Teacher A: “I loved what I taught today; the kids were so engaged!”
Teacher B: “I’m so glad you got to see today’s lesson!”
Teacher C: “Did you see my new student-created periodic table?”
As a beginning teacher mentor whose job towards the end of the school year often lends itself to more of an instructional coach, phrases like these from my teachers always jumpstart very meaningful conversations and reflection. It’s these conversations that help them grow as teachers and thinkers, but as we march towards May, a new entity seems to be entering our coaching conversations more often: TeachersPayTeachers and Pinterest.
According to Adam Freed, the CEO of Teachers Pay Teachers (TPT), almost two-thirds of the US teaching force are active members of the platform (Cardoza). Teachers Pay Teachers now even offers school-wide subscription plans. On the other hand, in its heyday,TPT’s free counterpart, Pinterest, grew from 500,000 daily education pins in 2015 to over 1.3 million daily pins (Cummings). Without a doubt, the influence these two sources of curriculum, resources, decor, and ideas have on teachers cannot be overstated.
With this influence comes much that goes undiscussed, or, worse yet, taken at face value.
Some posit that TPT allows teachers to monetarily profit off of their classroom expertise at a time that many teachers are taking on second and third jobs to support their families. For those who sell on the platform, TPT offers not only compensation but notoriety as well if they are successful. TPT, who receives a fraction of the purchase price of each item, has allowed many teachers to earn what varies from a couple of dollars a month, to thousands. Though browsing Pinterest is free, the blogs in which they link to are often monetized and ad-filled, still allowing the creator the opportunity to profit off of their resource.
In an age of digital citizenship, Teachers Pay Teachers and Pinterest both allow for a discussion around intellectual property. If a teacher creates something for use in his or her classroom, who owns that resource? The teacher who thought of it, or the school/district that employs him or her and gives him or her the ability to teach those students in that classroom? Though TPT makes users certify that the work they are profiting from is their own, there has been an influx of blatant copyright infringement. Publishers are even updating their copyright language. Heinemann’s language now reads: “We respectfully ask that you do not adapt, re-use, or copy anything on third-party (whether for-profit or not-for-profit) lesson-sharing websites” (Schwartz).
Teacher A: “I loved what I taught today; the kids were so engaged! It was only $10 on Teachers Pay Teachers and it was the whole unit. I’ve got, like 8 weeks.”
Without a doubt, TPT offers buyers ease of access. Hours that would have otherwise been spent making worksheets, unit tests, reading checks, are now freed up to give meaningful feedback, sponsor clubs, or, you know, have a life outside of teaching. The allure of more time is always going to be a motivator for teachers.
However, who knows what their students need more than the teacher in the classroom? Rarely does a one size fits all unit plan PDF truly fit all students in every situation. If teachers are to use resources from anyone, they should be highly critical of the contents of those resources by asking themselves:
- What about this would benefit my students? How do I know it will help them? What modifications do I need to make?
- What standards is this addressing? Is it truly addressing those standards? How do I know it?
- What might my students struggle with? Are there terms or concepts that I haven’t taught yet? Are there prerequisite skills they haven’t mastered yet?
Teacher B: “I’m so glad you got to see today’s lesson! I found it on Pinterest. It’s so much better than what I did yesterday.”
I am 100% guilty of having 100+pins on my ‘English’ pinboard. Many are flashy, pretty, and, to be honest, gave me a bit of a complex that what I was doing already wasn’t good enough. That I didn’t have the cute acronym to go with the concept I was teaching, or that my classroom didn’t have the right theme. Did Pinterest push me to be more creative in my teaching? Without a doubt, but at the cost of comparison (that darn thief of joy).
The first place many look on Pinterest or Teachers Pay Teachers is the total number of pins or favorable reviews. However, “Choosing a lesson plan based on what’s popular can be a problem, because teachers may focus on what’s cute and catchy, rather than on content that’s high-quality” (Cardoza). Just because ‘everyone’ else is doing it doesn’t make it the right thing, even if it is the cute thing.
Teacher C: “Did you see my new student-created periodic table? The teacher next door shared it with me”
The traditional, offline sharing mechanism within schools can be our greatest strengths. To this day, I am forever indebted to the teacher who taught across the pod from me who shared how she managed to structure her classroom curriculum in a way that made planning and instruction purposeful.
Bob Farrace, with the National Association of Secondary School Principals, worries the use of Teachers Pay Teachers and Pinterest could discourage teachers within the same learning community from working together and sharing knowledge (Cardoza). Besides, some argue, this working together and sharing of knowledge, information, and resources has traditionally been free within our school sites. Never once did a coworker ever ask me to pay for a copy of the best lesson they taught.
There’s a growing movement among some educators to share freely beyond their classroom walls. Websites like BetterLesson and Share My Lesson let teachers post, download, and rate materials and lesson plans. Use of HyperDocs “editable, shareable lessons hosted on Google docs” has been taken up by the Teachers Give Teachers movement (Schwartz). All of these resources hope to reach across the globe and shift the conversation away from compensation and towards best practices.
At the heart of the matter is the last two words of the paragraph above: best practices. There is no right answer, nor no easy fixes, rather only more questions. How do we develop capacity within our teachers to identify best practices within their own communities of learners? How do we provide high-quality professional development that allows for meaningful collaboration with high-quality ‘take aways’? How do we allow teachers to feel professionally valued and monetarily rewarded for their time and effort in the classroom? How can these best practices be shared in an authentic manner?
Cardoza, K. (2018). Why teachers selling lesson plans have sparked debate. Retrieved from https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/why-teachers-selling-lesson-plans-have-sparked-debate
Cummings, C. (2015). There’s a big hole in how teachers build skills, and Pinterest is helping fill it. Retrieved from https://slate.com/human-interest/2015/04/pinterest-and-teachers-how-the-site-is-filling-a-gap-in-teacher-training.html
Schwartz, S. (2018). On ‘Teachers Pay Teachers,’ some sellers are profiting from stolen work. Education Week, 38(18). Retrieved from https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2018/12/19/on-teachers-pay-teachers-some-sellers-are.html