Don't Blame Teachers for Selling Their Lesson Plans. Blame the System That Makes It Necessary
Why should teachers give away their work for free?
When I was hired to be a 1st grade teacher, I was given absolutely no curriculum for reading or science. While my school did have a math curriculum, it was out of date from the brand new, controversial Common Core State Standards and did not match our assessments. Instead, I was told to plan with my colleagues.
This often led to me scouring the internet for good resources. While some coworkers were willing to share, they rarely sat down and explained what they were giving me, and I certainly never had the opportunity to observe them using it. I was in over my head and had no idea what I was doing.
Enter, Teachers Pay Teachers. A website where you can buy lessons made for current standards, created by current teachers? Sign me up! I bought phonics lessons and worksheets that saved me every week. I had never taught phonics, and wasn’t taught to read that way myself. Again, I had no idea what I was doing and very little guidance. That entire year was hectic, and staying above water was all I could do—this is a common sentiment from first-year teachers.
I'm no longer teaching, but during the five years that I did, I regularly used the website. I never did get a curriculum for reading and had to supplement my writing curriculum heavily. I had no problem buying resources from other teachers on TPT, because I knew they worked hard to create something, just like any service or product.
However, there is a growing number of disdainful educators who are downright angry that teachers are daring to sell their materials on Teachers Pay Teachers. At a technology conference last summer, I heard a presenter loudly talking in the vendor expo center. I listened as he laughed and called TPT sellers the "whores of education." In a session later that day, I learned about a website where teachers can upload their work for free for others to use.
Why are teachers expected to give away their hard work for free? The presenters in charge of the website explained that they were there to "help kids" and not themselves. I have seen this same sentiment on Twitter often. If you really cared about kids, you would just let people have the things you make rather than sell them!
But, is that fair? Do doctors who work with children give their medical advice away for free? Does Google look around, as it makes new technology for teachers, and say, "You know what? Let's share all this with Microsoft. After all, it's for kids!"? Can you think of a single other profession in which those in it are not given what they need to complete their job, are expected to make their own materials, and are then expected to just give those materials away to others?
It also makes me pause that many of those behind this "movement" on Twitter have sold millions of dollars worth of books on education. Their message seems to be: Publish a book full of strategies and ideas about education and profit off of it for years? No problem! Sell your lessons, decor, posters, or ideas? How dare you! In the same vein, the presenter at the technology conference who called TPT sellers "whores" was standing in the middle of an expo hall full of vendor booths that were there to—you guessed it—sell educators things. If it's for kids, why don't they just give it away?
The real problem here isn't that teachers have made their own lessons and sold them. Teachers have been publishing their ideas and worksheets since there have been teachers. No, the real problem here is that so many teachers aren't given what they need in order to do their job—for kids—that they have to pay other teachers to get what they need. The lack of funding in our schools is shocking, and it's no surprise that schools can't afford up-to-date curriculum when many can't even afford basic furniture or actual teachers. Why are we angry with the teachers who are selling what they made in order to benefit others, make money, and, yes, help kids? Those teachers created resources because they didn't have what they needed, and saving me the time and effort of creating it myself is worth a few dollars to me.
Many people point out that TPT isn't perfect. Just like all retailers, it has problems. Yes, some of the products aren't great. Yes, some of the sellers rip off other sellers. Yes, there are sellers who quit teaching just to sell full-time, thus defeating the purpose (they can't test products if they don't have a classroom!). However, a quick search on TPT shows you thumbnails, reviews, and previews. Just like shopping for clothes online, you can discern what might work for you and what might not. If you want to find quality items, it isn't hard.
More than three-quarters of public school teachers are women. Would we value the work done by teachers and sold online—and would we be less likely to call those who participate "whores"—if more teachers were men? The average public school teacher makes about $55,000 a year, and the majority have at least two degrees. If a teacher had a side job at American Eagle, would she still be a "whore"? Why is selling something related to teaching as a side job considered to be the worst thing a teacher can do?
Teachers have found success and a second income by selling items they made in their spare time—why shouldn't we be celebrating that? If you want to be angry with someone about the market for lesson plans and materials, be angry at the lack of funding in our schools that has caused this problem. Don't blame the teachers who rose to the occasion and made a negative into a positive.