Memoir, Teacher

“You smell like fruit” and other compliments from my students

Marshall was an odd boy, by any definition of the word. He didn’t have an official “diagnosis” but he was definitely…outside the norm. For one, he talked like a robot and two, he was little obsessed with aliens and anal probing.

I started teaching his class late that year. My mother died on the first day of school, so I was in Ontario when they all arrived. Being the conscientious teacher that I was, I gave the eulogy, packed up some of her things, gave my father a fortifying hug and was back to work within the week. (Ed. note: yes, I know. Craaaazy!)

It was a new school for me and starting late did nothing to ease my angst. My large class of grade 5’s was well known for their “specialness”.  When I arrived at the school, I was told, “Oh sorry. You have that group. Good luck.” There was something in the water the year those children’s parents got together and it’s quite possible that “thing” was alcohol. (I’m not accusing anyone but seriously ladies: put down the wine glass until after your kid is born. There’s plenty of time to drink once they’re teenagers. And trust me, you’re going to need it then.)

Anyway, that year was a hard one for me and, no doubt, for Marshall. As I said, he was odd and he didn’t have a lot of (read: any) friends. This didn’t seem to bother him though, as he spent all of his time reading. He read in language arts class, math class, science class, lunch…you get my drift. And whenever I tried to get him back on track, he would just sigh and say in his robot voice, “I’d rather not.”

Of course it was my job to push the issue, so everyday, he and I would meet to re-do the math lesson from the morning – this time, one-on-one.

“So, today we’re looking at long division, Marshall,” I flip the textbook open to the section we just covered in class while Marshall was reading about aliens.

“You smell like fruit,” he said.

“Oh,” I reply. “Um…thank you?”

“You smell like oranges.”



“Do you like oranges?”

“Not particularly. But you smell like them.”

“OK-dokey then.”

Another day.

“Today we’re working on double-digit multiplication, Marshall. Do you remember what we talked about in class?”

“Are you familiar with anal probing?” he stares at me with a serious look. He’s not trying to mess with me…he’s really just curious.

“Uh, yes, I’ve heard of it. But we really need to focus on math right now,” I say, trying to divert the conversation.

“Aliens use these probes to find out information about the human race,” he says. “It’s quite a popular method of information gathering among aliens.”

“Alrighty then.”

Another day.

“So, Marshall.  Today we need to find the area of this square. Do you remember how we figure out how to do that?”

“Area equals length times width,” he intones right away.


I can’t believe it. He’s on track. He was listening today! I am making a difference. I am such a good teacher.

“So, can you show me how to find the answer to this question?”

“Of course,” he says.

He puts his head down, writes down the formula, fills in the blanks and comes up with the correct answer.

“Excellent,” I crow. “You did it! You are one smart cookie, Marshall. What do you think about that?”

“You smell like the soap from my campground.”

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