Curriculum · Teachers

Teaching in the sharing economy

Today, I’d like to share my thoughts on sharing – specifically, sharing the materials I create as a teacher, and how that could and should be done. In this day and age of instant access, this issue is something that I am very conflicted about, and I’m really curious to see how others feel. Is this even something they think through, or is it not a high enough priority to take up time or space in their brains? I find myself thinking about this a lot and am eager to get other teachers’ perspectives, so I’m going to reach out even more than normal via Twitter – I might even do a poll! Also, since I’m plugging my social media, I have Facebook, so give my page a like, while you’re at it.

For those who are not in the education sphere, there are two schools of thought around teacher-created materials: the first is that materials need to be available, open access, shared with everyone – basically, by teachers, for teachers, and they should be easy to come by. The other is that, because teachers spend time making these materials, there’s a need to limit access, usually via payment. One popular website that aids teachers in doing so is called Teachers Pay Teachers. There, one can create their own store page on which they include some information about themselves and their target audience and then can set prices for each specific document that is shared, whether it’s a packet of worksheets, a PowerPoint presentation, or cards for a particular activity.

I have an account on TpT, but I don’t post a whole lot there, because it’s an extra set of steps added to what I create. I feel the need to depersonalize a lot of the materials I would put up to make them more attractive to potential buyers. In some ways, I feel like I’m putting a house on the market when I post new materials for sale: I have to take away the personal touches to create mass appeal rather than making it specific to my classroom and my kids’ needs. On top of that, listing it and finding appropriate pricing can be a long and complicated process…the more I think about it, the more similar it seems to selling a house – or, at least what I understand that process to look like (from my many hours of watching HGTV).

I guess maybe I should back up a little bit and explain why there’s a need for teacher-created materials in the first place. Maybe some of the teachers who are reading come from a place with a great curriculum and lots of money and endless resources, and you feel that the materials you are provided with are adequate and useful and aligned to your standards and personal classroom goals. I don’t.

I don’t feel like I have access to many materials at all. I have curriculum guides and loads of standards and tracking documents and software, sure, but I’m talking about a lack of deliverables for students and things that I can use in class. Those that I can find need heavy editing, so what I’ve discovered through my first couple of years of teaching is that, by the time I do the required research, find related materials, and then edit to make them fit my needs, I probably could have just taken that research and created something from scratch.

At this point, I have taught more than a couple of years, and I have amassed quite a wealth of PowerPoints, worksheets, graphic organizers, and things that make sense to me in my brain. There’s honestly not much more of a basis than that – I mean, they’re aligned to the state standards, but I don’t check to make sure that everyone else is using the same graphic organizer. I figure, if I break it down this way, let me come up with a pictorial representation that will help my kids follow that breakdown, so I make something that works for me for a specific lesson, and I usually end up using it in the same or a slightly tweaked format for years to come.

(For the record, I’m pretty sure that all teachers do this, so I hope that this is not a groundbreaking realization for readers who are not in the classroom. Please correct me if I’m wrong, and you’re a teacher who is given everything you need. When I think of the breakdown of the hours I spend working but not directly executing lessons or otherwise working with kids, this task of researching, creating, and prepping materials is the biggest slice of the pie.)

Anyway, my general policy right now is that, if you work with me closely, meaning at my school and in the same subject, you get access to most of the stuff I create. If I am feeling particularly passive aggressive for some reason – maybe you have made something and have not shared it with me, or maybe I feel like you don’t have a core understanding and have not done your own background research, lots of little things like that – I might not share something with you, at least not without further evidence of you trying to meet me halfway. This is partially because of my next point but also partially because I want you to be able to teach material with fidelity, and if I don’t feel like you understand the concept, I don’t want you using anything that I’ve created, because I don’t think that that’s going to help you or the kids. I want your kids to be able to understand the stuff I made, and if you don’t understand the stuff I’m saying about it, it’s not going to work. Whew. Moving on…

The main reason that I often find myself compelled to keep things to myself is that I have worked hard on them. They have been labors of love. I have probably thought about them for a very long time, edited them for maybe just as long, and for me to simply give it up, especially not having received anything in return, is very hard.

However, I am still divided as to whether or not sharing should require compensation. I guess, on a surface level, it seems silly to ask my coworkers to pay me for something, but as of right now, if you don’t work with me on that close, personal basis, you do have to pay.

I don’t post materials to my classroom website, because I don’t want other teachers to be able to go download them. But if I’m being completely transparent, I do go to other teachers’ sites and download their posted worksheets to parse and reuse. Of course, those are never materials that get sold as my own, but I realize how hypocritical that is. I also go on TpT and refuse to pay for things, downloading only free samples, then turn around and put things up for sale.

I assume that, if you are posting things, you’re okay with and maybe even encourage them being edited, spread, and reused. But if parents ask me specifically, I am usually pretty reticent to provide soft copies, firstly because I want their kids to have that personal responsibility to keep track of things, but also because I don’t know where the materials might go from there. I guess I find it really hard to give up my hours and hours of work for free. But I also find myself wishing there were more accessible and more useful resources available to me. Do I need to be the change I wish to see here? 

This is my background. I can’t think of any other metaphors to another field in which people need to share materials like this. Maybe I’m just ignorant. If anyone outside of education can give me something that is a relevant comparison, please do. I’m really curious. And for those of you in education, what are your thoughts? What do you want to do? What do you do? What does it look like in practice? Are you freely posting to lesson-sharing websites like BetterLesson? Are you putting everything up on TpT? Are you not sharing at all or only sharing with colleagues in your immediate vicinity? Why? If you’re not sharing, are you using things from sharing sites? Again, I do it, too, but I know that it seems selfish unfair if you consider that I am taking a lot without giving things back.

So I clearly have a lot of questions. I thought that maybe talking/writing this out (confession: sometimes, these blogs were born as voice memos) would help me resolve some, but it hasn’t, so I welcome your input.

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3 thoughts on “Teaching in the sharing economy

  1. This is a really interesting question I’ve grappled with too. I definitely believe that if we do work, we should be compensated in some way. But I also don’t love the idea of making teachers (who are already paying out of pocket for materials) pay extra. I wonder if a solution is to skip the paid site and just ask for donations instead?

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    1. I like that idea. I’m not sure that anyone would just give a “donation,” because teachers, as you said, already do pay for lots of things on their own. But maybe if we used a service that asked people to “name a fair price” for their download, things could be on the honor system. Are you familiar with any of those kinds of sites?

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      1. Heh, your “pay what you can/want” idea is actually what I meant by donation! I don’t know whether such a site exists now, but I think maybe a PayPal button could do the trick. But most of the lesson planning and materials I’ve made have been the intellectual property of the organization I worked for, so I’ve never tried selling them.

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