Frances Locke

      “She probably should have involved the school’s counselor’s to talk to the children first, then they could have involved the parents if that didn’t work.” This was my point exactly, though. I certainly have sympathy for the teacher’s situation. But there had to have been a better way to deal with it.

    • Annona

      Aren’t they three and four? What kind of conversation could a counselor have with them, exactly? And how is talking to a three or four year old about the fact that they stink less “shamey” than sending a note (that the parents didn’t even have to expose the children to) home for the adult in the situation to read?

    • http://fairlyoddmedia.com/ Frances Locke

      The counselor would (attempt) to speak to the parents, not the kids. I thought this would be obvious, didn’t realize I had to specify. You seem pretty eager to attack me.

    • Annona

      “She probably should have involved the school’s counselor’s to talk to the children first” to which you responded “This was my point exactly”. I was confused, because the quoted note refers to children ages 3 and 4. Because talking to a 3 or 4 year old about their personal hygiene seems pretty pointless, since kids that age in my experience usually have to be tackled into the bath and would wear the same pants for six months if you’d let them. Sorry that my confusion seems like “attacking” you. I forgot, you’re the blogger who thinks “disagreeing” is “attacking.”

    • Emil

      Unless I am misinterpreting it, the note has a signature line for the child as well as the parent implying that the teacher wants the child to read it or at least know what it says.

    • FaintlyXMacabre

      I promise you, if this is a rough/poor part of town, most people go through their lives in a perpetual state of humiliation, “embarassing” them into purchasing things they might not be able to afford sounds kinda crappy, sorry. Also, were you really surprised to find that a classroom smelled like kids? I worked at a well monied preschool and the entire place still smelled like urine perpetually, because kids are stinky little critters.

    • LaidbackLiz

      Embarrassing them into purchasing things they might not be able to afford like SOAP or SHAMPOO or TOOTHPASTE is crappy?? Parents have an obligation to their children to provide these things or seek help if they can’t. I can think of no instance or circumstance where I would believe it’s “OK” for my son to be dirty, have dirty clothes, unbrushed teeth, etc.

    • FaintlyXMacabre

      Um, yes. For some people those things are a luxury. I happen to think that parents have an obligation to teach their kids compassion. As I said to blh, I’d prefer a smelly one to a jerk parroting their parents’ shittiness. And on the plus side, compassion is a 100% freeballs! Sorry, no amount of capital letters is going to convince me this teacher did the right thing.

    • LaidbackLiz

      I apologize if my ‘all caps’ came off as too ‘shouty’ – I don’t ever want to be one of those jerks that says things online I’d never say to someone in a typical conversation but I suppose we’ll have to agree to disagree on this one. The comparison of compassion/smelliness to wealthy/brattiness doesn’t seem to jive to me. There are plenty of wealthy children who are extraordinarily compassionate (not all parents who are fortunate in their finances raise brats) just like there are plenty of rude smelly kids. I know you were saying that you’d rather have one over the other but cleanliness has nothing to do with their attitudes. You may not agree with me, or this teacher – but I’m still sincerely surprised that you consider items the government will provide to anyone in need – toothpaste, soap, shampoo, detergent luxuries. Toys, electronics, trips, these are luxuries – I think we all owe our children basic amenities like soap and toothpaste.

    • blh

      If you don’t take care of your child properly you SHOULD be embarrassed. What about the embarrassment of the kids having to be known as the stinky one?

    • FaintlyXMacabre

      undoubtedly exacerbated by this note. I was a poor smelly kid, and embarrassing my mom–who did live in humiliation–wass never the thing that helped. Flip side, working in childcare, should parents be ashamed of every single thing? Cause I’ll take a smelly kid over a rich snotty brat any day of the week.

  • Emil

    This is totally inappropriate. I understand that hygiene needs to be addressed but it is a complicated and delicate issue and a note like this is only going to cause shame.

