Teachers in the TLN Forum had lots to say about a recent New York Times article reporting on the growing tendency of teachers to sell lesson plans and other teaching materials they’ve developed via the Internet. A selection of comments from our discussion appeared in a recent post at Teacher Magazine, titled “Should Teachers Sell Their Class Materials?” If you’re interested in this topic, be sure to read this story.
We had more insightful comments than we could possibly fit into our Teacher space, so we thought we’d share more of them here. We do recommend reading the Teacher story first.
Several TLN members were taken aback by this paragraph in the NYT article:
“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.
Like many teachers, Ken creates his lesson plans during uncompensated time:
If the school system wants to claim ownership of my lessons, which I create on weekends and evenings and during vacation, during the many extra hours for which I do not receive additional compensation, first they will have to pay me for that time. If they are not going to pay me additional for the hours I put in, which include searchingfor materials,reviewing them, thinking about how to use them, designing lessons and units, and laying out the materials (which are often NOT provided by the school system), then they have no claim of ownership and whatever I choose to do with them is my business.
As it happens, I design my lessons for my own use, and I am not sure how effective they would be for other people. I modify them based on my knowledge of my students individually and my classes each as a separate collective.
I am usually more than happy to share ideas and materials with other teachers -- in my building or in my system -- that I know perhaps only electronically.
But it is MY decision to share gratis the results of my efforts, and if I chose to charge -- assuming anyone would want to pay -- I fail to see how my school system has any claim upon the income I would generate.
A school system which wishes to take that approach might suddenly find it has so alienated its teaching staff that they will work to rule, which would mean no planning nor correcting/grading of student papers/tests outside the hours of the school day. Oh, and if you have two or three preps, one planning period a day will not get it done.
Sorry, but I am getting irritated at the small minds running some school systems who cannot see the forest for the trees, or whatever other image you care to use.
I am tired at having to take on an outside responsibility this evening for three hours plus travel time to make $100 to help pay my bills. If schools are so concerned about economic equity, they should start by paying us for all the hours we actually do work.
I agree with Ken. I am absolutely appalled at a school system's suggestion that they might own what a teacher creates. Since we have invested our own time and often our own money to educate ourselves, I believe the public school system owns none of it. (It's interesting that we are sometimes treated like blue collar workers and then other times like in-house talent.) In addition, I am currently getting my own professional development through various online NINGs, blogs, etc. that have nothing to do with my system's sanctioned program of development - which appears to be nil.
As for the bureaucrat who works for New York's superintendents organization and his remark about the school district owning teachers' lesson plans and materials--wouldn't it be great if schools paid teachers extra for creating curriculum and materials, custom-tailored to their student population? In that case, teachers would be fairly compensated for their expertise, and the school would have some ownership rights. Schools don't balk at paying the big bucks for packaged curricula--and all of those materials were written by someone. Why shouldn't ground-level expertise be rewarded by both recognition and remuneration?
Imagine districts that might go beyond the familiar "publish or perish" mentality of higher education to a "produce or perish" attitude, requiring teachers to have a certain amount of financial intake each year. In addition, districts might consider the money teachers make on their lesson plans as stipends or part of the expected budget, so teachers would lose out on any classroom or departmental assistance they may currently receive.
Kathie offered her veteran’s perspective:
How much times have changed since I first entered the classroom in 1970! In my first year as a fourth grade teacher, an assistant principal told me the district follow-up worksheets were "crap" and I should make my own. How many hours I worked that first year to create my own materials, knowing I knew virtually nothing about how to do it, much less how to create an improved product! However, that was also the first step in acquiring a great affinity for creating my own lessons and units.
Now, however, I can go to the Internet and search for new ideas to supplement my own. I have yet to pay for a lesson -- I search under "free.” But teachers have been looking for pay for their ideas for a long time. A few years back, a company purchased my graph art ideas for two workbooks. I made $1,200 on the deal, but now I'm wondering how much more I might've made in the era of the Internet!
I see nothing wrong with teachers profiting from their ideas. I would try it myself, except that after so many years in the classroom, I recognize the fact that I have no clarity as to what is solely my own ideas and what I "borrowed" from others over the years. I may have to think more on that one!
My first response to this article was..."What?! Are you kidding me?!"
Putting a price on sharing--in garage sale manner mode--just seems strange to me. As I read on it came to me. It's not about the sharing. And it's not about the money. It's about the underlying issue that many teachers feel undervalued. So, they're seeking this "long-awaited recognition of their worth." In the article, teacher Erica Bohrer says, "Teaching can be a thankless job.....I put my hard-earned time and effort into creating these things, and I just would like the credit."
I'm just not convinced that this is the way to fill the void of validation. I mean if they created great lessons that were effective for their students, and no one buys them, does that mean they're not great lessons--or valuable teachers? Of course not.
And if a teacher sells lessons, does that sale really make the teacher more valued or provide the credit she or he craves? I don't think so.
