Toothpaste: Not Just for Bad Breath

I was slightly perplexed when I arrived at my main office mailbox this morning and found a travel size tube of Colgate Advanced Whitening toothpaste. Upon allowing the oddness of the discovery to pass, I defaulted to two possibilities. Either, one, someone was trying to passively aggressively inform me my breath stinks. Or, two, the school was rewarding my dedication with a trip that necessitated an overnight bag, and the higher ups figured toothpaste would be a nice gesture. (Side note: in the event that someone does tell me my breath stinks, I keep a couple of those new miniscule toothbrushes with the paste already in in my desk. Haven’t had it happen, yet, but I haven’t made tzatziki in a while, either.)

I was later informed by some incredulous colleagues that the toothpaste was part of this week’s theme of respect, which, I also learned, involved lessons for each day that we were somehow supposed to teach. I was one of the ones who wasn’t despondent over this. As I’ve documented here, my class could certainly use some help in the respect department. Regarding having the time, the way I look at it, if demands are being made on us to 1) prepare for the math test X minutes a week, 2) prepare for the reading test X minutes a week, and 3) teach about respect X minutes a week, then hey, something’s gotta give. So the reading test prep gave.

I introduced the idea of respect versus rudeness, and brought out the tube of toothpaste. Lunacy ensued. They lost it. At their age, I don’t know how I’d react to my teacher showing me a tube of toothpaste. I didn’t think it was that crazy, but they did. I explained that the tube was a symbol for our mouths, and how easily words come out of them.

Here, I squeezed the toothpaste out in lines onto a piece of paper. They howled. There’s nothing like toothpaste to send a group of kids into fits. “It’s digusting!” many screamed. (This only made me consider how many of them have never actually encountered toothpaste – I’m going to stop considering that before I regret it).

Okay, once the toothpaste was plopped on my paper, I tried to impress upon them that it represented words. Hurtful words. I asked one of my more outgoing, humorous students to assist me in the next phase. Motor Mouth’s task was to put the toothpaste (the words) back in the tube (mouth). Suffice it to say, he struggled. Toothpaste was smeared all over the paper, all over the tube, all over his hands.

And then came the clincher.

All right, my friends. Do you notice something? It’s very easy to let the words come out, but it’s pretty much impossible to get the words back in.


And, notice, some of them can go back in, but look at the mess we made. We could never clean the whole thing up.


Bingo. And away…we…go. Let the conversation fly.

Sweet silence descended as students shared stories and sought advice. They got it. Now, let’s see if they get it.

We enjoyed our discussion. I ended the conversation reluctantly once we were right up against the start of writers workshop. And I love the idea of being able to say “TOOTHPASTE” whenever I notice someone’s words being used in the wrong way.

I like the smell of that.

One response to “Toothpaste: Not Just for Bad Breath

  1. excellent! we are also working on respect for all and are focusing on being an ally not a bully. What a fantastic idea to really depict how difficult it is to take back negative and hurtful words. Keep up the good work!

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