  • guest

    I think the teacher had the right idea, but could have done it in a more tactful way. I have plenty of students that wear the same clothes multiple times per week and who I’m hesitant to give hugs to. I think a very general letter saying that there are concerns about student hygiene and offering support to parents who would like help (a workshop led by a childcare professional? a place where parents can get donated clothes?) would have been better.

    • http://fairlyoddmedia.com/ Frances Locke

      I think it would have been better to go to the school administration before sending the note, to work out something more tactful. Though to be fair, None of the reports that I’ve read mention whether the teacher did this or not.

  • Annona

    I think she did the best thing she could have done. The wording of the note was pretty dry and probably could have been nicer but I can understand why she chose to send a note to every parent instead of singling out the specific children and just calling those parents. I could just imagine the hostility level she would have experienced had she called the parents (who are obviously dumb enough/neglectful enough to send their children to school unbathed in dirty clothes, so I’m sure they’re going to be thrilled to talk to teacher about it and no matter how civil her phone voice I can imagine how the conversation would go). She probably wrote the letters figuring there was actually less chance of her losing her job and being the bad guy by being inclusive than by singling out certain children, since aren’t we supposed to think that now? Grandma should be able to explain to her child that, no, the note is not about you because we bathe you and wash your clothes. In fact, unless the children are reading at a pretty high level of comprehension as three year olds, they probably only know what the notes said because their parents have pointed it out to them.

    And the income level of the parents has nothing to do with them properly bathing their children. My whole family when I was this little was a level of extremely poor that you probably can’t imagine…but we were goddamn clean and so were our clothes. There is no need to infantilize the poor and imply that because someone is of low income they have somehow lost the self respect and common sense that it takes to understand that you need to bathe your child and clean their clothing. If they are to that point, pointing it out to them is a good and necessary thing, since a three year old is not able to figure out proper hygiene and take care of that business themselves. “Sensitivity training” is part of what the hell is wrong with things now. How about “bathe your children and wash their clothing 101″?

    • Emil

      If they don’t have a washer/dryer and can’t afford to go to the laundromat and live in a small apartment with multiple people? I’m not saying that all people who are low income struggle with this but poverty certainly does play a role.

    • Annona

      Sink. Clothesline. Bucket. There are ways to wash clothes that don’t involve a laundromat. You don’t have to smell bad, and coming from a low income rural area where many people I went to school with lacked indoor plumbing at all, not being dirty and not smelling bad was a matter of pride and self-respect that people who have ready every day access to a washer and dryer and bathtub might not even get. I can even understand a busy low income parent letting themselves go a little if it comes down to it…but sending your child to school smelly and covered in filth is neglectful and says more about personal responsibility than it does how much money a person has.

    • keelhaulrose

      I once knew a single mother (he husband ran off) of three. She worked two part time jobs and one full time. She had no washer or dryer, no money for a laundromat, and no time to wash the clothes at home. She’d ask others for help, but sometimes her kids (who had enough clothes for a week) wouldn’t get their clothes cleaned for a month. She did her best, and we’d offer to help when we noticed things slipping, but it does happen. Pride only goes so far when you’re stretched to the limit, and shaming them isn’t going to help.

    • Annona

      I’m not saying that people don’t get overwhelmed with their circumstances. But no matter what the excuse, not washing a child’s clothes for a month is neglectful. If you couple that with not bathing them but maybe once a week, or even less…you’re setting yourself up for a situation where a teacher, as a mandatory reporter, might have to get someone else involved because the flashing neon “Child Neglect” sign is going off in his/her head. Not to mention the emotional toll that being “the kid who stinks” takes on the children themselves at school. Their peers are shaming THEM, you can be sure. What would be the teacher’s alternative? Sit in a classroom full of stinking children? Deal with the children themselves getting picked on for being stinky? We all just decide as a society that because life is hard it’s OK to neglect the basic hygiene of your child? A school district in my state just decided that it was OK for kids with lice to go to school, because being absent for having contagious vermin might be “embarrassing” for them, and so it’s better for all the kids in the class to just be exposed to lice than hurt a child’s fee-fees, so we’re getting closer to that every day, I guess.