It can't be all about the money. There are so many other, more professional ways to share and achieve a sense of validation.
In my opinion, the article was not about teachers feeling a sense of validation by having the ability to publish. Instead, it was whether teachers should be allowed to publish their intellectual property and profit from it. Those are two entirely different issues.
Yes, but what's underneath? I agree...on the surface. It's about teachers having the freedom to profit from their creations. Yet, I can't help but ask...why in this manner?
And what is the result of this profit...is it only for the money? Or does the profit also include a more intangible form? Teachers in the article speak to the monetary benefits (that's clear)..but some get the sense that "hey, my lessons are valued...someone out there likes my thinking." And the ego can rest.
Sherry also disagreed about validation:
For me, the issue is not validation; rather, it's being compensated for the time spent designing lessons. Selling my lessons isn't an ego-driven endeavor. Instead, it justifies (in a monetary sense) all of the hours spent away from my family -- countless unpaid hours. Yes, the "real" reward is creating meaningful learning experiences for my students. Handing out free lessons to my colleagues does nothing to nurture their practice; rather, it gives them the space and time to hang out with their families. If I'm going to work for my colleagues, then I don't think it's unreasonable to earn compensation for it.
Bob had a similar view:
I agree with Sherry's points. If teachers are merely using their colleagues because they do not want to do the extra work, they are missing out on the power of designing, planning and learning. There may be a need for slightly uncomfortable conversations about what an optimal collegial relationship looks like.
Other math teachers have told their students to check my website for reviews or solutions. The extra attention keeps me on my toes because I need to keep all errors to a minimum since distribution is much wider than I expect.
I probably am less sensitive to the proprietary nature of my lessons and work since I do not have a patent on the point slope form of a line. When I find out that many teachers from other schools have used my materials, I feel like I am paying it forward because I am still so grateful for the guidance, resources, and ideas that a colleague shared with me when I first started teaching A.P. Calculus. It also comes back to help me. A teacher used my resources from last year, improved them, and shared them back with me this year. We now are at the same school and share resources all the time. The relationship, conversations, and sharing is priceless.
The capacity of teachers to learn and do new things varies throughout the year. I have seen teachers learn to use technology and do things that I never expected. As a math teacher, I do not really care about products. I care about the discussions we have as colleagues about student work, the assessments, and how students are learning. I have received a lot of recognition this year, so I care that my colleagues see that I am still doing the work, sharing, and happy to have them as colleagues.
I believe in the power of collaboration and the power of opening up our practice via transparency. I wish they both got a lot more attention.
Anthony wondered about collaborative products:
Many research studies have shown that the schools that are best equipped to make improvements in student outcomes are those where the staff collaborates and learns together. When we do this, we organize ourselves into teams, we plan units together, and develop common assessments. Schools that are really great at this have interdisciplinary teams collaborating on projects that allow students to delve deeply into an issue or a theme, and develop their skills in math, science, social studies, writing, and art all at the same time.
If a creative team has come up with an outstanding set of resources, to whom should that product belong? These lessons usually take a great deal of time to create, time beyond the teachers’ compensated day. That makes me think they should be entitled to some reward for their outstanding work.
Anne noted that there’s nothing new about teachers marketing what they know:
I've thought a lot about this article. Teachers have always published, you know. I remember regularly buying books by a teacher who wrote earth science activities. I met a number of teacher-authors and bought their materials at conferences throughout my career. I actually started writing my own book as a teacher who was eager to make teamwork successful. Is the situation described in this article different? Actually, I think it is.
First of all, "publishing" today has taken on new meaning. Everyone with access to the Internet can publish information - or misinformation for that matter. I think that the philosophical discussions about whether teachers should publish their lesson plans is a moot point. It's going to happen. So, maybe we can better focus our energies on guiding principles to use when considering buying lesson plans.
First, who's to say that the information in the lesson plan is correct? I remember getting some lesson plans from a veteran teacher during my first year of teaching. The lesson was about gravitational force and supposedly demonstrated that the angle of the earth allowed you to balance raw eggs on end during the spring Equinox. In other words, this teacher was unwittingly putting forth a popular urban legend as credible science. Scary. Un-vetted lesson plans have the potential to spread misinformation and misconceptions more quickly than ever, and to actually sabotage student learning.
Next, we need to guard against teachers re-retreating into isolationism and guarding their best ideas, lest someone else take them and publish them. It may sound far-fetched, and I hope it is. However, teachers haven't been out of the competitive mindset for long . . . if they are now.
The New York Times article seemed to look at this issue from the standpoint of a teachers "right" to publish his/her lesson plans. I'm not concerned at all about that -- it's going to happen. It's happening now. As educators, however, we might approach this wave of lesson plans for sale with thoughtful skepticism concerning the quality, accuracy, and effectiveness of the teaching materials that will be put out there.
Marsha wondered “Who owns what?”
Very little of what I create is original. Most of what I create is a synthesis of curriculum standards, the instructional support materials I have (both the textbook and anything supplemental I've purchased over the years) and the multiple times I've tried it out in class.
