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.
At our first forum, a group of teachers, administrators, and parents worked to define “visibility”.
For us, “Visible teaching” means:
Having valued societal status. Being understood as teachers/educators who work at schools, not being seen as babysitters who working in “daycare”.
Being fairly compensated financially
Having public funding for early childhood education
Both being professional and helping to professionalize the field as a whole
Teaching with intentional practice
Educating parents about our teaching practice
Helping parents and the broader public develop an understanding of children’s learning and development
Working toward acknowledgment of the experts and expertise present in our field. This includes publicizing the work of authors, master teachers, and researchers. It also includes applying current expertise to our own work.
For some educators, being understood as teacher-researchers, including having administrative support for reflective practice and research.
Having a high profile in public discourse
Having the respect of educators in other areas of education
Challenging the historical marginalization of early childhood education as “women’s work”. Clearing a path for the field to be respected for the real skill it takes, and thereby enabling and encouraging more men to enter the field.
What does it mean to you?