July 8.  That’s when I noticed the aisles cleared at the local big box retail store. I knew what was going into those aisles, but July 8?  Then came the comments: “Oh where did summer go?” “Wow summer’s just flown by, hasn’t it?” “Are you ready to head back to school yet?”

Wait, wait…..what?

True, after July 4th is the half way point in my own summertime calendar, but we easily had a month and half left, and because people saw school supplies, they immediately slipped into that mode without even thinking about it.

Along those same lines, a friend sent me an email talking about her experience recently in that big box retail store as she wandered through the school supply aisles.  She noticed parents stressing over supplies.  She noticed students stressing because their parents were stressing.   Her thought was: “This is where the negative attitude towards school starts – in the aisles of Walmart!”

She watched as parents pulled out the school list or if they didn’t have one, pulled out the smartphone to find it.  “They are really strict” was said out loud a couple of times and these are the parents trying to do the right thing. Heck, I had a parent, another teacher, text me asking which binder they should be getting their child. How did back to school turn into this, this “buying frenzy” as my friend puts it?

I taught three years in Missouri, two of them at this wonderful school outside of Boonville.  There, they charged their parents a flat $20 fee per student for supplies.  We are teachers, then took care of everything!  Come with your backpack, gym shoes, and a smile because ALL of your supplies are taken care of.  More paper? No problem!  Need a pen? Got one right here!  We’d get all the supplies organized so we knew that it was all taken care of.  The students walked into a classroom where they didn’t have to worry about not having the coolest binder or best folders, they were all ready there.  Yes, we had family who couldn’t afford things and who paid what they could, but honestly, I don’t remember a time where I couldn’t purchase supplies for the entire year out of that pot of money.

Now, I had people tell me they could purchase their year’s worth of supplies for less than $20.  I scoff at that notion.  I purchased all the supplies on my current list last year and it came to about $23 and that’s with me doing the bargain route.  Some of this stuff will need to be replenished, and that fell to me. Why do we need to stress our parents out?  Or worse yet, our students?  They come to school with enough anxiety the way it is.  For me, this is an easy way to help relieve some of that stress, and allows them to be excited about coming to school, not stressed about supplies!

Is this where negative attitudes begin in the aisles of big box retail stores?  That’s hard to say.  But when my wife has said “yup, I was that parent in those aisles, wondering what to buy,” it makes you wonder what are we doing?  We need to ask ourselves, what kind of culture are we trying to build?

If they walk in stressed all ready, how much of a stretch is it for parents to find other things about the school to question, to criticize or dislike?  While we want students prepared for the things we do, what is the cost?  Is there a way we streamline this process, making it easier for all and return the focus to being excited for the start of school, not worried about what binder to purchase?

Just a few random thoughts to ponder as the bulletin boards come up, the desks are put together, and as we think about the culture of our classrooms.