      A reminder, in the form of a note, that being clean is a good idea isn’t “shaming”. I think that calling specific parents to read them the riot act about their dirty children might even be more so. I think she was trying to do the right thing by NOT singling out. My only issue is with her wording, which was a little too snarky.

    • keelhaulrose

      That completely unprofossional note, sent to the whole class and not just the “stinky kids”, is shaming parents who may not be purposefully neglecting their children. I’ve gone without water for a week to keep the heat on, my kid didn’t get a bath that week, save for getting wiped down with wipes. Stuff happens, and there’s a difference between sending a professional note out of concern to the offending families and sending the note the teacher said to the whole class.

    • Andrea

      And it would not have been “shaming” to single out the smelly ones only?

    • keelhaulrose

      Not if you do it privately, and not in such a way as saying “your kid is gross, I don’t want to touch them”. There’s tact and professionalism, and then there’s this note.

    • Gangle

      I know what you are saying, but I think if you have one week where you are just washing top and tail doesn’t lead to an especially smelly child. I went to school with a family that lived a super basic lifestyle, with no running water. at the time it was during a 15 year drought, so they didn’t waste the water they had. They only bathed once a week, and the rest of the time just washed face/hands/feet/underarms etc with a washcloth. They NEVER smelled, because care was taken. You had no running water, but you still took the time to ensure your child was clean, even if it wasn’t with a bath full of bubbles. I do get that some families in a desperate situation would let hygiene be forgotten a bit, because there are so many other things they are fearful and stressed about, and I don’t think it is necessarily neglectful. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t important, and doesn’t need to be addressed.
      The letter this teacher wrote was pretty gross, and could have been better and more compassionately worded though.

  • Amber

    I tutor in a kindergarten classroom in an economically challenged area. I can totally sympathize with this teacher, although I don’t think there is a correlation between finances and hygiene. Most of my students are well cared for, but it’s very obvious that some are only bathed weekly at best. Some have dirty, untrimmed fingernails, unwashed faces, and very dirty clothes. It is hard to take the less clean kids and work one on one with them, not that they’re smelly, but my heart is so heavy that it’s hard to concentrate. Each of those little buggers are so special and it’s hard to think that they’re not being cared for properly at home. Perhaps a note home to remind parents basic skills is warranted at times.

  • Blueathena623

    First of all, the parents suggesting phone calls and meetings needs to be realistic. Not all families have a phone, but more importantly, I don’t think a teacher should have to use her unpaid free time (since calling during the day is almost impossible) or actually trying to schedule a meeting and use her time for THAT to discuss hygiene.
    The wording of the note could be better, BUT certain hygiene issues are considered signs of neglect, which teachers may have to report. Remove the last two sentences and turn unkept into unkempt, and add something about parents can contact the school for more info, and you are good to go.

    • http://fairlyoddmedia.com/ Frances Locke

      What bothered me a little was that it was written in what looks to be market (I might be wrong though) and not on school letterhead, which makes me think she kinda knew she might get into hot water. You do make some good points, and like I said, I have sympathy for her predicament.

    • Blueathena623

      The link to the actual article appears to be down and I’m not seeing an image on my iPad, so maybe if I were able to see the note I’d change my mind.
      As for the school letterhead, when I taught at a low-income school I don’t think I ever used letterhead for anything. I had such a small paper and ink allowance that I used my own paper and printer/pens for a lot of stuff. For a short message like that, IF I used school paper, I wouldn’t use a whole sheet. I’d write it multiple times on a sheet and cut it up and send the slips home.

    • Emil

      I was bothered by the heading “URGENT NOTICE!!!” Seriously? I think if the note had been composed differently I would not have had such a strong reaction to it.

    • carosaurusrex

      If I had a dollar for every time a parent scheduled a meeting then didn’t show up, I bet I could buy myself a pretty sweet TV or something, just sayin. Sometimes, especially when many of your students’ families might not have consistent phone, computer, or transportation access, the best way to reach them is to send a note home.

