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Teachers turn to the sharing economy for some work-life balance

BY   January 12, 2016 at 3:28 PM EDT

National trends show scores of teachers fizzle out of the profession in the first few years. Could a better balance create better teachers, personally and professionally?

Editor’s Note: The question of whether or not the U.S. will remain the only industrialized country in the world not to offer paid leave has been raised in all three Democratic presidential debates and the issue has heated up recently between Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders over how to pay for it. As many Americans struggle to make ends meet, schoolteachers are among those who have turned to the “sharing economy” for extra income.

Lauralee Moss, a mother of three, has taught English in Illinois for more than a decade. Hoping to strike more of a work-life balance and earn some extra income, Moss became a “store-owner” at TeachersPayTeachers, a website that allows teachers to sell classroom materials and lesson plans to other teachers. 

I was pregnant with my second child when I typed the words “How to make extra money as a teacher” into Google and found the website (or TpT).

TpT, founded in 2006 by a New York City public school teacher, allows teachers to earn money by selling their lesson plans as well as supplemental materials, to other teachers.teacherslounge

My education professors in college warned us that teaching wouldn’t be easy, and they were right — for the most part. I commuted and worked for 10 hours a day as a new high school English teacher. I arrived home where I continued to grade papers and on more than one occasion, replaced reading my children’s bedtime stories with my students’ research papers.

After years of teaching, I started to feel that raising a family and teaching full-time were incompatible. As an Illinois state employee, I was one of the lucky ones. I received an eight-week maternity leave with my three pregnancies and was paid by using my sick and personal days. This way I could spend more time at home with my newborn; it just meant I had to avoid getting sick.

Despite paid family leave receiving some attention in the Democratic presidential debates, no federal law requires companies to pay a parent to spend any time with their baby. Only three states offer paid leave, and the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) states a man or a woman may take three months of unpaid leave.

I had to look for solutions elsewhere. The overall concept of TeachersPayTeachers isn’t entirely new; teachers have always created extra materials or entire units for their classes and shared lessons with other teachers, but the advent of the sharing economy has changed things somewhat. The difference now is that teachers are earning money from their after-hours and weekend work and receiving a larger pool of feedback.

TeachersPayTeachers also allows educators to adapt to new conditions in the classroom. Teachers are often told about changes in curriculum right before the start of a new school year. A lesson with accompanying activities and integrated technology may have been aligned with standards yesterday but isn’t today. Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) often necessitate that teachers change lesson plans or include supplemental materials to better meet the needs of a variety of learners — something the major publishing houses have attempted to do more in recent years but not to the degree of TeachersPayTeachers.

The support from other teachers on the TeachersPayTeachers website provided me with a work-life balance my professors never envisioned. After my third child, I permanently moved to the other side of TpT. As a seller, I’m providing a work-life balance to other teachers in the same way it provided it for me. I’m regaining the excitement I felt as a college student as an educator thrilled to present material in unique lessons to my students. I’m also bringing home more income per month than I did as a teacher, and I am able to balance work with my life as a mother.

Lauralee Moss, English teacher, TpT shop owner and mother.

Lauralee Moss, English teacher, TpT shop owner and mother.

National trends show scores of teachers fizzle out of the profession in the first few years, creating high turnover costs, particularly in cash-strapped districts. Could a balance create better teachers, personally and professionally? If TeachersPayTeachers had not kept me collaborating with other educators and current trends, I believe I would have pursued another career. Instead, I learned how to code, market and design products for my own TpT store using my own research. I literally bought myself (and other teachers) time and loved it.

As more professions, including teaching, catch up with the research that shows a work-life balance benefits both employer and employee, TpT is providing a reprieve for teachers where paid family leave programs don’t yet exist.