Selling Out With TeachersPayTeachers.com

money

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. 



As a coach, history and journalism teacher at Brimmer and May, a wonderful independent school in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, I have the absolute best job in the world. I am thrilled to get up every morning to engage with interesting young people, and I'm equally fortunate to have such amazing colleagues and mentors. As the founder of Spin Education, I encourage you to check-in frequently and submit posts and lessons—all in an effort to better our practice as teachers.

9 Comments

  • Reply June 19, 2013

    Mike Walton

    I am not a teacher although many years ago in a different life I was a certified instructor for a trade school. If you go back in time even further, you will find that I was once a student, although not a shining star.

    I am very lucky to have a daughter who holds a few Master Degrees and is a dedicated teacher. In a recent conversation, she told me about the “Teachers paying Teachers” site and the concept intrigued me. Being retired and having time on my hands, I goggled the site (as many of us retirees do) and came across your article and comment about sites like the aforementioned.

    Maybe I am confused and definitely out of the loop. My experience teaching at a trade school, not to be directly compared to teaching at an academic facility, is that I was supplied a curriculum and lesson plan that outlined the subjects and items that needed to be covered / taught within a given marking period. I was never given a scripted dialog that I was required to follow word for word. It was merely a transcript of items that needed to be presented and covered in an orderly fashion.

    I felt that I was free to apply common sense and to pace the presentation of material at a level that my students could grasp and that there was always time for questions and answers. As a caring instructor, I was able to determine which students were grasping the principles presented and which students needed a more personal touch and attention to achieve in the course subjects.

    It seems to me, that your article implies that by obtaining lesson plans or other items from sites of that nature, prevents a caring motivated teacher from fulfilling their obligations and responsibilities to their students to pass on their knowledge and to help their students absorb the subject matter and achieve.

    Is there nothing to be gained, other than time, from obtaining information from fellow teachers even if you have to spend some of your personal income? Is the reader of your article to believe that we are at a point in time where someone would purchase this material, read it back to the class word for word and not care to ask if there are any questions and be precluded from offering additional thoughts or help to students within their class ?

    Why fault a teacher for collecting their notes and teaching techniques and offering them to others and earn additional small amount of income while doing so? Isn’t that what authors of text book and publishers do on a much larger scale?

    I feel that sites like these are just another tool in the shed of teaching. Some tools are sharper and better than others, but they all have one thing in common, they have to be in the right set of hands to work properly and benefit the user and in this case, the student.

    Just a few thoughts from an old trade instructor and proud father of a dedicated teacher.

    Respectfully,

    Mike Walton

  • Reply January 11, 2014

    Mary Kuebler

    I think you are missing a key and important point. There are companies making billions on selling products to teachers. Instead of having these companies earning the profits, why not let fellow educators make some extra income. Only a handful have become wealthy and good for them. Many of them/us who sell on TPT make products for free. I have made some products that I might not otherwise have invested the time to make. I am putting a daughter through college. A little extra income buys a book or two. I get your point. I appreciate your perspective; however, I don’t think TPT will stop the free exchange process. Please go out on the Internet and search though. More and more companies are there for profit and big profit. I for one will pay my fellow educators and hope that many will feel the same and appreciate my hard work with a token of a few dollars. It sounds like a win-win to me.

  • Reply February 17, 2014

    Brad Hines

    As founder of TeachBoys.org and TeachGirls.org, and a TPT lesson plan maker, I’d like to remind about the benefits of making a really good lesson plan, and TPT’s ability to leverage how many students you can teach.

    Teacher’s time isn’t free. Of course they should be able to get money from it. Deanna Jump as an example, her plans have helped teach millions at this point. She should be paid in kind.

    Lastly. TPT lessons typically supplement a teacher’s plans. Teachers who buy from the site aren’t exactly buying 100% of their plans on it, they still create too, its for when they have a dry week maybe, are sick, etc.