    • Savannah61

      Me too! This year has been especially bad. Breaks my heart, too because this group is rough and there are a lot of things I’d like to talk with parents about! You get so much more done when you work together.

    • Kelby Johnson

      I couldn’t imagine making an appointment with my kids’ teachers and then not showing up. I appreciate the notes that my daughter’s teacher sends home. My oldest is in middle school, so I don’t have as much interaction with his teachers =(

    • Andrea

      From what I hear from most teachers in low income areas, getting a parent to show up to a parent-teacher meeting is next to impossible. Getting them to answer the phone (assuming they even have one) is also impossible and you are right that teachers are called upon enough to do after hours work for free without burdening them even more.
      I think the note served the purpose. At least parents took notice. And I get the feeling they would have gotten equally pissy if the teacher had called them to tell them their child was dirty.

    • keelhaulrose

      You assume a lot about these parents. Not once have a confronted a parent of a smelly kid to have them get “pissy” at me. I usually get stories, the water was turned off, the laundromat they could walk to closed and they have no car to get to the other one, they are working extra shifts to afford the rent hike, whatever. I always kept information for these parents, the number for a social worker to help get money for utilities, a local church whose members would drive them to the laundromat. I even knew a hotel owner who would give a family a room for an hour or two so they could bathe. Not once did one of these families get “pissy”. They felt lost and in need of a helping hand, but too embarrassed to ask.
      The only mom who ever got pissy with me was the mother of twins who bathed her son and dressed him in nice clothes while her daughter came in wearing soiled diapers still in her pajamas, and we knew she was neglecting the girl (she took the bottle out of the girl’s mouth to give to the boy). She got pissy when we called her out on it.

    • Blueathena623

      The article says that parents are upset about the note. I’m assuming that is where the “get pissy” is coming from.

    • keelhaulrose

      But wouldn’t you “get pissy” if you got a note from your child’s teacher that essentially said “your kid is gross, I don’t want to touch them, enough said”? There’s a lot of ways to say the same thing, some of them are professional and helpful, and some are insulting and liable to make people “pissy”.

    • Blueathena623

      I’m not defending the wording. I was just saying what I think she was referring to.

  • Courtney Lynn

    Wow. I worked with kids starting from a senior in high school until after I graduated college and this issue did come up more than once. It certainly wasn’t addressed so tactlessly. I don’t know exactly how it got to the parents, because we let the boss handle it and knowing her, she handled it diplomatically, not in a hand-written note that sounds like it’s coming from a high schooler. “Enough said”? Really? Wow.

  • Savannah61

    I don’t think the topic was inappropriate to address, but the way the note was worded was incredibly unprofessional. A little tact & kindness can go a long way!

  • Bam!

    The note was not written in a professional manner. I understand compassion but change the word ‘hygiene’ to ‘head lice’ and ask yourself how you feel if your house was affected by someone else’s family who didn’t keep up with their children’s baths, hair care, etc. Anyone can get head lice, but I see children daily who’s parents do nothing to help their children get rid of it and it is passed along to the entire class. Hygiene can be the same thing. Would you want scabies? Bed bugs? Not taking care of your children affects both you and the children around them. I don’t have compassion for the parents, but I do for the children that aren’t getting their needs met.

  • http://wtfihaveakid.blogspot.ca/ jendra_berri

    Impoverished people sometimes spend too much of their mental energy worrying about finances, getting through the day, if there will be enough gas in their cars to get to work, running on little sleep from working two low-paying jobs, to see to regular baths and doing laundry.
    If you’re in poverty, odds are you use a laundromat, which costs time and money. Soap, shampoo costs money. If you rent and pay your own utilities, water costs money.
    Poverty literally lowers your IQ while you’re in the thick of it because it sucks up so much of your mental capacity. Telling impoverished parents their children smell is not going to do anything. I get it’s frustrating, but a note is futile.

