Do Teachers Own Their Lesson Plans?

A New York Times article reports on teachers selling their lesson plans online and raises ethical questions about the practice.

Both the article and the letters to the editor in reaction to it are informative.  I have several thoughts about this which I’ll break down in three categories, business, ethics, and practice.  First I’ll address my own bias.

My Bias

In addition to this blog, I run Open Court which contains thousands of teaching resources contributed by teachers (including myself) that are available for free.  The web site contains advertising that offsets the cost of running a web site including the thousands of hours of my time spent creating, maintaining, and editing the site.  If you read the article about how much money some people have made selling lesson plans, I will tell you that if my web site was a business, I’m in the wrong business.

I do sell a training CD through the web site that I created.  It’s the only pay item available on the site.  I spent two entire days of a summer vacation creating the CD and unlike the virtual resources, the CD is a product that is shipped physically to your house.


As reported in the article, the top selling teacher on the web site Teachers Pay Teachers has earned $36,000.  It’s impossible to know how much the average teacher earns but it is certainly less than the $600,000 in sales that the web site itself has racked up.

I started my own web site hoping that if I gave away my own materials for free it would ultimately help me because other people would add to what I created and lessen the workload for everyone (like “Field of Dreams” for teaching resources).  Ultimately, my own web site helped me immensely when I moved from first grade to second grade and already had racked up hundreds of ideas and resources I could use in my own classroom.  Other teachers write to me to tell me my site has helped them as well.

I have no moral problem with teachers selling their lesson plans.  I applaud their ingenuity.  However, I do feel that the greatest value in the internet is in a free flow of ideas that allows you to browse resources quickly and try them out risk free in your classroom without paying.


Do taxpayers own lesson plans?  No.

If a firefighter invented a better fire hydrant based on experience gained working for the fire department, isn’t that his own idea?  If a police officer wrote a book about how best to stop crime, wouldn’t it benefit society to have that book published? What incentive would the police officer have to write that book if all the profits went back to the government?

In terms of teachers specifically, lesson plans are written outside of school hours and I do believe that they belong to the teachers who wrote them.  If it’s legal for textbook publishers to market lesson plans, why can’t teachers who have the ability to market test their own ideas be allowed to compete?


What the article does not address is whether someone else’s lesson plans work.  I don’t believe they do.

My own scribbled plans probably wouldn’t do many other people any good.  Someone else’s plans aren’t likely to apply perfectly to my own students and my own style of teaching.  Only 10% of the materials on my own web site do I use personally in my classroom.  But the other 90% is valuable to other people and they tell me they use it.

While it is possible to get ideas from other people’s plans, blogs, web sites, lesson planning is a personal thing.  The best teaching…multimedia-rich, experiential, constructivist doesn’t come out of books or plans or sites—even though those resources can be a jumping off point.

Real lesson planning is personal to teachers, students, and the real world in which those plans will be carried out.  I suspect teaching by numbers doesn’t often work.

What are your thoughts?

4 Responses to “Do Teachers Own Their Lesson Plans?”

  1. Tom DeRosa Says:

    I read the original article back when it was published, and I believed then what I believe now: This is absolutely ludicrous. The fact that any school official thinks they are entitled to materials and ideas created by their teachers shows how desperate they are for any way they can make money in today’s economic climate. You know where this is going: the district claim ownership of the materials and either try to sell it themselves or take a cut of the profits, all the while working to keep teacher salaries from rising too much. It’s insulting.

    Personally, I give away pretty much all of my good ideas and lessons on my website. I did compile the best ones into a book that I sold, but most of what’s in there is available freely online. The professor’s argument is fundamentally flawed: are the textbook companies and the many publishers that sell lesson plans and curricular materials all devaluing the profession too? All of these materials are written by current and former teachers, and always have been!

    To use another analogy: college professors often force their students to buy books they wrote (and usually publish new, more expensive editions every year). Where’s the outrage over that? Selling a lesson plan for $3 doesn’t seem that bad compared to selling your own $100 textbook.

    More directly, college researchers often create business ideas and products using the resources of the university, then break off into their own company and wholly own what they created. Why are primary and secondary teachers any differently?

    Here’s another crazy idea: maybe if teachers were paid better, they wouldn’t feel the need to sell their lesson plans to help make ends meet!

  2. Rachel @ Minds in Bloom Says:

    I am one of those sellers on TpT. I have been selling with TpT almost from the beginning and have watched it evolve into an amazing resource.

    You have a good point that your scribbled lesson plans might not work for others. It takes real work to take a lesson plan, set of worksheets, or other resource and make it into something that can be used by others. I spend hours, sometimes days developing a product. I would not spend that time to create a free offering. If publishers can sell their work, it stands to reason that teachers should be able to as well.

    Also, it should be noted that there are many free resources on TpT. Each seller is required to offer one, but many of us offer more. In addition, most of the resources that are for sale are offered at prices far below what you would pay from a Publisher. Your dollar will go much further on TpT than at your local Educational Supplies Store.

  3. Tweets that mention Do Teachers Own Their Lesson Plans? « Creating Lifelong Learners -- Says:

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  4. Sheryl A. McCoy Says:

    Tom de Rosa alluded to what happens in college classes, but there is an even more insidious marketing ploy that SOME professors, researchers and publishers collaborate in perpetuating on students.

    When you complete an assignment for a class, research, grant or other project, the professor or one in charge takes your work as their own….because you were learning and working under their direction.

    There are some ethical issues involved here, but they aren’t related to teacher behavior.

    I believe that teachers need to turn their unions into professional organizations that have the power that lawyers and doctors associations have over the licensing of their colleagues. I believe this would make the whole issue of “selling” lesson plans a moot point.

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