Gratuities for the teachers?

There is an unofficial unwritten rule in our yeshiva that you are supposed to tip the rebbes at Purim time. There has been no official guideline set out, and I never do it. Why? A) because I already pay tuition and B) they are getting paid a salary to teach my kid and C) because I do not have that kind of money to tip four rabbeim!! (I have heard of them getting in the hundreds from one parent.)

Last night a bunch of us were having a conversation on this subject, after a couple of people had received letters from their children’s yeshivot outlining the Chanukah tip suggestions. Rebbeim are supposed to get more than Morahs (male teachers vs female – don’t get me started) and some of the suggested tips went up to $360!!!

In this economy who has extra money? Private school tuition takes a huge chunk out of one’s salary, plus all the other extras you have to pay for – dinner, book fees, building fund, photocopying fee, get-you-every-which-way-we-can fee etc. How dare they send a letter saying you should tip the teachers??!!

I tip the superintendent in my building at Xmas time. He does a lot extra for me and I slip him a bill. He doesn’t expect it nor ask for it and it is MY choice whether to tip him or not. He will not treat me any differently whether I do or don’t.

The teachers – if you do not tip them, will they mark your child down? If you do tip, does s/he get higher grades? Does tipping only apply if they are doing a good job? We are all hurting financially in this economy – and I get that teachers are not paid that well in yeshivas – but who has extra money for this? Do the teachers count on this? Do they report the tips to the IRS? If one parent of every kid in a class of 24 gave a hundred dollars, that’s $2400 – a huge amount.  Do the teachers count on this for parnassah?

Its bad enough the government always has their hands in our wallets, now the schools too?


For a more in your face take on this subject go visit DovBear and read what he has to say.

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32 responses to “Gratuities for the teachers?

  1. Our school (which has boys and girls in separate divisions) suggests $25 per child, up from $18 a year ago. All money is pooled and distributed to the staff; I don’t know how it’s divided. (And I understand for a boys’ school it’s different, and that you’re supposed to tip the rebbes before Pesach also!) I don’t object on principle, but as a tuition paying parent I object to so many hidden extras, of which this is only one.

    BTW public school when gifts are collected the dollar amounts suggested are much less, PTA dues are much lower, etc.

  2. my kid’s elementary school recommends $25 per kid for chanukah & purim gifts for grades 1-5 & $36 for grades 6-8 (which is departmentalized & has many more teachers) which i am happy to pay. in the past i’ve given certain teachers who i’ve felt went above & beyond the call of duty some additional kind of gift or another especially at the end of the year when class gifts are often collected once again. regarding the rebbis, i would only tip them if i felt they really cared about my child & went above & beyond the call of duty to assist them. truth is, though that the rebbeim may depend on these tips for parnassah b/c it is well-known that yeshivas (especially the more yeshivish ones) do not pay their teachers too well.

    i do give holiday tips to the mailman, the garbagemen, my favorite manicurist, kid’s busdrivers, my seamstress who i am friendly with etc. b/c i try to show (hakaras hatov) appreciation to ppl who i feel deserve it when possible. i also always tip the camp counselors as per the recommended amounts b/c i know that they really on these tips b/c the counselors (especially the junior counselors) don’t get much of a salary from the camp. in fact, in my son’s summer camp, the JCs & waiters have to pay to work at the camp which in my humble opinion is insane!!!

    in short, i try to tip especially those who i feel are deserving of it!

    • i don’t like being told you HAVE TO appreciate the teacher in a monetary way. if they have gone above and beyond, and i want to give them a gift, it should be up to me what i deem appropriate.

      • the $25 or $36 which is divided among all the staff seems reasonable to me for chanukah/purim gifts & i am happy to participate in those programs b/c otherwise i would feel that i should buy them each some kind of gift/gift card which would amount to more $ in total. this joint gift makes my life easier…

  3. Lady Lock and Load

    What urks me even more is that some teachers do not send thank you notes for the extra chanuka or purim gift! Is that such a hard thing to do? How about some hakaras hatov???

    • LLL – i find that many people have lost the art of the thank you note these days. I try to remember to do it myself, but often forget….

