Do You Tip Camp Counselors?

A question about tipping counselors created quite a stir on my personal Facebook page.

Tips and teacher gifts always seem to be a subject of great confusion for parents. I know some parents who tip everyone (counselors, private after-school teachers/coaches, bus drivers) and give a big teacher gift and others who do none and others who fall somewhere in between.

I lean towards tipping, especially teenagers who are working with my kids, because I was a young counselor once. I never expected a tip, nor would I ever treat a child differently based on this, but it sure was a nice way for a parent to say thank you.

The reason I was even asking was because my kids had only attended 6 days at that camp. If they had been there for 4 weeks, it would not have even been a question for me.

And then several of my friends, a few with experience as counselors themselves, and the former camp director for whom I worked as a teen chimed in and the conversation got quite heated!

There seemed to be a few main points in the anti-tipping comments:

1. People feel uncomfortable giving money. I feel the same way while at the same time thinking it is a silly cultural hang-up. We will give someone a $10 (or whatever denomination) coffee shop gift card but not $10 because one feels friendly and the other feels cheap/condescending/inappropriate for whatever reason. I would argue that a counselor would probably prefer if 5 parents gave her $10 each than have $50 to spend at the coffee shop…but it feels more social, like you are “buying her a coffee.” With teachers, we make handmade gifts and then contribute to the class gift or give a gift card to Michaels. With teenage counselors, I personally feel like cash is appropriate. Several other people also bake treats (which has the advantage of being both not money and also less expensive)…I think this can be a lovely gesture when thanking a large group but when thanking a small group of individuals, I worry about allergies and tastes. I would hate to give a gift the recipient cannot enjoy.

2. The money per day seems excessive. You cannot tip someone less than $5 without it seeming cheap–and if you tip $5 for 6 days, what are you tipping for 20 or 30 camp days? With three or more counselors, that adds up to quite a lot.

3. These are professionals and you only tip people in service jobs. This is where a lot of the disagreement crept in and I suspect it has to do with different experiences with camps. When I think of a camp counselor (not a specialist teacher), I think of a teenager at a summer job. Some people were familiar with Vacation Bible Schools or other religious institution camps where the counselors were sometimes volunteers. Others used camps associated with schools or other institutions and the counselors were well-paid adults, sometimes full time employees and even teachers.

4. The tipping culture has gotten out of hand. There are people who argue that tips should only be for exceptional service. Standard tips have become a way of sustaining an economy that doesn’t pay certain workers a living wage. One commenter argued for choosing places that pay their employees a living wage and have policies against tipping.

Personally, I see “camp counselor” as a summer job for an older teen who likes to be outdoors and work with kids. When I was a teen, playing with kids sounded a lot more fun (and relevant) to me than retail or food service. And little kids like to hang out with responsible and kind teenagers. A tip is not expected but it sure is nice to receive. I don’t know if that teen likes coffee, music, or books, or needs some extra money for college…or maybe is 21 and wants to go out and buy a 6-pack for an end of summer party. If I give money, that counselor can choose whatever he or she wants.

I wish I could quote all the great comments I got but since it was a post on a personal Facebook page, I don’t think my “friends” were expecting to be quoted! I definitely welcome everyone to share their reasons for tipping or not tipping the counselors or private after school teachers who work with your kids in the comments!

Do you tip your camp counselors?

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  1. I think I would have to say that I would NOT be tipping camp counselors, that seems to be a bit overboard. At the end of camp, perhaps a nice, inexpensive gift for each camp counselor. But not tipping. That’s just showing how out of hand tipping has gotten. And I have worked in service industries in the past where I relied on tips to live.
    Just my “two cents.”

  2. tracey says:

    It never occurred to me. Then again, I don’t like giving presents to teachers (I would write nice letters or help with their sticker/treat buckets though) or such. I am particular with whom I give presents and tips to… Maybe I’m just cheap. I basically tip wait staff and really nice cab drivers.

    • Candace says:

      In NYC, I would be afraid to NOT tip the cab drivers! Teacher gifts — that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms! We usually do a small, handmade gift and a handwritten letter (assuming we have nice things to say–which, so far, we always have). Usually the class mom also collects for a gift (my kids are young) so we contribute. There are ethical issues with teachers accepting cash–they are adult professionals–but at the same time, I know teachers often pay out of pocket for classroom supplies and I try to chip in whenever asked or, if there isn’t a class gift, get them an Amazon gift card.

  3. This question reminded me of someone else’s thing on FB: do you give teachers “back to school gifts?” Now, I know you are a teacher by trade so forgive me but ENOUGH with the gifting and the tipping! I’m in the “no” camp on this one!

    (see what I did there?)

    • Candace says:

      I feel like it is a related but very different question. I was a High School teacher so I only received a handful of gifts each year–each of which was unexpected and very appreciated and usually from students with whom I had the privilege to work more closely (I had recruited them for Mock Trial, pushed them to go into honors, spent hours with them on their college essays, etc.). Teachers are underpaid, yes, but they are also professionals. My kids make homemade gifts and write thank you notes to their teachers. They are young so we also contribute to whatever class gift the class mom is putting together (although I agree that is slightly ridiculous) and I always donate supplies whenever the call goes out. Once they are older, we will be doing thank you notes when they are warranted (so far, they always have been…we’ve been lucky).