Month: December 2013
by Carmen Ellis
The winter holiday season is upon us and friends have been asking me, “Is it appropriate to tip my child’s teacher?” As resident preschool teacher in a peer group of first time parents, I field an increasing number of such questions. This is one I can answer with ease. Yes. Yes, it is. And yes, if you can afford it, you should.
Here’s a longer answer and some alternative ideas too, should you have your doubts or be interested in further explanation.
Nationally, the average wage for a child care worker is $10.25/hour. Average income is $21,310. The 90th percentile of earners in the field make $29,510 annually. After taxes, the average preschool teacher is bringing home around $328 a week. Yeah. This is obviously not a lot. And it feels like even less during the holidays, when there are parties to attend, bottles of wine to bring for hosts, and often gifts to buy for friends and family.
Now, you might be thinking, “Well, my child’s teacher must make way more than average because I shell out a crazy amount of money every month to that school!” This is totally logical, but is not based in fact. Most of the money that you pay per month goes toward facilities, insurance and food costs. I used to work at a perfectly nice school, staffed with dedicated teachers (three of whom I supervised), where the full-time families in my classroom paid $975 a month. I made $2,260 a month before taxes. I made a couple dollars an hour more than the other teachers in my room.
I know, this is not pleasant to think about. But just let it sit for a minute. Your child’s teachers spend all day patiently explaining to children how the world works, providing for their needs, showing them how to make friends, preparing them for life (including kindergarten), setting a solid emotional foundation, and cuddling them in your absence, even when your poor baby is sick and dripping snot . It’s not fair that they don’t get paid more, and you do not own the burden of that inequity. But, hey, you can make a small difference by letting them know that you appreciate all they do. A small holiday bonus or end-of-year tip is a great way to do so.
I’ve been asked if tipping is insulting. I understand this question, as tipping is generally for the service industry, and teaching is a profession. But bonuses are for everyone! So are gifts!
How much should you give? This is up to you. I’d recommend that if there is more than one teacher that you give them each the same amount, regardless of hierarchy. A card with $20 inside is a nice gesture and more is fine as well. If it’s hard to decide what amount to give, or it feels uncomfortable to give cash, I have two primary suggestions:
1- Buy a gift card to a department store or grocery store. Anyone can use this and can spend the money on themselves, buy gifts for others, or pick up something on the way to a party.
2- Consider starting a collection for teacher bonuses at your child’s school. Ask the director if you can leave an envelope for parents to contribute to. Then split the fund among all the teachers. This can encourage other parents to give and also spreads the wealth equally among staff. Don’t forget the cook! A gift from the entire parent community can be more significant both emotionally and financially.
Curious about alternatives to money? Or wondering “What about the rest of the year?” There are plenty of other ways you can show your appreciation in addition to or in place of giving money. Here’s a few:
– Ask your child what their teacher would like as a gift. Hey, they have a unique bond with their teacher so they might have a fantastic idea! You can always tack on your own small gift if your child chooses “unicorn band-aids” or “a better hairbrush”.
– Give them a bottle of wine
– Bring goodies from your garden
– Buy lunch for the teachers one day. Split the bill with a few other families.
– Arrange a discount for your teacher through your favorite massage therapist
– Arrange for a massage school to come to the daycare for free massage at lunch time
– If you have a vacation home, offer it to your teacher/s for a weekend
– Donate a magazine subscription for the staff lounge
– Say “Thank you, I appreciate all your hard work.”
– If you see or hear something you like, say so. It’s as easy as “I really like how you phrased that”, “I love how you handled that”, or “We love that you are teaching the children _____.”
Teaching is difficult and teachers work hard to improve their craft. It feels good when that care and expertise are noticed. Whatever you do is sure to be appreciated.
Julie Stegeman is a writer for the Asian Reporter, a mother, and a member of the cooperative Hawthorne Family Playschool in Portland, Oregon. She attended the Project’s first educator forum and wrote the following article for publication in the newsletters of state and local cooperative preschool organizations.
Visible Teaching Project aims to spotlight efforts of Early Childhood Educators
Your children’s teachers would like you to know something: They are feeling undervalued. This is especially true for teachers in the field of early childhood education.
Carmen Ellis, who has been teaching in the early childhood field for almost 10 years, wants to change this dynamic. She recently started the Visible Teaching Project to address issues faced by early childhood educators, including under-compensation and the lack of status for these professionals, with the end goal of achieving “the necessary funding and public awareness to make early childhood education a viable lifelong profession.”
The kickoff meeting for the Visible Teaching Project took place in late October at the Trillium Preschool in North Portland. Several early childhood educators were in attendance at the meeting, which introduced the concept of the project and engendered discussion on how to bring about a greater awareness of teaching and the role of early childhood educators.
Carmen opened up the discussion with a statement, “teaching is neither understood nor respected,” a sentiment that was echoed around the room. “I feel like our job is a real craft, it’s really skilled, but maybe we don’t do a good job of talking about that, or maybe we’re not talking about that at all,” she said. Her answer is to increase the visibility of early childhood educators.
When asked what visibility meant to the teachers who attended the meeting, they responded: better compensation, healthcare, and retirement benefits. But not only that, the teachers are frustrated by their low status and they would like that to change. These educated and experienced professionals are often viewed as babysitters or daycare workers. And it seems that the younger the students you teach, the less respect you are given. The combination of low pay and little respect causes many to change fields, resulting in fewer experienced teachers and a compromised quality of care.
The group brainstormed ways to make their work more visible to parents and the community. Some ideas included blogs, classroom meetings, journeybooks, and art shows for the public to attend. In general, it was agreed that greater interaction with parents and the community leads to greater appreciation of a teacher’s skills.
According to “The First Eight Years,” a 2013 study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, “Children who attend high-quality preschools have higher test scores, fewer behavior problems and lower rates of grade repetition.” It further adds, “They also have higher rates of high school graduation, improved employment opportunities and earnings, and lower rates of drug abuse and depression.” Keeping this in mind, can we afford to lose great teachers when they burn out, or are forced to leave the profession to earn a more livable wage?
A follow-up interview with Susan Eisman, director and teacher at the Hawthorne Family Playschool, led to some concrete examples of what parents can do to help their children’s teachers to feel appreciated. One way parents can promote teachers’ work is by supporting paid teacher in-services and planning time. Programs which provide these benefits allow dedicated teachers to be compensated for some of the time they spend outside of directly caring for children — reviewing daily interactions, communicating with parents, and planning future curriculum options. Parents who willingly find alternative care during in-service days are acknowledging the importance of teachers’ work and the broad scope it encompasses.
Additionally, parents can share their resources, which can mean anything from allowing a teacher to stay in a vacation house or giving a teacher restaurant gift certificates, to donating a magazine subscription or even bringing in those extra veggies that are overrunning the garden.
Other ways to help include lobbying for businesses to offer discounts for teachers, asking businesses who offer discounts for K-12 teachers to extend their discounts to preschool teachers as well, and bringing patronage to businesses that do give discounts.
So let’s step up as parents and community members to support and advocate for our children’s teachers, who make such efforts on behalf of our kids.
For more information on the Visible Teaching Project, visit https://visibleteachingproject.wordpress.com