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.
In addition to this blog, I run Open Court Resources.com 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?