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Education

Opinion: The teacher’s sharing economy gave me work-life balance

During my first few years in the classroom, I commuted and worked 10-hour days before arriving home where I continued to grade papers and plan lessons for several more hours. On more than one occasion, I replaced reading my children’s bedtime stories with my students’ research papers.

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.

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After years of teaching, I had started to feel that raising a family and teaching full-time were incompatible. When I was pregnant with my second child, I typed the words “How to make extra money as a teacher” into Google and found the website TeachersPayTeachers.

TeachersPayTeachers, or 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.

The wide-ranging commitments of today’s teachers created a need that such sites provide: quality, updated materials that will interest modern students, meet standards and provide educational value.

The overall concept is not 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.

Contrary to criticism, such teachers work away from school using self-funded computers, computer programs, Internet services and photography. Those educational materials created after hours are no different from decades-long practices of teachers making money outside the classroom. Teachers host podcasts, speak at conferences, write blogs and publish books – all for money. Students and communities benefit from the teachers’ expertise and current practices.

Creating a resource that is ready for another teacher to use is a lot of work, and it should be valued in every sense of the word. When Teacher-Authors create resources for sale, those resources provide ideas for students at different learning levels, answer keys, connections to the Common Core standards and suggestions for parental involvement. Substantial resources often take upwards of 100 hours to create and perfect. And the extra work, along with their earnings, help teachers keep those resources constantly up to date and fresh.

CEOs of companies are praised for writing best-selling books based on their management skills and business strategies. Advertisers establish their influence by hosting courses and blogging away from their nine to five jobs. College professors are lauded by their university for writing their own books — books they often require students to buy for their class. No one seems to have much of a problem with that.

To be clear, the materials teachers make for TpT are not owned by the school district or anyone else but the teacher. They are separate from the curricula and materials used as part of the teachers’ school job. It’s puzzling to me to hear the critique teachers have come under for wanting to make a decent living or, in some cases, a very good living. Isn’t this the entrepreneurial spirit we teach our kids about in action?

I’m able to buy professional development programs and books, travel, and breathe with the money I make — something I couldn’t do with my regular teaching job alone.

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 now 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.

After creating and selling lessons for years on my own, I returned to the classroom. My experience with TpT and the online learning community expanded my knowledge and I have fresh resources to share with my students. As a seller, I’m providing a work-life balance to other teachers in the same way it was provided for me. I’m regaining the excitement I felt as a college student and 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.

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 up on current trends, I believe I would have pursued another career. Instead, I learned how to code, market and design products for my own store using my own research. I 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 from the time crunch teachers face.

PBS NewsHour Teachers’ Lounge covers how current issues affect life for educators and students. To receive education updates and classroom resources, click on the NewsHour’s Education Mailer here.

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