school scents (soLs)

Yesterday morning I walked into the school where I began my career. I’m not at this school often — especially at the beginning of the day. My days usually start in elementary schools.  The smell of school was overpowering. I knew I wanted to write about it for my slice today. But how do you capture a scent?

I was one of the first people in the building, one of the first to open the doors. I walked through the clean hallway and breathed deeply. Then again. And again.

This is what I chose to do with my life. The thought bumps around my brain. I smell school. Shiny floors. Pencil shavings. Possible dreams.

I breathe deeply. Then again. And again. My footsteps echo off the floor, bounce around the walls, and carry me deep into the building.

I would chose it again.  I smell school. Computer labs. Paper stacks. Hope. Knowing that what adults do inside these walls matter.

I breathe deeply. Then again. And again. I know teachers are valuable. Smiling and laughing make a difference. Talking about books and solving complicated problems make a difference. Writing day after day and standing firm on boundaries make a difference. The phone call home and the note to a student make a difference.

In this time where mandates and standardization and evaluation make my gut wrench, I know I would chose this again. After all, nobody said it would be easy to change the world.

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Two Writing Teachers and read
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  1. Yes, the breathing in the smell of school was always so powerful to me. And for some reason it did bring back the reasons I taught and loved it!
    Very thoughtful and strong piece. I loved being able to relate to it so well.

  2. You did capture it very well with your words. I was right there with you. I think any of us who teach in schools know exactly what you are talking about. Even when I sometimes come to my classroom to work on a Saturday, I smell that smell like it's all new again. Thanks for a great memory smell post and all the wonderful things you wrote about choosing teaching.

  3. The smell of possible dreams – my favorite image. Nurturing these dreams makes a difference. I like how you connected the smell of school to the power of making a difference.

  4. Yes, you did capture the scent with your words. The repetition of “make a difference” really hit home with me. Wow!

  5. I like the smell of the school you are describing. My classroom of seventh graders always smells like body odor and perspiration! 🙂

    On a more serious note, I could visualize everything you were describing and it inspired me to write. Thank you for sharing!

  6. I love the idea of capturing smells, and I'm thankful you captured the pleasant ones! I also like how you mixed the scents with ideas like “hope”. We are a powerful force, no matter what anyone says.

    One that always “gets” me is the smell of the absorbent goo they put down when someone has been sick. The smell of the goo itself doesn't smell awful, but it always makes me feel slightly ill.

  7. Thank you for this positive, inspiring post! It's just what I needed after state testing today (and just feeling worn out lately)! Like you, I've always loved the atmosphere of school. I'm not really a “smell” person, but I love the sights, sounds, feelings of a school. Just like you described — “Shiny floors. Pencil shavings. Possible dreams.” Thank you for reminding me that all this hard work does matter!

  8. Perfection. I love the lines “This is what I chose to do with my life.” and “I would choose it again.” Also love that you snuck in surprise smells–hope, possible dreams, make a difference. Because those are the things I smell also. It's nice to know others “get it”.

    Thanks for visiting my blog today!

  9. I get it. How did you capture the scent of a school? Not sure, but I sure smelled it. When my students and I get out the post-it notes to write “criticycles,” I breathe in. Nothing like the smell of a sticky note to get your mind ready to write.

  10. What a great slice – one that many of us can connect to -and still one that makes us think about the sights and smells of our homelands. Each school does have its own unique scent!

  11. A school door, into hallway, into classrooms, all such a sensory filled experience. I loved the bouncing of your footsteps and the smell of paper stacks.

  12. RUTH! This is too weird!!! I had nearly the exact same thought process this morning coming into our building (but you can be sure I wasn't the first one there).

  13. We all do know the smell, don't we? There is nothing else like that new wax, pencils sharpened, book smell. And then you move into the smell of hope and dreams, Ruth. That too is a marvelous, take it home in the backpack, smell. Thank you for putting many of our thoughts into words.

  14. Thanks for reminding me tonight that we do make a difference. And yeah, I totally agree with you, I'd do it again!

  15. The use of the word “again” really sends the message that you love what you do and are in the right place. Thanks for sharing such a powerful slice!

  16. I can smell the aromas you describe so well. And with the scents there are feelings: “In this time where mandates and standardization and evaluation make my gut wrench, I know I would chose this again.”Amen.

  17. Before I retire, this made me want to go back to where I started…I haven't had those come back to G.Stanley Hall dreams in quite a while. This piece made me want to visit to see the stair in that open space where it started for me also. And I echo everyone's collective, yes, there is no better place in this world. I will share this with my teacher friends this week. Thank you so much for the clarity of thought …that we do and can change the world. xo nanc

  18. The smells are there, but so are the images and the sounds. (I can hear the pencils being sharpened to create those shavings and the squeaks that accompany the bounces in the halls.) Thanks for writing the images and sharing them with us.

  19. A reminder once again to my senses. Love your title. Glad you were at my school for the start of your career. I knew you when the writer in you first emerged and that you awakened the writer in me again. Keep breathly deeply.