Teachers Helping Teachers Through the Web

One of the key pieces of wisdom I have learned over my years in classrooms, as a superintendent, and historian of education is that teachers learn most from other teachers they respect.  Not high-priced consultants who fly in, talk, and catch an early flight out. Not software publishers who sponsor 1-day workshops. Not district-led professional development seminars on scheduled days. Just the simple fact of teachers reaching out to peers in their school or across town for help with a lesson, a student, or figuring out a district policy.

Teachers teaching teachers is hardly new. Programs where experienced teachers in a school work with newcomers to the classroom are familiar in most districts. Professional learning communities ( or “communities of practice”) that spring up in schools where teachers of the same subject or at grade levels share materials, experiences, and help one another out.  Instead of being a last-ditch (and inexpensive) effort in districts, smart administrators have cultivated such programs and communities knowing full well that local talent is both admired and respected by teachers in need of help.

Since 2006, a web-based marketplace, TeachersPayTeachers, offers lessons, exercises, and transportable ideas that teachers can review, buy,and share lessons created by other teachers. With Yelp-like reviews from teacher-users, the online market-place has turned some entrepreneurial teachers into money-makers while helping other teachers. Altruism and business sense come together nicely. According to CEO Adam Freed, 12 teachers have become millionaires and nearly 300 teachers have earned more than $100,000. He says that on any given day, according to the article, “1.7 million lesson plans, quizzes, work sheets, classroom activities, and other items [are] available, typically for less than $5.”

Take  veteran teacher Laura Randazzo  at Amador High School in Pleasanton (CA). for example. She has created free and for-sale ready-to-use lessons for other English teachers. She sells and gives away those lessons on an online marketplace called . A recent New York Times article featured a Randazzo question in teaching Othello: “What kind of tunes do you think Iago, the villain … would listen to if he had an iPhone?” The sub-title of her website is: “On a Mission to Prevent English Teacher Burnout.”

“What started out as a hobby has turned into a business,” Randazzo says. She has generated over $100,000 in sales through TeachersPayTeachers.

In response to other teachers who buy and use her lessons she has started a YouTube channel to demonstrate how to teach such concepts as irony. According to Randazzo, her “customers” find her lessons and advice helpful because she faces similar issues in her classroom. “That is what ground-level teachers,” she says, “are able to do that textbook publishers can’t.” And I would add consultants who parachute into districts, out-of-town experts, and vendor-hired specialists to Randazzo’s list.

None of the above is a blurb for either the website or Laura Randazzo. Teacher getting help from other teachers is essential for the improvement of classroom practice. None of the lessons bought or created have been vetted by researchers except for those entrepreneurial teachers who have affirmed that these activities, these exercises, and ideas have worked in their classrooms. Here is the wisdom of practice monetized.

 

13 Comments

Filed under how teachers teach, technology use

13 responses to “Teachers Helping Teachers Through the Web

  1. Sandy

    The issue of selling lesson plans came up during a discussion amongst faculty and staff two years ago regarding copyright. It prompted the school board to issue a policy that any teacher generated lesson plans on a school division computer was the property of the school division. Where and how they could enforce such a policy mystifies me. But it exists.

  2. What really bothers me is that the NEA tacitly agrees with the district, that teacher built curriculum is the school district property, under work-for-hire. The NEA calls for a change to the copyright act, exempting teacher curriculum.

    This is absurd. The correct way to approach this is to argue that we are not paid to build curriculum. Any scrutiny of the contracts would make this clear. We are paid for hours worked, for time in front of the class, and we are paid exactly the same whether we go through the book page by page or build everything from scratch. No principal or district can order us to create curriculum. Of course, it would be wrong to turn around and charge the district for our work, so the school has fair use rights, but we own the copyright.

    This is manifestly the thinking that has driven school districts forever, as can be easily evidenced by the fact that teachers take their curriculum with them when they change districts. I’ve worked in three districts, as well as the district I student-taught in, and have taken curriculum from each earlier hire to my new district. At no point have the districts reached out to ensure that I wasn’t using any of “their” curriculum at my new place of employment, or asked for compensation. No, only when teachers start generating money directly from their curriculum do they try to put a stop to the practice. Since it’s pretty obvious they don’t want the money, it appears they are uninterested in losing teachers who develop a lucrative sideline in curriculum.

    And from what I can see, the NEA is busy helping them by wrongly agreeing that the districts own it.

    I wrote more about this here: https://educationrealist.wordpress.com/2013/06/08/teaching-and-intellectual-property/

    Really, someone needs to make this case to the unions so they’ll stop demanding an impossible change. Their stupidity is starting to worry me.