  • carosaurusrex

    Would you prefer that she had jumped straight to calling CPS? That was my immediate reaction upon reading this. Yes, the note was sarcastic and totally inappropriate tone-wise, but this is a real issue. Being unkempt and smelly is considered a sign of neglect or abuse. At the program I work at, we probably would have made therapeutic calls already (meaning that there is no confirmed abuse but enough red flags that the child needs checked on by authorities). While a kid could have poor hygiene because mom had to turn the water off for a week, in my experience it is far more likely they are un-hygenic because they’re being neglected or abused.

  • Lauren

    I would have bypassed the letter and gone straight to child services, consistently bad hygiene is a sign of neglect. If even one kid in that class is turning up to school unwashed because their parents are actually on drugs or abusive (not simply because they couldn’t pay their water bill on time), then I’d rather be wrong and have some parents mad at me, rather than ignore the situation and be sorry when something bad happens to one of the kids.

  • AP

    I wonder if the teacher used blunt language because of the parents. Perhaps the parents of her students are not ones to pick up subtle cues, do not have a varied vocabulary, or do not speak English fluently.

    The parents can be mad all the want, but the teacher gave them a warning instead of reporting them directly to CPS, which saved those parents from the hassle of an investigation, charges, and mandated classes and monitoring. They should be thankful.

    People who don’t have *any* access to water are rare, so this level of filth is inexcusable, since it’s easy enough to rinse tiny clothes out in the sink. If they don’t have access to indoor plumbing, then CPS definitely needs to be involved.

  • smoinpour

    It’s important that the students stay sanitary so the whole school doesnt get sick!

  • Gangle

    I think the note could have been better and more politely worded, but when it comes to letting people know that their personal hygiene needs attention, there is no real subtle way to do it. It is an uncomfortable subject from both sides. At least a circular letter to every parent means that no child was singled out. I can understand how hygiene could possibly fall behind for families in need, but at the same time it still needs to be addressed for the childs sake.

  • Heather

    Not tactful, but I’m not opposed to a note being sent home. She didn’t need to include the part about not being able to be close to the kids, she could have just said that there are students being sent to school dirty and that it is becoming a hygiene issue for the students and teachers.

    I had a middle school teacher who told every class he had on the first day of class that they stunk. Not that anyone did right then, but it was a general speech of “you’re going to stink now, get some deodorant. If you have trouble getting deodorant, talk to me in private and I’ll get you some.” He discussed a difficult topic without embarrassing anyone and was able to help some students whose parents genuinely couldn’t afford to buy their kids deodorant.

  • Kirsten Larson

    Wow. Just wow. There are any number of reasons why kids may be coming to school less than fresh. Daily baths, a clean face, or a change of clothing may not be a priority for every parent. Some may have a new baby(ies) and be totally sleep-deprived and overwhelmed, some may not have immediate access to a washer and dryer, others may be battling depression, working multiple jobs, etc. etc. Shoot even I lose track of my kids’ fingernails at times. If the teacher truly felt certain kids were being neglected she should’ve approached the parents individually first and then followed up with the school administrator if needed. Seems to me that the more the kids smell, the more likely they are to need extra love and acceptance, not prissiness and a rude letter sent home to parents.

    • Guest

      I’m sorry, but having multiple kids is a BS excuse for letting your kid become the smelly kid. Someone tried to throw that line on me at parent-teacher conferences, when I told her that I was concerned that no one at home seems to be addressing her daughter’s atrocious behavior. She told me “Well, I have three kids.” …I’m one of three, and god knows my parents would have at the bare minimum given us a talking to if a teacher expressed a concern.

      And basic hygiene should be a priority. This doesn’t sound like a case of someone being a little messy or just general little kid stank. It sounds like it was pretty bad.

  • Katia

    It’s fine to send this note, she just didn’t word it nicely at all. I think she should have taken a few days to edit it numerous times and not leave anything out.

