The Smells of Teaching

The very first ‘copier’ I used as a teacher was actually a mimeograph machine. The magic of the mimeograph was the smell of the paper after the drum printed all the copies. There are not many things better than the smell of a recently purpled set of tests. While the dampness of the paper is a sensory sensation that, frankly, is quite disgusting, not much beats the smell of that ink. As a teacher, you have to sometimes find the things that bring joy. Back in those days, the smell of the mimeograph machine did that.

True copy machines came in my first years of teaching and the guilty pleasure of sniffing tests on the way back to my room were no more. So much changed those first few years of teaching. I started my teaching career with chalk boards, but before long, white boards were installed in classrooms. Teachers replaced their chalk with markers. Good teachers use different colored markers as part of instruction, but we all had our favorites, mostly based on how long markers lasted. Purple markers were long lasting. Yellow markers were a waste of money.

After several years, markers became part of the supply list I sent home to students at the beginning of the year. The markers on their supply list were not for me, but for them. I liked my students to all be at the board at the same time working problems so I could monitor their learning. I didn’t really care which markers they used, but many of them were very protective of their personal stash of markers. I distinctly remember the day I was erasing the board at the end of class when I smelled it for the first time.

It was a smell better than the mimeograph ink. It was a chocolatey smell that was coming off my board when I erased it. In fact, as I erased I could sniff along the board and inhale. The next day, after careful and covert observation, I found the source of the smell. One of my students was using scented markers on the board. Not just any scent…chocolate scented markers. Oh the glory. My students worked on the board more than ever and my boards were never cleaner. The ends of my day included slowly inhaling my board. I was careful. No one saw me. After all, I kept my job.

The rewards of being a teacher are found in some of the most unusual places. Teachers work very hard and deserve so much more than they receive monetarily. However, for several months, this teacher found great fulfillment in the smells of teaching…chocolate scented markers. Sigh. Good times.

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