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Kavitha Cardoza, Education Week
Kavitha Cardoza, Education Week
To earn extra money, many teachers around the country are selling lesson plans via online marketplaces. But as such sites become more popular, there are also concerns, including who legally owns the educational materials a teacher creates, and what it means for the collaborative spirit of the profession. Special correspondent Kavitha Cardoza of Education Week reports from Alabama.
Flash cards, puzzles, projects, worksheets, many thousands of teachers go online to find lesson plans and classroom resources.
For the educators who sell these ideas, the increasing popularity of these marketplaces can lead to a lucrative second income that helps other teachers. But some worry about the unintended consequences.
Special correspondent Kavitha Cardoza, with our partner Education Week, traveled to rural Alabama.
Jennifer White is showing me around her hometown, Oneonta.
In 2010, my husband lost his job, and I needed to earn some extra cash.
So, in addition to her job as a kindergarten teacher, White started to tutor kids after school. But with three children of her own, two still in diapers, money was still tight.
It was probably one of the most difficult times in my life.
That led to a third job on weekends.
This is the gas station where I worked. There's nothing quite as surreal as selling alcohol to former students.
Around this time, she heard about teachers who were making extra money writing and selling lesson plans online. There are a number of Web sites where teachers can share or sell their work. White started browsing through them.
It kind of planted a little seed, and the more I thought about it, the more I thought, well, maybe I could do this.
The largest of these online sites is Teachers Pay Teachers, or TPT.
Adam Freed is the CEO of the company.
Teachers Pay Teachers is a marketplace where teachers come together to buy, sell and share original educational materials. Today, two-thirds of teachers in the U.S. are active members of our platform.
This is an activity on life cycles.
You have been assigned to put insects in the proper section of the local zoo.
It's so much more engaging to get to the video this way, by doing something yourself.
The average TPT lesson plan sells for $5, and the company takes a cut of 20 percent or 45 percent.
We're proud to announce that, this past year, TPT paid out more than $100 million to teacher authors across the country.
Some have even become millionaires, including a kindergarten teacher from Florida, an elementary school teacher from California, and an English teacher from Louisiana.
These online marketplaces are becoming more and more popular. But there are also concerns. Some legal experts say, if a teacher creates educational materials, those materials legally belong to the school district.
Some educators worry about quality. And there are those who question what this means for the teaching profession, which traditionally has shared these materials for free.
Bob Farrace is with the National Association of Secondary School Principals. He worries this trend could discourage teachers from working together.
I think it's not unreasonable to say that once you put a price tag on that collaboration, you begin to close people out of that market.
We want these ideas to flow very freely among everyone, not just teachers who might be willing or inclined to pay for that collaboration.
Jennifer White worked on weekends to develop her first product, called Let's Make a Pilgrim. The lesson sells for $4.50.
It includes patterns and pictures of the finished product.
The first quarter, she was excited when she made $300 from sales. Then a popular blogger shared her lesson.
And that next quarter, I think I sold $14,000 in that three-month span. And it was life-changing.
White now has about 100 different products online.
Let's Make an Elf. Let's Make a Snowman. I sense a theme here.
There was. That was the year of the Let's Make.
One of the most helpful parts of TPT, White says, is that teachers rate each other's lesson plans.
So I see you have got 44,600 votes.
And you have got the highest score, which is four stars.
Four stars, yes, and the votes are basically like ratings.
But Katy Swalwell, a professor at Iowa State University, says teachers choosing a lesson plan based on what's popular can be a problem, because teachers may focus on what's cute and catchy, rather than on content that's high-quality.
For example, she and two colleagues studied a popular lesson plan, the Wedding of Q and U. It teaches kindergartners a simple concept, how the letter U follows the letter Q. Thousands of classrooms have mock weddings, complete with elaborate invites, decorations and vows.
A lot of teachers are taking hours and hours to teach this fairly simple literacy concept. They're also teaching it as a rule that always works, so that — for any good Scrabble player, we know that Q and U don't always go together.
Swalwell says they found the vows between the kindergarten couple even more troubling.
The girls' vows were often pretty sexist, that they have to support the boys going out with other letters, that that's what they need to do, that their job in the relationship is. They also talk about how the boy's letter is what gave them a voice. Otherwise, they couldn't make a sound in the world.
She says teachers need to be far more critical about lesson plans they create and buy.
It maybe is fun for some of the kids, but it isn't ever just about fun. There's always social lessons that are being taught underneath.
Jennifer White tries to make her lessons applicable for teachers across the country, and she sees only an upside. For starters, she no longer worries about money.
I could quit working at the gas station and tutoring, and I could spend more time with my family.
The Whites have been able to save for retirement and go on vacations. She's also made teacher friends around the world. Best of all, White says, she's been able to give back to her students.
Wow. It's so colorful.
Thank you. Actually, a lot of this was paid for through my sales.
The tables and books, all the learning materials, toys and posters.
In my classroom, we're family. When they need something, if they need Crayons or they need glue or they need a backpack or they need something, anything, I can get it for them. I'm giving back to the people who have gotten me where I am today.
For the PBS NewsHour and Education Week, I'm Kavitha Cardoza in Oneonta, Alabama.
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