    Brad

  • Reply May 31, 2015

    SnowQueen627

    In my experience as a Spanish and French teacher in elementary school, the stuff on TPT is big on cutesy and short on content. I am trying to use a communicative approach to teaching. I am focusing on getting the student to develop “chunks” of the language (i.e. knowing how to say “What do you eat for breakfast?” and supplying answers) rather than just knowing a list of words. TPT has a ton of vocabulary lists. Its content providers seem to focus on discrete words or verb uses more than communication. I have bought items, thinking they would be useful, and have been disappointed about 60% of the time. For my money (ha!) Isl Collective is a better content provider. It is a site that provides resources for world language teachers only. Most of its contributors are from Europe or the Americas, so they seem to get the idea of communicative goals better than the TPT folks.

  • Reply July 11, 2015

    Jessica

    I will say that I purchase “printables” from TpT, not lesson plans. Apart from purchasing clip art which is my current obsession, I also mainly purchase from teachers in my state. VA is not a Common Core state it is hard to find resources to support our curriculum and unfortunately our school division provides little to no textbooks and resources for our state standards. With that being said I also feel that TpT has changed the face of education. Teachers no longer share freely. The items I purchase are not allowed to be shared with my team members unless I go back and purchase additional licenses for an additional cost. But it’s sad, I’ve found some great resources out there but I have to keep them to myself. I tell my teammates where I got them but unfortunately they don’t have the discretionary income to purchase products. My husband knew when we were married that I spent 5% of my gross salary on materials for my classroom, so for us that money is just like the light bill, it’s a necessity in my house. But I do wish teachers shared more freely, but most freebies I find are just a “sample” of a larger product someone has on sale on TpT. I have an entire website full of free downloadable activities but I often wonder how much money I could make if I chose to go back to selling (I sold products on my own site for about a year before just making everything free). But the market is super saturated with products right now. Everybody is trying to nickel and dime teachers and for me, if it’s not unique, I’m not buying it because I have the talent to create most of what I see. But not everyone has that talent either.

  • Reply June 22, 2016

    Amanda Lindquist

    1. TPT provides a platform for teachers to share both FREE and paid content to each other.
    2. Purchasing said materials does not mean you don’t adapt them to fit your students’ needs. In fact, the beauty of the site for me has been finding materials that help my students who either need extra help or are ahead. I am better able to differentiate for my students because I can find what I need quickly and then decide if it’s worth purchasing. I definitely prefer buying from a fellow teacher as opposed to a corporation.
    3. TpT also has an online forum where sellers go to discuss a wide variety of topics (aka the online version of the mentoring component you talked about).
    4. Selling lessons online does NOT mean teachers aren’t working collaboratively at their job. I share everything I make with my colleagues and they in turn share their ideas with me. We make each other better teachers by working together (both online and in person).

    Selling online has made me more aware of what I’m doing as a teacher by forcing me to develop my lessons as if a sub were going to read them. I have to triple check to make sure that someone else would understand why I created a product a certain way so they can determine how to use it in their room with their students.

  • Reply July 26, 2016

    taylor

    Most teachers would not take all the hours to upload one lesson if they were not paid for it. It’s a lesson in capitalism, getting paid incentivizes you to work harder and put out a higher quality product. If teachers pay teachers was free site, few teachers would post resources on there. I personally have put several free resources on the website because I do want to help teachers who struggle but the vast majority are paid. It’s a win, win for the buyer and the seller. The buyer gets quick, higher quality products with instructions and teachers get extra money to supplement their meager income.

  • Reply July 27, 2016

    Theresa

    I am a French Immersion teacher in Canada. We are a small town in a small school I have to say I LOVE teachers pay teachers. Not only has it allowed me to connect with French Immersion teacher across Canada and the U.S but it’s incredible how much time it saves me having to translate everything into French. I love mixing my stuff with new stuff and creating what works best for my class. I also work in a school where no one wants to share what they have done. The last teacher I was able to collaborate with has since retired. Her stuff was great but old and needed some tweaking. Having access to new perspectives or new materials is hard to come by for me. I LOVE teachers pay teachers.

  • Reply July 28, 2016

    Richard H. Roth

    I just noticed that both of the alternative sites mentioned in this post are no longer active: Tioki.com and SmarterCookie.com. teacherspayteachers.com seems to be going strong. I do think the prices on TpT are high and will go down. I am a fan of Jaron Lanier’s book “Who Owns the Future” and think most of products should be available for micro-payments, say between 50 cents and 1/10th of a cent(a mill), which would both provide long term income to content creators and be affordable.

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