Tipping the Teacher

I have a love/hate relationship with tipping. As someone who has worked as a waitress, a barrista, a babysitter and a camp counselor, I fully recognize that tipping is hugely important to those who work for (or around) minimum wage. I didn’t bust my butt at those jobs JUST BECAUSE I knew it would result in good tips, but counting up my bonus at the end of the day, or at the end of the summer, was definitely THE thrilling highlight of those careers.

But BECAUSE I have worked many jobs that were hugely impacted by tips, I am now a very generous, very guilt-ridden tipper. Every time we eat out, I leave the restaurant wondering if we were generous enough with our tip – after all, the poor waitress had to deal with our chaotic entourage, and our two kids always manage to leave a treasure trove of straw wrappers, spilled salt, and bread crusts under our table. In my mind, tipping our server is a way of making sure that if we are to return to the same restaurant, we won’t see our photo on a “MOST WANTED” sign posted on the establishment’s door.

So if I am THAT laden with guilt when it comes to tipping for food service, you can only imagine the anxiety I experience when my daughter’s school year comes to an end, and it is time to tip her teachers.

On the one hand, tipping teachers doesn’t quite make sense to me. I FULLY acknowledge that teachers are underpaid and overworked, and I think that totally SUCKS. I think teachers (especially early childhood teachers) should be paid like rock stars, because seriously, they ARE rock stars.

But just because the world is totally effed up, and teachers (especially early childhood teachers) are paid in peanut shells, should the parents feel the need to make up for it with our holiday and end-of-year tipping? We already pay OUT THE NOSE for daycare for our child. If we weren’t paying for daycare, we could afford to buy a new car EVERY TWO YEARS. So in a way, feeling obligated to ALSO tip the teachers is like pouring salt on a very open, very festering wound.

But on the other hand? My daughter’s teachers are demigods. Every day, when I drop Em off at school, I look around the room at all of the crazy, sniffly, cranky, rambunctious kids, and I just think “how in the WORLD do they DO it?” And I mean, I KNOW how hard it is to watch my daughter for nine hours a day. Her attention span is exactly three seconds long. She has the patience of a crack addict. Yet, somehow, her teachers have managed to wrangle her energy and keep her from killing herself for the past 365 days. For that, I feel like I owe them ALL of my money. ALL of it.

So of course we end up tipping the daycare teachers, twice a year. But again, the minute I hand them the envelope, I am wracked with guilt. Did we give them enough? Will they open the envelope and laugh at our “gift”? If I am walking down the street with my two kids, years from now, will they try to run me over with their car because I didn’t give them enough? What is ENOUGH, when it comes to tipping a teacher?

I am glad that yesterday was Em’s last day at daycare, and that we will be starting life as a stay-at-home family next week, for a multitude of reasons. One of those reasons? I won’t have to deal with “tip-the-teacher” guilt for at least a few more years.

How do you deal with tipping the teacher? I’d love to hear from you!


Dvora Koelling
Parenting with imagination. Or at least trying.



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