For teachers, success is in smell

By David Curtis

As a schoolteacher you always wonder how your students will remember you.

“She was a good teacher, but she smelled like garlic,” was my daughter’s comment when the name of a former teacher came up in conversation.

“What does that have to do with anything?” was my reply.

“Well,” my daughter continued, “She was an OK kind of a teacher and we liked her and everything, but she smelled like garlic.”

Great, basically your whole teaching career can be summed up on not whether you inspired young minds, but in how you smelled. Do my former students remember my interesting and thought provoking lessons, my humorous classroom anecdotes, or is their memory of me just a funky smell wafting around the room?

“Yeah, I remember Mr. Curtis, he was that tall guy, I can’t remember what he taught, but I do remember he smelled like coffee and tomatoes, not tomatoes that you would eat, but more like tomato foliage.”

“No, you got the coffee part right, but it wasn’t tomato foliage, he smelled more like the school’s greenhouse, he had sort of an earthy, humid tropical smell ... kind of a woodsy dirt smell. Didn’t he teach bio-something or another?”

I have to admit as I am writing this I am having a memory of one of my former teachers, Hank Emmel. Mr. Emmel was my 12th-grade civics teacher and track coach at Pelican Rapids High School, and I cannot for the life of me recollect a single thing that he taught in class — the only memory I have is of his breath.

Not that it was bad breath mind you, but it was more like a harsh kerosene breath, well, it could have been worse. It was the kind of breath that got your attention when he would lean over your shoulder to see if you were taking notes or just doodling in your civics notebook. So, I guess my oldest daughter is not that much different than me — scary for her.

A quick search on the Internet reveals that the 2007 estimate for oral care products in the U.S. alone will be a whopping $8 billion. Of that, according to Package Facts, a consumer market research firm that publishes The Market Research Report for the U.S. Market for Oral Care Products, (this page turner sells for a mere $3,000) the gum, mouthwash and breath mint industry will account for nearly $3 billion of these total sales.

Of the near $3 billion in sales it is not known how much gum, mouthwash and breath mints are sold to teachers, unfortunately — based on my daughter’s observation — it’s not nearly enough. Could the real reason little Jimmy and little Suzy are not reading or doing math at grade level is because of their teacher’s bad breath?

“Dear Superintendent — I regret to inform you that several schools in your district did not make adequate yearly progress on their year-end test scores due to teacher induced odors which prohibited a positive learning environment for the students. Under guidelines of the No Child Left Behind legislation, the Department of Education will dispatch a team of oral hygiene specialists to sniff out the problem, provide teacher training and hand out Department of Education approved mouthwash and breath mints. Sincerely, Hallie Toesis, Assistant Director of Classroom Odor Abatement Division – U.S. Dept. of Ed.”

From what I have read, it is the tongue that is the primary culprit in harboring bacteria which causes bad breath, more specifically it is the back of the tongue. So, to check whether or not your breath is, well let’s say, memorable, stick out your tongue and lick your arm. After about 5 seconds smell the spot you licked, what you smell is suppose to be an indication of how your breath smells to others. Of course, use a little discretion when checking — licking and smelling your arm in front of others may raise more eyebrows than your breath.

“Dear Mr. Curtis — It has been brought to our attention that you are engaging in certain personal hygiene activities that are not conducive to a positive learning environment for the students in your class. We have received calls from parents whose sons and daughters report that you are frequently seen licking and smelling your arm in front of the students. These actions are deemed disruptive and at the best inappropriate for professional educators. To comply with No Child Left Behind legislation, all blatant licking and smelling must cease at once or disciplinary action will be taken. Sincerely, Haywood County Board of Education.”

I really intended to use this column space to tell you about the bumper crop of garlic I harvested from the garden this summer — but as you can see a simple comment can cause one to deviate into other directions. As for the garlic, lets say I’m working on making this coming school year very memorable for my students.

(When he is not sharing his morning coffee breath with his daughters, David Curtis teaches middle school in Haywood County. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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