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Tipping, the Teacher Gift, Cards for all, and I DON'T want candy!

My mother is a teacher. Every year, hordes of students gave her "teacher-y" gifts. Frames with pencils, wall plaques about best teacher, decorative rulers with cutesy 1+1=2, and more. When I was in high school, I noticed our Christmas tree had an apple theme, and I realized that my family never had to bake due to the wealth of cookies and cakes my mother received at the holidays.

It's all nicely meant, and graciously received. My mother was very appeciative, and felt compelled to display the items in her classroom or in our home. Most of all, she felt compelled to keep them.

When she and my stepfather downsized to a new house in their dream town, she purged, and told me she was amazed at how much stuff it ended up being, in the end.

I asked her what she thought of all of these gifts, and she said, in all sincerity, that they really weren't necessary.

I knew for sure they weren't necessary. To be honest, I don't think my mother is too keen on apples.

So when our turn came to ponder a teacher gift, I really went back and forth about whether to do it at all. In one class, a nicely organized mom coordinated donations from everyone for a hefty amount gift card. In another, everyone was doing something individual and I felt a little peer pressured to do something (especially when all the moms asked me every day, "What are you getting Mrs. So and so?").

If I buy gifts for people outside my family, then the boundaries get really blurry. Do I buy only for the teacher, and what about the director, assistant director, language teacher and music teacher? Them too? Or leave them out? Then what about the volunteers? All of the sudden I could easily be facing at least $50 to $100 in extra gifts. If I'm getting for teachers, it's to show my appreciation, and in that case, then what about the postwoman, garbage men, and so forth? Now I'm well over at least $100 and I can see clearly how people end up going into debt over the holidays, or must at least be rich enough to spend thousands (which I am not).

I remembered back to my mom, and know the heartfelt letters and drawings from kids were the ones that really meant the most to her.

So I started having the kids draw a card, and write a special message about how much their teacher means to them.

All of the sudden this year, that seemed like not enough. Or I suddenly lost my confidence about why that was a good thing to do. I don't know why.

Maybe it was because the other moms were once again talking about what to get the if it was a foregone conclusion that we had to get something, something tangible. I'm sure if I'd said, "Oh we're doing a special homemade card," they would have reacted quite nicely about it.

But I felt guilty. Was that Not Enough?

Is a teacher gift necessary, obligatory, like tipping has become?

When out to eat, I understand that my waiter expects, period, at least a 15% to 20% tip. Sometimes I feel like the service is worth about no percent. But I tip anyway. When I asked people what they did about tipping, most said, "Oh, I just give 20%, isn't that what you're supposed to do?"

I might be one of the last dinosaurs who gives a merit based tip. I'll range from an offensive dollar or 5% or less to a fully appreciative 15-25% tip.

The complication in some situations is my lack of cash. I usually pay with my debit card. In this case, tipping extra people who add to the service (such as the hair washing person at the salon) becomes difficult. I understand how restaurants spread the tip among servers, bus boys, and bartenders, but I'm not too sure about places like hair salons. I think each is very different.

What about other people who provide service to me? Painters? Yard people?

I'm stretched simply paying for the service itself; I don't really have extra to ladle on top.

And yet...if I don't gift all the relevant people in the school, or tip or gift all of the people who provide a service to me, do I fall down the scale of Customers Who We Value and Like and Do Good for?

I listen to people who gift and tip simply everyone. "The garbage men LOVE me," says a neighbor, "They'll pick up anything of mine. I give them homebaked banana bread and a Target gift card every year."

I think of the times the garbage men have left trash at my house.

"I always tip the postman," says a friend, "And she never leaves my packages in the rain, or else she wraps them in plastic first."

I think of the sodden packages I've found on my front porch.

It feels awkward to me, paying or gifting everyone I come into contact with in the world. In some cases, it feels a bit like...bribing someone to do the job I'm already paying them to do.

I'm really not mean. Not really. I don't simply think people ought to do what they ought to do with no gratitude. I'm happy to pay for the service and thank them. I just don't like thinking I need to go beyond my actual means to provide gifts and tips to ensure that I get decent service.

It was the rare author who ever thought to thank me in his or her book, much less to my face. "Gee, I'm really grateful you took the poorly written total lack of organization with no facts checked manuscript I turned into you and turned it into a highly-polished well-regarded piece of work that earned me more money in a quarter than you received in a year." They certainly never gifted or tipped me, although they got a gift and card from me.

And I never expected it. I felt proud of doing a good job, and between that and my paycheck, it was usually enough (depended on the author and the project).