    • Savannah61

      Yes! At our meetings before the school year began, my boss told us not to send any emails, notes, etc. that we wouldn’t want to appear on the news. I always check, double check, then have someone else check if it’s a touchy subject matter.

  • WriterLady

    I have multiple issues with this extremely crass “letter.” Before I outline the issues, let me note my family’s circumstances, as it’s critical to understanding where my opinions come from. Unlike many of the families who have enrolled their children in the BUILD Academy preschool (possibly through Head Start), my family and virtually all of the other families whose children attend my son’s preschool are staunchly middle-class (perhaps even upper-middle-class, in some instances). I mention this because socioeconomics plays a large role in this matter. Had this woman worked in Soho or Chelsea, I highly doubt her letter would have held such a demeaning tone; in fact, you can just about guarantee that a letter never would have circulated at all.

    So, in regard to this woman and her antics, here’s what strikes me as unprofessional, insensitive, and/or ignorant:

    1.) Instead of just outlining the issues she perceived in a pleasant manner, the teacher crudely decided to end the letter with this little gem: “It also makes it difficult for me to be close to them or even want to touch them. Enough said.” Who is this lady? ‘Enough said.’ Really?? This is beyond condescending. If this is how she conducts herself as part of her professional communication, she has no business working with young kids. This isn’t a business letter calling out the poor antics of lazy colleagues, after all.

    2.) I’ve never met a single preschooler who doesn’t end up with clothing that is soiled or stained on a regular basis. The kids get dirty playing outside. They spill or smear their food on their clothing during lunch or snack time. And they get classroom ‘tools’, such as markers and paint, on their shirts (and occasionally pants, socks, and coats). This is true even of higher-end preschools, such as the one my son attends. Why? THEY ARE KIDS. Kids are bound to make messes and get dirty. Since the teachers are busy with their numerous duties, they don’t have time to fully clean off the clothing, which means that permanent stains often remain. I don’t care how wealthy you are, it’s simply impractical to buy a whole new set of clothes every week or two just because junior’s shirt has an imperfection–or several (the horror!). In our family, we clean our son’s clothes, yet we sometimes have to send him to school with shirts that have a stain or two. Nevertheless, the clothes are clean.

    3.) Have you ever noticed upon entering someone else’s home that there is a distinct odor? Again, this is often a simple reality. Most people’s homes have a specific odor to them. The odor may be pleasant, neutral/indescribable, or pungent. Cooking is one cause. People from certain ethnic backgrounds cook with spices that Westerners consider to be pungent. And the odors do linger, long after the food has been served and cleaned up. These scents can be transferred to clothing. Another example pertains to animals. Even animal owners who go to great lengths to maintain cleanliness have a hard time keeping their pet(s)’ odors from permeating the carpet, furniture, and clothing.

    4.) Despite the comments from some other teachers on this board, sending out a mass letter like this is cowardly. Don’t tell me she is too busy to at least attempt to set up individual meetings. If the parents don’t show, that’s not her problem. But at least try, right? Those of us with jobs other than teaching know that we have to go the extra mile sometimes to remedy various issues. I’m a freelance writer working in the educational publishing industry, and I often work extra unpaid hours to correct mistakes or perfect existing content. When you’re dealing with employers or clients, going the extra mile is not optional. If the teacher is inconvenienced by this, she should look for a different job…perhaps one in which she has no direct contact with clientele (and particularly children).

    5.) If the teacher’s concerns are as extreme as she claims, and she suspects neglect, then she should have gone to the administrators and outlined her concerns in explicit detail (with actual documented evidence). If the majority of the staff determined that a serious problem existed, then they should have taken whatever steps were necessary to get social services involved. BUT…I suspect the teacher’s concerns were nothing more than a vague disdain for these impoverished children. The tone of the letter says it all. If a teacher is truly concerned about a child’s welfare, she will ignore the pungent smell and provide as much loving support as possible.

