When Iowa teacher Leland Michael set out to do some shopping in Walmart he couldn’t have envisaged the way his day would unfold. Feeling disheartened after a chat with some parents in the store, Michael found himself at the till with his cart full of supplies. Then a stranger approached him – and his day took an unexpected turn.
Michael is a math teacher at Lincoln High School, in Des Moines, IA. In common with most teachers, he has to spend some time in August buying classroom supplies for the year ahead. But unlike many teachers, he has now found a reason to enjoy the experience.
The start-of-year shop can be a trying time for parents, too. Not everyone finds it easy to find the funds to buy the supplies that their children require. Added to the stress of getting children ready to return to school, it can be a lot to deal with.
Therefore, the big school shopping trip is not always a fun one. In fact, it can mean that tempers occasionally boil over. With teachers trying to fund their own supplies and parents trying to find the money to buy what their children need, it’s clear why nasty words are sometimes exchanged.
And nasty words were exactly what Michael was experiencing that morning. The teacher ran into two separate groups of parents, both of whom decided to challenge him about the number of things their children needed for school. This, he said, had left him feeling “pretty jaded.”
According to a post on his Facebook, the disgruntled parents had complained to Michael. They said things like, “This is just ridiculous. I don’t know how these teachers think we are supposed to get all this stuff.” It seems the parents were unaware that Michael was himself a teacher. Unsurprisingly, he was getting pretty worn out by the experience – not just because of the situation itself, but also because he was pushing a shopping cart full of supplies for people’s children.
While the contents of his cart should have been a clue as to Michael’s occupation, the parents seemed not to notice and carried on with their vitriol. They blamed their travails on Michael’s ilk, objecting about greedy teachers. By the time he got to the checkout Michael was somewhat disheartened.
Happily, though, it was at this point that things took a brighter turn. While he waited in line to pay, he noticed the man in front of him was buying his daughter her school supplies. And that was when something unexpected happened.
After the man had paid for his goods, he turned to Michael and, noting the contents of his shopping cart, identified him as a teacher. He then made a very generous offer. “I just want to thank you for everything you do,” the stranger said. “I see your cart is full with supplies, and I just wanted to help out as much as I can.”
Saying that, the friendly man gave Michael a Walmart gift card worth $25, shook hands with him, then left. The stranger’s kind act obviously touched Michael and brightened up his day. But the teacher took away something far more valuable from the experience than just the money.
The man’s good deed had followed hot on the heels of the disparaging remarks made to Michael by the other parents in the store. The stranger had also helped the teacher out for the very thing that the others had attacked him for. There were two opposing messages at play here, Michael said: a positive one received by the generous man’s daughter, and a negative one witnessed by the kids of the other parents.
Put another way, the children who saw their parents complain would now have a very different understanding of education than the daughter of the man. Michael said that the first lot of kids would go home believing that “school is not important enough to spend money on.” Furthermore, they would think that “teachers are not to be trusted and have bad judgement, and learning does not require investment.”
However, he found the reaction of the Good Samaritan’s daughter encouraging. As she walked away with her father, she gave Michael a huge smile. The message she received was totally different – and with it her understanding of what teachers were and what school meant.
Michael said that the man’s daughter had got the message that “school is important enough that we should give more than required to make sure it is successful.” He said she would also have learned that “teachers should be respected and valued.” But that’s not all.
According to Michael, that kid will have seen that “learning requires us giving it everything we have.” Many people join the teaching profession to help children, and if children witness positive situations like the one at the till in Walmart, it makes the job a lot easier. That is perhaps the most important message that the girl’s father sent her that day.
Michael decided to share his experience in a Facebook post, which got nearly half a million likes. Many people left comments, encouraged by Michael’s message and the generous act that he described. And many left supportive comments for teachers in general.
There were also messages from people saying how difficult it can be to afford school supplies. A few people pointed out that some things on the supply lists seemed to be very expensive. Some even suggested that there were items on there that were unnecessary.
But Michael also had understanding words for those people. He agreed that while it is difficult for some people to find the cash for school supplies, those affected should not feel anxious. Michael said their children can still excel at school. They will probably have a teacher who cares enough to make sure they get the supplies they need.
It’s not all about buying the supplies, Michael said. Instead it’s about communicating positive messages about education to your child. Something he says the father did with his daughter in Walmart that day.
After a downbeat beginning, Michael’s day took an upbeat turn after the stranger’s thoughtful deed in Walmart. Rather than focus on the negativity from the complaining parents, he chose to highlight the positivity shown by the man at the till – and the experience his daughter will have taken from the encounter. That girl, said Michael, will “enter the classroom this year with a very different perspective about her teacher and her education, and that is extremely powerful!”