      • Lady Lock and Load

        We have a mitzvah to show hakaras hatov, the teachers can type up something and copy it and give to each kid in class, what is the big deal? It doesn’t even occur to some of them. Teachers can teach alot by EXAMPLE.
        I think thank you notes are very important. When my father passed away people sent food and I wrote a thank you card to each person who sent us something. It was important to me.

    • LLL, i’ve definitely received thank yous from some of my kid’s teachers although not from all of them. i know that my husband who works with severely disabled children that it is challenging to always acknowledge gifts that are given with a thank you card. i personally try to write up the notes on behalf of my husband b/c i am a stickler about thank yous & i guess my mother taught me well but not everyone is. sometimes it is really hard to find the time esp for my hubby who is so busy treating his clients & is swamped with ALL of the paperwork that he must do for them for which he is not compensated monetarily. sometimes, a sincere verbal thank you for a gift might have to suffice. however, as a parent i do try to train my kids to always send thank yous for gifts that are given to them b/c i think it is an important life lesson not to take things from others for granted & to think that things are coming to them…

  4. The teachers are underpaid. Perhaps you can use the money you didn’t spend on a dress. It doesn’t matter how much you give, it shows that you appreciate them.

    • The teachers are underpaid.

      Which teachers are more underpaid, the female ones or the male ones? I think we all know the answer to this question. And if that’s the case, why do they request that we give more to the male teachers than to the female teachers?


      • I always wonder, teachers are underpaid compared to what? They do have some time off in the summer; not all of it is spent preparing for next year. And of their paid time off, it comes at convenient times, like yom tov and erev yom tov. I am hoarding my few paid time off days for next year’s yom tov schedule. They also get to work in a collegial atmosphere that respects and fosters their religious beliefs. They get off when their kids are off, so they don’t need as much childcare. For a religious Jew, teaching is a lifestyle choice; you can’t put a price on that.

        • Teachers are underpaid compared to what? Seriously?

          Now, it’s almost mandatory that you have to have a Master’s to teach (and I’m not talking in Jewish day schools where I’m appalled that some of the people there don’t even have degrees in education). So as professionals, teachers are underpaid compared to people in other professions.

          We have the summers off because we’ve spent every evening and much of the holidays catching up on lesson planning and grading that we don’t really get paid for because you can’t fit it all into your 8-3pm day. Lawyers keep billing hours well into the night, teachers just do it for free because they have to or otherwise, their students suffer.

          Teachers are not martyrs. They are professionals. They don’t take a vow of poverty like priests for G-d’s sake. And like everyone, they deserve to get paid as such.

          As for collegial atmospheres? I have heard many horror stories from day school teachers about how they are treated by students and teachers. And in public school, if it’s not the students or teachers, it’s the principals. In many public schools there is nothing but animosity between administrators and the faculty. I’d never been so mistreated in my life in any other field!

          • Aliza, sorry, I thought it was obvious I was referring to yeshiva teachers, who have no credentials and benefit from working in a religious environment that matches their cultural needs. Public school, especially in the city, must be a different situation. Yeshiva teachers take camp jobs in the summer (earning more money), often get tuition benefits in pretax dollars (worth $15K per child in after tax dollars), etc.

            • tesyaa, you can’t say that yeshiva teachers have no credentials b/c it depends on which schools you are referring to. my kids attend a wonderful highly academic yeshiva whose hashkafah (philosophical outlook) is right wing yeshiva university where all the main teachers (as opposed to the assistants) have at least a bachelor’s & often a master’s degree. my children have received a top notch education from highly qualified teachers & my HS son is currently attending yeshiva university high school for boys & also receiving an incredible education from extremely qualified & educated educators. it’s really important not to generalize about yeshivas & to make a blanket statement about their teachers.

  5. You know what, the teachers are in school right now and don’t have a chance to defend themselves. You’ll hear from them later, I’ll bet.

    • Here in the USA, many schools are closed because it’s the day before Thanksgiving. And the teachers in Israel are all home already for many hours.

  6. I’m not a parent yet, but I know that my parents always gave to my rebbeim and teachers purim time. I know this because my parents made a point of showing me they wrote the check to show hakaras hatov for the rebbeim (although i did not always know the dollar amount, i did notice that it differed with rebbeim who treated me kindly, and those who didn’t)

    Many rebbeim do NOT get paid for the summers nor for the vacation/off days for yomim tovim. Depends on the school. And yes, the teachers (all of them male & female) are underpaid.