    • Blueathena623

      I’m only going to address item 4. This is idea that teachers should always be willing to put in unpaid hours to schedule meetings hurts those in the educational fields. Teachers already put in tons of unpaid hours. Ask some teachers how much time they have during the day to grade or prepare lesson plans. Being freelance is not the same as being on a school contract. Especially when you consider school hours vs. the hours people normally work, either parents will have to take off of work to attend a meeting close to school hours (and if you having problems providing clean clothes, how many parents could take off) OR you are asking a teacher to stay several hours late. For a meeting that parents may not attend.
      This idea that teachers are stand-in parents or babysitters needs to stop. Yes, teachers usually, hopefully, love teaching and care for their students, but having to act like a parent cuts into the time they can actually teach.

    • WriterLady

      Hon, I’ve been a teacher. Prior to going into publishing, I was an English teacher for a number of years. I put in many hours of overtime. I get it.

      Not to get into a debate about who works more, but I currently put in considerably more unpaid hours than I did when I was a teacher. I also get no paid vacations. I do make more money now, but I’m also writing content for textbooks and consulting with administrators and publishers. I value the work of teachers, and I firmly believe it is one of the most important jobs on the planet.

      To address your comment about not being a babysitter: And are you kidding me? We are talking about preschoolers here…not teenagers. Part of a daycare/preschool teacher’s job is to babysit, in addition to teaching rudimentary skills.

    • Blueathena623

      Why did you change from teaching if you have more unpaid hours now and no paid vacation?
      And pre school teachers are still not babysitters.

    • WriterLady

      I certainly don’t mind answering your question about my choice to change careers. First off, I do want to mention that there is a great deal of crossover between what I do now as a writer of educational materials and what I did as a high school teacher. (Just for the sake of clarity, I also taught college composition courses both as a graduate student and as an adjunct faculty member.)

      Honestly, there are two reasons I switched to publishing from teaching. They are as follows:

      1.) I never quite mastered the art of public speaking, and while I felt that I was a good teacher (consistently receiving favorable reviews), I rarely felt a sense of ease when speaking in front of my students. I’m an introvert at heart, and the joy of teaching faded with time as a result of my lack of confidence in public speaking.

      2.) This point is more critical to understanding my decision to change careers than my first point. Basically, writing has always been my passion. My advanced degree is technically referred to as English with an emphasis on composition and rhetoric. Therefore, I was trained as both an instructor and as a professional writer. While working as a high school teacher, two acquaintances of mine were working for a major publisher in the city where I lived at the time, and they would tell me about how they enjoyed editing and writing textbooks. So, I interviewed for an editorial position and got the job. That summer, I quit my teaching job and begin working for the publisher. Even as a full-time employee working for a company (as opposed to being self-employed), the hours were long and the work was arduous, particularly during certain phases of a project. It wasn’t uncommon for my team members to log 70 hours a week during the final stage of a project (which could last anywhere from 4 to 6 weeks). Anyone who works in publishing will attest to the long hours. If you’re salaried, there is no overtime pay (as with most jobs, of course), but I carried on because I genuinely loved the work. Furthermore, I didn’t have kids at the time, so I worked as hard as I could, hoping that one day the work would lead me to a higher position within the company. To make a very long story relatively shorter (sorry!), I did move up to a position that required more innovative work–specifically, I began planning and writing a number of teacher and student materials (anything from teacher editions to student guides to leveled readers to assessment materials to digital programs). After my son was born, I took a position with a new publisher. I stuck with it for two years, but the 3-hour daily commute began to wear me down. My husband and I lived in one area of the city, our son’s daycare was in a completely different area, and our workplaces were in yet another part of the city. After some thought and consideration, I took the biggest leap of faith I could and resigned from my stable job. I quickly established my LLC and began networking via LinkedIn. Thankfully, I had made connections throughout my relatively short publishing career, and I was able to land a one-year contract writing material for a Reading/ELA program designed for grades 3-8 right from the start. From there, the offers began to roll in, which helped me establish connections for future projects. What made this new work arrangement especially attractive was that instead of a locked-down salary, I now was able to negotiate hourly wages that were substantially higher than any other job I had ever held. Of course, companies do this with the knowledge that self-employed individuals pay a hefty amount in taxes. Still, I average between $45 and $50 dollars an hour, with some work paying as high as $70 per hour. Another added bonus: I can technically work whenever I want, and wherever I want. So, if my son is sick for an extended period of time, I don’t have to worry about how many personal days I’ve used up. I also can spend more one-on-one time with him, which we do a couple times a month. In the end, this is all worth it to me. Since I make more money, I can schedule vacation time without worrying about losing a week’s pay. And even if I have to do some work, I can just bring my laptop along with me and work in the evening. Everybody has their own wishes and desires, but I’m grateful to not only have found my true calling (writing for the educational market), but also to be able to do so on my own terms. With more and more work coming in, I’ve considered expanding my business and bringing on a few writers.

