The School Supply Blues

Shopping for school supplies is a ritual that some meet with excitement and others dread. No doubt about it, it is packed with emotions. There is the pure overwhelming joy that a 7-year old might feel about sparkly folders covered in Bulldogs wearing sunglasses. There is the calm repose of a parent deciding which supplies to leave off the list, for now, because providing a healthy meal for this weekend is more important. There is the absolute frustration of a parent whose kid tells them, “We don’t even use those things at school!”

I fall somewhere in between, being a parent of a kid who is obsessed with combination locks and tape dispensers and being a teacher who really gets happy tingles when I see a deal on bulk composition books in rainbow colors.

Recently a friend was shopping for school items and overheard some parents complaining about having to buy so many supplies. They lashed out at teachers for asking so much. They expressed indignance at buying supplies they assumed other children would use. Their kids heard them complain as they filled their carts. My friend was understandably upset. Her cart was full of items for other people’s kids, being an Administrator without kids of her own. A debate ensued on social media about what kind of life lessons were embedded in this experience for all involved. All of these perspectives have value and a foundation in reality but they really all boil down to the concept of trust.

I get it – in today’s political and social climate, it is very hard to have trust for people we do not know well. There are important implications for trusting people. It makes us feel vulnerable and protective when we put our trust in people, and sometimes it doesn’t work out for the best.

I never quite understood how much a parent has to go through when they drop their kids off at school until I had a child of my own. They are trusting us with their most precious nonrenewable resource. They will have fewer opportunities each day to speak to or hug their child than an almost complete stranger. We are asking a lot of parents to put aside their protective natures and trust us, from the first day we meet.

I have been so fortunate to have my son at the same school where I teach. I can feel a visceral clench when I think about how hard it would be for me if I did not have that luxury. As he gets older I know I will look back on these elementary days and be so grateful I had him close. I know where my child is at every moment of the day. I have confidence in my colleagues because I am confident in their training and their intentions.

I can stop by his room for a quick hug and there is almost a daily opportunity to wave across the hallway as we pass each other in transition. I can walk him to his classroom door instead of kicking him out of the car at the curb. I can meet him in the nurse’s office if he is hurt and hold the iced sponge to his injury and celebrate with him when he decides he’s okay to return to class.

To each and every parent who will trust me with their child this year, I promise I am here to do my very best for them. I will gladly make sure they know someone cares for them if they fall. I will tell them I believe they are capable until they feel more confident. I will hug them if they need a hug. I will cry with them if they need to cry. I will wave at them in the hallway and smile back when they smile. I know your trust is a priceless gift. I can count on one hand the number of teachers I’ve worked with who didn’t share this feeling.

But trust goes both ways. If you can trust that your child really does need 5 different colors of composition books and a boatload of pre-sharpened pencils, then I can promise you I intend for your kid to use every supply we’ve asked them to bring.

If you trust me enough to talk to me about the difficulty you might have in providing everything on the list, I promise I will make sure your kid gets what they need without passing any judgment. Every day – even in March – if I have to go walk the halls and scrounge for pencils in forgotten corners, I will make sure your kid has what they need. If I can’t find it, I will ask someone else to help me provide it.

If you trust me enough to keep your kids safe through tornadoes and floods, traffic or teasing, you can certainly trust me to create a school supply list that is intentional and necessary.

I am not suggesting that school supply lists should be accepted without question. If I don’t understand the need for something I am reluctant to spend my grocery money on it. But please, don’t complain about it in front of your kids while standing in line at Target. Don’t buy that supply that is making your wallet hurt or your forehead crease.

Trust that when you come to school on the first day you can ask me why something is necessary and seek justification and I won’t get upset. Show your kids that not only do they have the right and responsibility to question the status quo, but they have more power to change situations when they stop complaining and seek communication.

Choose to show your kids how navigating hard financial choices can be easier if we see each other as partners. Instead of grumbling out loud to your kids, stifle your frustrations, put the supplies back you can’t afford, and talk to me about what you need or ask me why something is necessary.

Don’t let shopping for school supplies taint your trust before we even have a chance to work together. Choose to show your kids how making hard choices can be easier if we see ourselves as partners and we seek to build trust in the big things instead of tearing it down over the little things.




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