    There is an old saying that to single-handedly raise the level of chinuch in our schools would be to raise the salary by 10k, and higher better teachers. there are people who don’t go into the field because its unaffordable.

  7. I have been a teacher at two different schools. One was a fill in position and one was a full time for a whole year thing. While still living in the states I also checked out teaching at other schools. What I found was that Yeshiva teachers typically made about twice what a public school teacher does for equal levels of experience and time served. So I don’t really understand what “underpaid” means, except not having enough money to lead a lifestyle that is above their means.

    Considering tuition and teacher/student ratios, and all of the other fees that parents are charged to cover everything but salaries… I have always wondered where all the money goes… Even when I was a teacher, it just didn’t add up. Ultimately my suggestion is to get a copy of the schools financials(most are non-profits and thus have to make them public) and take a look for yourself. Then make your decision about tips.

    • mekubal, i am not a teacher but from what i know of teachers who teach in yeshivas, their salaries tend to be much lower than what it would be in the public school system. in addition, the more “modern” yeshivas tend to pay their teachers better than the more “yeshivish”/right wing yeshivas in general & therefore tuitions are generally higher in the more modern yeshivas which explains how the salaries can be higher in those yeshivas…one perk that some schools offer teachers/rebbeim are substantial tuition discounts & parents who pay full tuition are kicking in for the tuition payments for the teachers’ kids in addition to other children who are receiving financial aid….a side point is that in america the tuition costs are much greater than in canada where there are some government subsidies. in the US, private schools are not subsidized at all by the government & unfortunately tuition is not tax deductable either which is a HUGE challenge for parents here. my point in a nutshell is that rebbeim in yeshivas are not raking it in by any stretch of the imagination.

      • To give hard stats. I taught in a B”Y, that is pretty right wing. In the city I was teaching in starting salary for a public school teacher was 30-35K, starting salary at the B”Y was 60K(for Rebbeim it may have been less for other teachers, I didn’t check). Granted in the US it is hard to live like a Jew on $60K, it is also hard to call someone underpaid when they are making twice what others in the same field, location and experience range are making.

        Interviewing for other teaching jobs in NJ/Philadelphia/NYC, looking to teach somewhere more Yeshivish, I found that starting salaries varied from 50K-65K for Rebbeim.
        As you will see here
        that is well above the national average as well. This was seven years ago. Even today those figures match with a average salary for a teacher(not necessarily starting) as is noted here:

      • I’m not surprised that a rebbe’s salary might be less than a public school teacher. That would be because he works fewer hours a days and fewer days a year than a public school teacher.
        Also, broken down to an hourly basis, I’ll bet the average teacher gets paid more than some commenters here. And that’s before adjusting for tuition breaks (although this has been phased out in a lot of MO schools) and a schedule based on the jewish calendar (so no lost pay for holidays, friday afternoons, etc., as well as savings on child care expenses).

  8. As your blog said, this was a suggestion. It is up to you to make a decision. If you decide to make a tip, then you can always donate to a charity in the teacher’s name – what can be better than that.

  9. Lady Lock and Load

    Hadassah, if you can’t tip, so don’t! I know many people who have large families that are not able to to tip all their kids teachers.
    I think a nice hand written thank you/Chanuka card to a teacher is more meaningful than the collected money from the class. Funny, but I remember those personal cards more than the cash when I used to be a teacher 22 years ago! Sure, the money is appreciated, but it’s very impersonal and I don’t know who contributed to it.

  10. We give money for the teachers twice a year. There is no obligation to do so, but it is customary at the school.

    The money is collected by members of the PTA and then used to purchase gifts. Not only do the teachers receive something but gifts are also given to security and custodial staff.

  11. LOZ, a Jewish school teacher teaches less? Really? When I taught school full time, I was in the classroom almost the entire day. Houston, Vancouver, West Hartford – all the same. Though I think I taught the most hours (39 classroom hours!) in Houston. I am not complaining; that was my job and I was paid for it. But I don’t know where we get the idea that the Torah teacher is in the classroom less. Maybe in the big city. And, although I was paid well IMO; there were no benefits. No retirement, health, or unemployment policy. So all that came out of my quite-good salary.