      Moving on to remark #2 from your post: Yes, preschool teachers are babysitters, to some extent. That’s not their only duty by any means, but it’s certainly one of their tasks. Perhaps a better term would be ‘caretaker.’ I’m not sure why you are resistant to making this rather logical connection, considering that we are talking about 3- and 4-year-old children here. Kids at this age are still learning how to share, play fairly, take directions from adults, and perform basic life tasks (such as using the potty independently). I believe this particular aspect of the debate is indisputable. As I previously stated, older children are a different matter. A middle school teacher, for example, should not be expected to “babysit” or serve as a “caretaker” for unruly kids. If you have to do that on a frequent basis, my heart goes out to you. There are some truly dysfunctional families out there, and I feel for the kids that need constant supervision at an age when they should be old enough to babysit the preschoolers we were just discussing.

    • Paul White

      It still woudln’t be impossible to, you know, approach the parents of THOSE particular kids, in a less bitchy manner. This is just awful.

  • brebay

    I’m more bothered by the fact that a teacher seems to have the writing ability of a teen on an iphone. I had some smelly kids when I did daycare in college, I hugged them extra hard, they were usually the ones who needed it. If you’re so squeamish that a small child’s odor, something you know can’t be his fault, keeps you from touching or getting near him, you really need to rethink your humanity.

    • WriterLady

      Very well said! Aside from several obvious grammar errors, the “Enough said” remark at the end of the letter made me cringe. That’s the sort of thing a teenager flippantly states in a Facebook post.

  • DArcy Pattison

    One way to deal with this is to read books about hygiene. My book, DESERT BATHS, for example, talks about how desert animals take a bath. An education unit on hygiene would have been more appropriate than this note sent home.
    Darcy Pattison

  • LaidbackLiz

    I hate to say I don’t totally agree with the author here. Though I do believe that the teacher could have been kinder and more sensitive, she needed to address this, she wrote a note, and addressed it. As the sister of a teacher that works in a Title 1 low income school I know that she’s never had a problem with the hygiene of her children, poverty stricken area or not children should be clean when attending school. I am lucky enough to have a husband with a good job that allows me to stay home with my son, but regardless of our income level I could and would always make sure that my son is bathed daily and in clean clothes – that’s not too much for the child or teacher to ask.

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  • HS

    This here: “It also makes it difficult for me to be close to them or even want to touch them. Enough said.” was too much. She could have offered support/shown some compassion but she basically insulted the children who don’t deserve it. How old is this teacher? It sounds like she’s very young and most likely from a privileged background who took whatever teaching job she could get.

  • Amber

    Oh, they didn’t like getting a note? That’s cool. The teacher can just call CPS next time and report them for neglect. I’m sure they’ll like that so much better…

  • GPMeg

    In spite of how much I just wanted to send notes home reading, “YOUR CHILDREN STINK, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD GET THEM DEODORANT!” I instead sent out a helpful email with lots of tips about how children are hitting puberty younger and it’s never too early to start good hygiene practices. I work with elementary aged children, which brings a different set of challenges to the table, BUT tact makes your job a million times easier in the long run!