    • larrycuban

      Thanks, Ed Realist, for your comments and the post that you did awhile ago. I approached the issue of teachers selling lessons from the point-of-view of teachers sharing with one another. As did the school librarian. I missed the issue of ownership (teacher or district) so I thank you, Sandy (who gave example from her district) and others who made the point. Nor had I known of NEA’s efforts. Teacher ownership of their lessons–your example of taking your instructional materials from one district to another–as I have done–underscores who owns the product. I appreciate your raising these points and giving links to other blogs. I will have to do more thinking about this issue of ownership.

  3. kwolicki

    When I was a public librarian, I participated in lots of listservs, read articles and had discussions about programming. Public librarians shared program ideas and processes, I suppose on the theory that someone had already paid them for that work, and why not share it with others who were also paid by the public?

    So when I started working as a school librarian, I was startled that teachers rarely did that (not too startled, I’d also worked in colleges where professors don’t like to share syllabi.) What really flabbergasted me was how different the attitude was. “I make great lessons, I sell them to publishers” and now, directly, on Teachers Pay Teachers. The longer I work in schools, the more I realize that this difference is because teachers, despite plan periods, are rarely paid for the time they do lesson planning. That is all taking place outside of contractual hours, so they don’t feel that it is work for hire.

    Now all of us, public and private employees, not just teachers, are performing major job functions outside of work hours, and feeling that there is no way around it as more tasks are piled on workers to “justify” their salaries or their luck in having a job at all. So I agree with the commenter who says NEA/IFT need to stop supporting “your work is your employer’s.” But I’m saddened that we are at the point where Teachers Pay Teachers (and please note, it is rarely district funds that pays for those lessons, they are paid out of teachers’ pockets) rather than Teachers Share With Teachers.

  4. Your phrases, “Just the simple fact of teachers reaching out to peers…” coupled with “teachers learn most from other teachers they respect” captures the essence of how I feel about professional development (PD).

    I believe most mandated PD is a colossal waste of resources (time, capital, etc.). It is a hybrid of a mindless check-box, and bureaucratic CYA, activity. The only people that truly seem to benefit are the PD peddlers.

    However, if a teacher “reaches out” or requests specific PD, independent of source, then the potential for generating true value exists. If only districts allowed all PD to be teacher-selected versus district-mandated. Alas, I do not see that on the horizon anytime soon.

  5. JoeN

    One of the things I found myself often having to explain to UK teachers over 15 years ago (when I first started working as one of those consultants who is parachuted in) was that all of the material they produced as part of their job: lessons plans, notes, original ideas etc etc, were the property of their employer. I was often met with shock and outrage, which says a great deal about teachers and their perception of themselves as employees.

    • larrycuban

      I disagree, Joe. The teacher reactions (“shock and outrage”) to your statement that all of their work belonged to the employer does not, in my mind “say a great deal about teachers and their perception of themselves as employees.” What it says, I believe, is that those teachers who reacted to your point see public school teaching not as a business–we pay you, we own your products–but as another kind of work unlike being a clerk, analyst, accountant, and cubicle inhabitant. Creating instructional materials for students takes a lot of time (and money from the wallet) and goes on before, during, and after school. That may account for the “shock and outrage.”

      • JoeN

        You are absolutely right Larry, that is a good account of how they felt and it was certainly my own initial reaction when I discovered that was the law. It was also one of the key reasons, from my first few years in the profession, I made sure I did all my lesson preparation etc, one week in advance, while in the school building and never took work home. I have never been sympathetic towards teachers who complain about how deeply their work cuts into their life at home. I worked as a full time teacher for 20 years and I would say on average, I worked at school one night every week until about 7pm. That was enough, together with free periods during the working day, for me to do all the preparation and assessment needed for the coming week, even bearing in mind I taught the most demanding exam groups from my very first year in the profession and a subject, English, that demanded far more routine “marking” than most subjects.

        I once prepared an entire term’s lessons in advance but all I learned was that such a level of anticipation was unworkable. The pace and demands of any one class is a fluid thing. Being able to grasp that and respond appropriately is part of what it means to be a successful teacher. It’s also why using other people’s lesson “plans” as opposed to their ideas, is a high risk strategy. The former usually stultifies and stifles good teaching: the latter can enhance it.

        I’ve recently been involved in discussions in the UK about the effective performance management of teachers and their unusual attitude towards their employers, is one of the fundamental reasons why it is an extremely complex problem. I have yet to see an effective solution in practice here that comes close to the way any good business manages the performance of its employees.

      • larrycuban

        I appreciate the recounting of your experiences in the classroom and the differences between being a company employee and teaching. Thanks, Joe.

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