    But NONE of that is the point, really. The idea of tipping teachers is outrageous, corrupt, demeaning.

    Parents pay tuition. Teachers are paid salaries. Pressuring parents explicitly or implicitly to tip teachers is outrageous.

    It is corrupt. As already pointed out, might a teacher be swayed somehow by who tipped more (or less?). Isn’t a bribe forbidden by Hashem’s Torah. What about all those mussar stories exemplifying extreme distancing from ANY possibility of undue influence and even the slightest moral corruption?

    It is demeaning. I am a professional. I learned in yeshiva and went to college to be that professional. I work hard and conscientiously like a professional. To tip me for doing the job I came to your town for is demeaning. A teacher should be paid well and treated well, to be sure. Gratuities are for wait staff and busboys. When my plumber does a job for me, I pay him his bill. I don’t tip him. He is a tradesman and paid and treated with respect. Teachers deserve no less.

    If the teachers are reduced to begging for handouts, than something is wrong; but we know that already. But if the handouts are institutionalized, something is rotten.

  12. BTW, we did often get gifts at Hanukkah time. But it certainly wasn’t required!

    My favorite was the yearly Mandel Bread that Mrs. F. made. And she always found an interesting container for it. It was even better when one of the sons learned to make it as well as his mother did; and started giving it to his teachers. THAT was a gratuity I looked forward to! 😉

  13. When I was a public school teacher, some of the students would give us gifts for the holidays. I knew that many of them didn’t have much money and I accepted them gratefully. Especially the time one student crossed out all the Santa Claus pictures on the wrapping paper, she said, “Because you’re Jewish now.”

    But tipping teachers with money? There’s something skivvy to me about that. Especially when the school is sending home letters about it. It seems like you’re being pressured to do it at that point. And rabbis get more than the female teachers? I’m sure they already get paid more as it is.

    Sorry but I’ve never had enough money to even imagine tipping anyone other than the hair stylist for anything. And even that is painful.

  14. I am a high school English teacher at an inner city high school in Los Angeles. From the comments I read, I can tell you that part of why I’d never want to teach at a Jewish or any other private school is because of the many things mentioned here: low pay, crappy benefits, unspoken expectations, uneducated and un-credentialed teachers, parents who boss the teachers around, etc.

    I payed my entire way through college and have oodles of student loans to prove it. I received my BA degree and then went another year and a half to receive my California Teaching Credential. In CA, after you are credentialed you have 5 years to get your CLEAR credential which takes about two years. That means that while I was teaching my first two years I was in another program that is mandatory in CA to make my credential permanent. This program requires MANY weekend workshops, homework, having others observe you and observing others, attending conferences and classes.

    SO…4 years for a BA, 1.5 years for a credential, and 2 more years while teaching to clear the credential…THAT is a lot of schooling to teach in one of the lower paying professional jobs in the nation. I don’t think there is any other profession that requires so much professional work and schooling and that gets low pay and little respect. I’m now in my 5 1/2 year of teaching and make just over 50K. I’m also working on a Masters degree so my pay can go up. Sure, that sounds like decent money but I can assure you that with amount of education hours and hours spent at home and over the summer grading, that 50K is pennies!

    FYI…My work day does not span the same hours as students. I get to work between 7 and 7:30 am. Classes start at 8:10. School ends at 3:05. I never leave until 4 and there are many days I’m there until 6pm. It is rare that I don’t take home essays to grade or that I’m not creating a lesson or surfing the web to come up with new and relevant lessons. With the budget as it is, I often buy my own copy paper, pencils, folders for the low income kids who can’t get their own etc.

    I am NOT complaining. However, I do hope that many of you see that teaching is not this cake job with tons of vacation time. This is a 4 day weekend and I have a crate of student notebooks to grade, an exam to write, and 4 periods of formal letters to grade. Over winter break I take home essays to score. During the summer I have some down time but I’m planning, meeting with colleagues, and doing professional development. It doesn’t end. I love my job but if I wrote down the hours I spend outside the job working for free, it would add up to FAR more than the 50 K I currently receive.

