Cashing In on Lesson Plans

By Bryan Toporek — November 17, 2009 1 min read
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With online trading communities such as Craigslist and eBay facilitating millions of transactions, teachers have entered the online marketplace with personalized lesson plans in hand, according to a much talked-about story in the New York Times.

These “teacher-entrepreneurs” place their own lesson plans for sale online, either on their own blogs or on commercial sites, such as Teachers Pay Teachers or We Are Teachers. (See Teacher Magazine‘s 2006 profile of Teachers Pay Teachers.)

But school administrators have begun raising questions about whether or not teachers have full ownership of the material.

“To the extent that school district resources are used, then I think it’s fair to ask whether the district should share in the proceeds,” said Robert N. Lowry, deputy director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents.

Teachers who place their lesson plans online currently take home all of the profits and technically have no responsibility to spend that money on their classrooms. However, some teachers split the profits between school and personal life. For example, Erica Bohrer, an elementary school teacher in New York, says she used the money she earned from selling lesson plans to add books to a reading nook in her first-grade classroom and to help with mortgage payments.

“Teaching can be a thankless job,” Bohrer said. “I put my hard-earned time and effort into creating these things, and I just would like credit.”

While districts analyze the new online marketplace in an effort to establish guidelines or policies, some educators also fear that the act of selling lesson plans will undermine the ability for educators to create online professional development communities where ideas and lesson plans are traded freely.

“Teachers swapping ideas with one another, that’s a great thing,” said Joseph McDonald, a professor at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development at New York University. “But somebody asking 75 cents for a word puzzle reduces the power of the learning community and is ultimately destructive to the profession.”

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Web Watch blog.