What is original is my "mix" of the ideas. It's the match between my students' needs and my teaching abilities/capabiliites. If what I've re-created is mostly like the places I got the original idea, then it probably doesn't belong to me. If what I've re-created is mostly dissimilar, then it's probably mine.
Practically speaking, I find it difficult to think I have much to add to the body of knowledge about something like adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing fractions, for example. Anything I would have to offer wouldn't be substantially different than what you could probably find somewhere. The most recent work that I've been doing with reading heavily relies on the work of Stephanie Harvey and Ardith Cole. So is the mix of their techniques and ideas with my curriculum and textbook unique and something that is my intellectual property? Sure I use stuff and then modify it in response to how well my lessons went and what I saw was ways I could improve the responsiveness to my students. But I didn't generate the original idea.
To sum it up, I have no problem with anyone selling anything that is theirs. Where I feel like we have slippery slopes is in who created the idea and who owns it. It seems to me that I would need to much more reading about remixing and mixing of old ideas with new approaches before I could understand who owns a lesson plan I create.
I think this discussion springs from the creation of new industry as more and more commoners learn how to commericalize the internet. What paradigms of thinking I've created are probably based on old notions of publishing and copyright. It is super exciting to hear, think and consider the ways in which economics have change in response.
Thought One: I think part of the tone of this article is a result of the idea of "teaching as missionary work." Missionaries aren't out there to make money and there are religious orders that take a vow of poverty. Although I didn't expect to become a millionaire as a teacher, I also didn't agree to place my career before all else.
Thought Two: What happened to the "let the market decide" attitude toward school improvement. I guess it's OK to let capitalism decide the fate of public education in the various forms of school choice but its not OK when teachers gain from the free market. Another point -- no one is forcing teachers to buy these lesson plans. A teacher can find many resources for free on the web so this boom in lesson plan sales must be filling some kind of unmet need (supply and demand - capitalism at work again)!
As for quality, teachers have always pulled resources into the classroom from multiple places that weren't necessarily reviewed for content. Is there a difference between a poor lesson plan that is free and a poor lesson plan that someone paid for? I think that part of my professional expertise as a teacher is being able to make that judgement call.
A personal story: the first year I taught, I was hired to teach chemistry in a brand new math and science academy that was being formed in my district. I taught with a veteran chemistry teacher. One of our charters was to make the chemistry instruction unique in the district so we would sit and either find and modify or create new new labs for students. One of the labs we created was a quantitative study of the reactants and products of a chemical reaction. We came up with the procedure on our own. About 7 year later, this lab appeared as a lab kit in a catalog for one of the major science supply companies. I can't tell you how much that irritated me (the other teacher had moved to a different district so I don't know what her response was). This was something I shared with colleagues for free and now some supply company was making money off of it.
I think the flap about this is overblown. There are many, greater issues in education to worry about.
Bill has a vague sense of unease:
I find myself agreeing with most everything here... whose intellectual property a lesson plan is, whether teachers should have the right to sell them, that teachers are looking for respect as much as money, that money is nonetheless a factor, and so on and so on. Yet I was plagued by a vague sense of unease for which I just didn't have the words.
Maybe one reason for this is that I tend not only to eschew Internet-based lesson plans and activities, but also to toss my own more or less as soon as they're done. Case in point: my kids are currently doing a student-designed unit on "raiseURvoice" to combat racism and sexism. I designed an activity for them today to teach them the concepts of overt and covert racism and sexism. I think it worked reasonably well. But it was based on an NPR story on Samoan football players which came out recently, and on a blogged commentary on that story. By the time I might do a similar activity again, who knows if these resources will even still be available, or if they are, if they will still be at all relevant to my students? Why save that plan in the first place?
So if the factory model of schooling finally crumbles to dust and rubble (as well it should), I wonder what will become of teacher-created lesson plans and activities. Will we take them online to a huge database of resources upon which students as well as teachers can draw, and if so will that be pay-per-use?
Will we offer online courses that allow us direct access to students around the world, no longer needing other teachers to be our intermediaries? How much instruction will need to be completely individually designed for each student and how much will transfer easily from kid to kid? And for that matter, to what extent is that last statement true even within the factory model of schooling?
I find myself with far more questions than answers.
Just another thought on selling "lesson plans." Several people have noted that lesson plans are only as good as the teacher and the currency of the materials used (Bill explained that beautifully, above). WE understand that. But do most people (including most policy-makers) get that? I'm thinking here about Bill Gates' idea that he could tape the most skillful teachers' "lectures" (Bill's word) and use them to teach large groups of kids--or show other teachers how to improve their practice.
There are lots of things wrong with that concept, of course. What's missing is the active, dynamic relationship between teacher, student and material. While we share ideas, strategies, materials, prompts and techniques, we don't really share lesson plans, because we don't really know each other's students. And that's something you can't buy and sell.