    NOW, regarding gifts. I think it’s absolutely absurd to ask parents to pay a monetary appreciation. I think encouraging acknowledging teachers is fine, it should not be expected and gifts should have absolutely NO bearing on a student’s grades. I sometimes get little gifts from kids, they’ll bring me a cupcake (which isn’t kosher so I give it to another teacher). I have a fun snow globe collection in my class and the kids will randomly bring those in. Got 3 this year from kids which is sweet. I love the little gestures of appreciation but if someone gave me a financial tip I’d find it odd. Perhaps a gift card is more reasonable.

    Really, the greatest gift a parent could give me is to support their child. Show up on parent night. Be involved, and be in touch with me. If I had that, my job would be so much easier.

  15. Tamara – many, if not most, teachers in Jewish religious school are not credentialed, and have not attended university even for one day. Many are literally right out of high school. So they have certainly not incurred the costs or time and effort you have put toward your profession.

  16. this is a residual from Europe where the Malamdim were poor and needed this money to feed their family. Its tough to say this is the case is most non chasidic schools. Its also hard to hear that it is fair to all the kids in the class when different parents give different amounts directly to the teacher. Seems like Shcochad to me.

  17. As someone who has taught in several yeshivas, I would like to dispel some of the myths expressed here. First, many if not most of my colleagues DO have degrees. While a few are recently out of high school, they are teaching subjects that do not necessarily demand or even have available a scholarly background in the subject. In addition, the stupid piece of paper people seem so stuck on means squat in the real world of educaiton. I subbed for a yeshiva without a masters (or a degree in education for that matter which I personally think is a colossal waste of time as you learn a lot more on the job than any of these snowy theory classes can teach you) even though they generally insist on it for all of their staff (so there you go) and they asked me to stay on and replace one of their (highly ‘qualified’) teachers who simply wasn’t relating to her students. Because, as it happens, degrees mean nothing when it comes to rapport for students, passion for a subject and, frankly, even breadth within the subject.
    As to how poorly we are paid – few other jobs are as demanding as teaching. I am ‘on’ from the moment I walk in the door. I relinquish rights to bathroom breaks, email checking, phone calls, and basically breathing. I cannot duck in a few minutes late or check out a bit early – my presence is mandatory as is my performing for forty five minute stretches for six classes straight. When I am not dancing around a classroom generating a lesson that I have had to prepare the night before, I am meeting with students, troubleshooting their problems, emailing them at night, hosting them for Shabbos. Teaching is mentoring as well as educating. THen there is the homework I bring home whenever I assign it. Which is often. Then there are the benefits or lack thereof – pension? health? Yearly increase of salary? Ha.
    My summers are spent utilizing intense professional development courses which, by the way, are way expensive and not always covered by the school.
    So it happens to be quite nice when my meagre salary which is in no way commensurate to the high maintenance profession I have chosen is in a small way supplemented on Chanukah. In truth I have not thought about the parents having to shell out 25 bucks or whatever it is. But I would imagine if there was no official bonus-ing, and in one school I worked at there wasn’t (and let me tell you, that lowered the morale considerably), few if any parents are going to single out the teachers and if they do that creates many more problems of favoritism and economic discrepanices among the parents, not to mention that I am working hard for all of your kids and who knows what that may or may not mean to every parent.
    So as I am marking the papers of 200 plus students as regularly and thoroughly as I can, you want me to pen 200 thank you notes? I’m sorry, but I think you can safely assume that your 25 dollars went very much appreciated and the formality of another bloody piece of paper is once again disrupting the focus on the humanity behind the gift. I am being given a gift of thanks – I would like to think its been earned and that the person can give and let go.
    Teachers work darn hard and then have the community’s attitude that they are poorly educated, and therefore talentless, and have such a cushy life that we really ought to trust be grateful that we have it as good as we do. Well we don’t. We are involved in a nole profession of endless giving of the utmost importance, and the salary simply doesn’t cut it. While I can appreciate the parent’s resentment, please then contemplate the often thankless profession of, in fact, often stepping in where the parents are not, and then wonder if perhaps showing a little gratitude is not out of place.

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