Pigfeet is Why I Brush

by gillis

“Why do you brush your teeth after lunch everyday Ms. Gillis?” Kelsey asked.

“Yeah, no offense, but it’s kinda weird to see you in the bathroom doing that,” said Tessa.

“Well, would you want me working with you at your desk with hummus breath? Or onion breath? Probably not. You should be thankful I’m weird enough to brush my teeth after lunch everyday!” I replied.

The truth is, I don’t like bad breath, mine or anyone else’s. I’m often acutely aware that my mouth isn’t all that fresh and I brush my teeth at least five times a day most days. I carry little gel strips that I can place on my tongue to give it a burst of mouthwash freshening without using mouthwash. Oftentimes, I have gum stashed away in a bag or my car console, but I don’t break the gum out at school. I’m aware that I chew it like a cow, that’s part of the joy of gum actually, but I don’t want to break the school rules.  It’s poor form for adults to ask children to adhere to things that they are not willing to abide by themselves.

When I became a teacher I knew I didn’t want to be like the dreaded Miss Montigny, my sixth grade teacher. This woman had stale breath on a good day and rancid breath on too many days. She also had a strange cadence to her speech that caused her to draw vowel sounds out for longer periods than was necessary, giving you a double dose of her breath. Bad breath was only one of her sins. She had a collection of smelly shoes in the teacher’s closet, leading generations of students to call her “Pigfeet.” She wouldn’t allow students to eat in her classroom but she often nibbled on the snacks she kept for herself, doing so in front of the class. She told us it was because she had low blood sugar. When she allowed the few students she didn’t hate the privilege of “cleaning her desk” they would often pilfer a few cookies or crackers from the sacred drawers and pass them around, much the same way prisoners might share confiscated cigarettes. We reveled in any attempt to get back at her for her stingy, mean ways.

I recall one day when she had reneged on a promise to take us out for an extra recess. It was a beautiful fall afternoon and for some reason she said she would take us outside if everyone did their work and it was quiet. We all helped each other accomplish this to the best of our sixth grade abilities, but when the time came to go outside, she said we weren’t going out because we hadn’t been quiet enough. She had never told us we had gotten loud. Either she thought eleven and twelve year olds should be able to remain silent for forty minutes while working on a fill in the blank worksheet, or she was sadistic, or both. When she told us that we hadn’t made the grade, heavy protests erupted. She told us we were too noisy and we hadn’t worked hard enough then she singled out one poor boy in the class who she said hadn’t finished all of his work. At this point I had reached my limit. I jumped up on my desk and called Miss Montigny a liar, only I put another word in front of the word liar to modify it with the utmost outrage that my limited vocabulary could muster. This did the trick. The class was then lined up to go outside, and we walked down the stairs toward the doors. At this point I was separated from the rest of my class of course, and brought down to see the principal, Mrs. Tower. Mrs. Tower tried to reason with me and tell me that she understood my frustration but my anger did not justify my disrespectful behavior. I would not stop arguing for my case and I would not agree to apologize to Miss Montigny because I didn’t think I had done anything wrong. In the end, I chose to stay in for recess for a number of days with Mrs. Tower so that I didn’t have to apologize to or serve detention with Miss Montigny.

Whenever I think about skipping my after lunch tooth brushing, a memory of my sixth grade teacher jolts me. At the very least I always grab a breath strip and let it dissolve on my tongue before class begins.