I'm not saying that teachers expect a gift. I'm not even saying anyone does. I'm just not sure. Perhaps they don't expect it, but perhaps some notice and mark its absence?

And I haven't even touched on the passing out of gifts to classmates. My kids came home from their last day of school with bags and bags of Oriental Trading Christmas themed junk and tons of candy, which has turned them into hellspawn for days. Not to mention, half or more of the candy and food had peanuts in it, which is a HUGE no-no in my peanut allergy house. While I appreciate the gesture, it has caused more trouble than enjoyment. And I didn't reciprocate. It never even occured to me to consider sending gift bags in for my children's classmates.

I understand you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. I'm all for that philosophy. I'm even more for letting people know how much I appreciate the job they do.

I can't help but wonder, though: Is gifting out of control? Or are these simply people with plenty of money and tons of holiday cheer and spirit? Can words work for that? Or must it be a tangible gift or money?

In the end, the biggest point for me is I can't afford to do this. But am I costing myself more by not doing it?

Note: In appreciation for allowing me to use their images, each photo or image is linked back to its source.

By Julie Pippert
© 2006. All images and text exclusive property of Julie Pippert. Not to be used or reproduced. R.E.S.P.E.C.T that. Please. If you want to use something, write me.

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IzzyMom said…
I've pondered these same questions and came to the conclusion that I don't even know my garbage men because they're always different, same with the mail carrier (plus they always mess up and give our mail to the neighbors and vice versa) so i don't feel particularly compelled to do anything special. I did give my daughter's teacher a $25 gift card and a small album of photos I took of her and the students at Halloween and I gave the aide just a gift card of the same amount. I'm not trying to buy good grades or whatever but rather to say thank you for being such a good and caring teacher. I hope that is the spirit in which is received. As for anyone else that's not close family, I'm not doing anything. I don't have the time OR the money and felt lucky to get a few Christmas cards out this year.
Alex Elliot said…
I gave my son's preschool teacher a gift card. I actually just did a post about it a couple days ago because I was a little confused by the whole teacher gift thing because of the "peer pressure."
Julie Pippert said…
Izzy, yeah, I don't really know who (or how many) the garbage men are, and while I do sometimes run across the postwoman, we don't know her, but are of course friendly. Still, not to the point that I feel impelled to gift or tip. But maybe I am wrong.

As for the gift card and album, I think that sounds awesome.

My situation is such that my gift card amount would have to be $5, which is sort of...useless. I can get things for that amount, but I think it would be junk.

I'm not sure why I suddenly had a crisis of faith that what we could do---little art cards with special message---wasn't enough.

I think like I said, and Alex said too, it was a sort of peer pressure feeling that I needed to give something tangible.

I think it is all about appreciation, absolutely. And I'm positive they get that. Especially teachers.

As for the feeling that it's needed for "good service" I think probably that's peer pressure too.

I just need to process this. Somehow. LOL
Julie Pippert said…
Alex, just checked out your blog. First, LOL about the British accent. My DD has a little MA accent remaining, but She already gasps, "COLD!" when the weather (rarely) drops into the 60s LOL.

Second, I agree that teachers probably deserve a two-week cruise or vacation too, all expenses paid, but like you, that's a bit beyond our reach.

For me it's a major budgetary constraint.

We committed to a cash/debt-free lifestyle. I worked really hard to save up and have a strict budget that I stayed within for gifts for close family. Unfortunately, it doesn't allow me space for reasonable gifts (such as a $20 GC or similar), especially when I think of all the wonderful teachers (not to mention other service providers) who enrich my kids lives. Gymnastics, Language, Music, Tutors, Teachers, Aids, etc. Just for my one daughter it would be almost $150 in gift cards if I did $20 amounts. OY!

I could Plan Ahead (bwahahahahaha!!) and buy ornaments post-Christmas at a discount (sure all her teachers celebrate's a Catholic school) but I didn't do. I'm usually gasping for breath clear until valentine's Day LOL. (And, I confess, I don't really like to shop.)

Which brings up the next point. It's not just Christmas. It's birthday, Christmas, Valentine's, Easter and end of year. That adds up!!!

I'm not keen on loving with food because (a) I'm on a diet, (b) lots of people are on a diet, and (c) who knows what the food restrictions, allergies, etc might be. E.g., I know one teacher is diabetic.

I want to show my appreciation.

The generally acepted standard for that seems to be through a tangible gift, such as the ideas on your list.

I'm wondering/hoping that a card that says something about how you gift our lives and we appreciate it is enough.

I'm sure it is on the receiving end, I just have to feel that way on the giving end. KWIM?

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