I am disheartened by a growing number of Web sites like TeachersPayTeachers.com, which allow users to upload and sell lesson plans.
This introduces a dangerous incentive for teachers, dangling the possibility of huge profits in return for abandoning a free and open exchange of ideas to help students succeed.
In a Sept. 12, 2013 Bloomberg Businessweek article, “Going for the Extra Credit,” journalist Caroline Winter explains how Deanna Jump, a kindergarten teacher in Warner Robins, GA, became a millionaire by selling her lesson plans on the Web:
Since signing on to the site in September 2008, she’s created 99 separate teaching units, priced at about $8 a pop. They “usually cover about two weeks’ worth of material,” says Jump, whose monthly earnings through the site now exceed $100,000. “If you want to teach about dinosaurs, you’d buy my dinosaur unit, and it has everything you need, from language, art, math, science experiments, and a list of books you can use as resources.”
I wish to make plain that I’m not against profiting from hard work. With smarts, risk, a bit of luck and good old-fashioned work ethic, the financially successful deserve that success. They offer hope for what’s possible by striving toward the American dream. All the same, teachers come from a different fray, motivated by different incentives.
Certainly, teachers expect and deserve financial compensation and benefits—and it’s true that too many good teachers don’t earn nearly enough. All the same, there’s something unwholesome about teachers earning tens of thousands—if not more—by selling lessons online.
Ultimately, the best teachers work for something significantly more important than a holiday bonus, and no number of zeroes at the end of a paycheck compares to the enormous joy of seeing students succeed. To remain effective, we happily share our successes and failures, no matter the hardships we endure outside of the classroom.
Teaching has many wonderful rewards, but it is also a sacrifice.
As a younger teacher, luckily, I had the opportunity to learn from terrific mentors. I also attended a number of forums and met interesting, veteran professionals.
Four years ago, during a summer workshop at the Masters School in Dobbs Ferry, NY, I had the excellent fortune of bunking next door to Luis Terrazas, who, at the time, chaired the history department at Colorado Academy in Denver.
During that week, I spent the best hours of my young teaching career learning from Terrazas, who eagerly spoke with me about successful pedagogy. I enjoyed listening to his teaching stories most of all, which fed my desire to become a more effective educator.
I recently spoke with Terrazas, who flattered me by saying how, upon our initial encounter, he recognized and appreciated my intellectual curiosity, creativity and drive. For those reasons and more, he says, he gladly provided me with an electronic copy of his notes—everything he’d amassed since 1999, his first year at Colorado Academy.
As I reminisce with my friend, I glance over his incredibly detailed lectures, readings, study strategy guides, and chapter reviews. I am still in awe of his generosity—and of his genuine concern for my professional development.
This is the kind of relationship that all teachers crave, especially new ones.
TeachersPayTeachers.com could never package and sell the guidance I received from Terrazas. Instead, sites like these take advantage of the fact that not everybody is nearly as fortunate, and through no fault of their own, they have to pay to receive a watered-down version of mentorship.
I ask Terrazas about TeachersPayTeachers.com, and what he thinks of educators selling and buying lessons online. He points out that that he shared with me only one lesson plan, on Andrew Jackson’s Bank War. As it turns out, Terrazas doesn’t care for them:
By their very nature, lesson plans corrupt professional intimacy within the discussion classroom. They force teachers to abide by an agenda–an agenda based upon outcomes as opposed to students’ needs and interests. Lesson plans coerce student action in an attempt to elicit specific responses. Good teachers listen to their students. They attempt to understand their students’ level of conceptual grasp and adjust their presentation accordingly. They ask good questions (not necessarily scripted) that reveal historical ironies, tensions, and the unexplained. They encourage students to elaborate, clarify, analyze, and persuade. This demands a great deal from the teacher. He/She must have command of the material. Without it, how can he/she expect to express confidence and, in turn, encourage students to take intellectual risk? These teachers must establish close, professional relations with students so as to nurture a safe, inviting environment. Lesson plans, unfortunately, have the unintended effect of limiting students’ desire to question or challenge themselves.
I agree, as some of my best teaching moments have occurred organically—when students make overarching connections between units, moving discussion in an unexpected but fruitful direction.
All of this isn’t to say that the Internet can’t or doesn’t’ provide great help with creating or providing feedback for lesson plans.
Several months ago, I spoke with Tess Brustein, founder of SmarterCookie.com, a free online service that allows teachers to upload and share lessons:
A teacher or coach records video of a lesson with a phone, laptop, or camera; uploads it to our platform; and privately shares it with others. Coaches, mentors, administrators, or other colleagues provide asynchronous time-stamped feedback on the teacher’s lesson. The teacher can then implement the actionable, specific feedback immediately.
Users can upload as much as 10 minutes of video for anyone with an Internet connection to see. Various premium packages allow mentors to upload content on behalf of teachers.
“I always found one-on-one coaching was the most helpful to me and actually changed what I was doing,” Brustein says.
In my short blogging career, I have met many fascinating people via Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms. I’m especially fond of Tioki.com, a free niche social networking site geared toward education, which allows teachers to discuss lessons and best practices.
Upon further reflection, I’m more troubled by educators who purchase canned lesson plans online. Consider this analogy to the mechanics of this phenomenon: Is America’s obesity crisis the fault of McDonald’s and other deleterious fast food chains, or are the patrons who buy such junk to blame? Similarly, are those who peddle lesson plans online to blame for profiting from a successful business model, or is there a larger ethical issue at work amongst teachers that buy them?
Staff Writer Preston Michelson contributed to this report.