Teachers sell lesson plans

Teachers are selling lesson plans online, reports the New York Times.

While some of this extra money is going to buy books and classroom supplies in a time of tight budgets, the new teacher-entrepreneurs are also spending it on dinners out, mortgage payments, credit card bills, vacation travel and even home renovation, leading some school officials to raise questions over who owns material developed for public school classrooms.

I see no reason teachers shouldn’t profit from their ingenuity. But some districts are trying to bar teachers from profiting from lesson plans, the Times reports. It also quotes an NYU prof, Joseph McDonald, who says “online selling cheapens what teachers do and undermines efforts to build sites where educators freely exchange ideas and lesson plans.”

So teachers who create value are obliged to give it away? I don’t see it.

Commercial sites include Teachers Pay Teachers and We Are Teachers, which offers lesson plans and online tutoring.

Lisa Michalek, 40, who taught for six years in Rochester and now works for Aventa Learning, a for-profit online education company, said she spent about five hours a week tweaking old lesson plans and creating new ones, like an earth science curriculum that sells for $59.95.

“I knew I had good lessons, so I thought, ‘Why not see what other people think of it?’ ” Ms. Michalek said.

After $31,000 in sales, she has her answer. Alice Coburn, 56, a vocational education teacher in Goshen, N.Y., said she saved two to three hours each time she downloaded Ms. Michalek’s PowerPoint presentations instead of starting from scratch. “I hate reinventing the wheel,” Ms. Coburn said.

While some teachers spend their lesson-plan profits on classroom supplies, others spend the money on themselves. After all, they did the work.

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Comments

  1. George Larson says:

    I do not know the teacher’s contract or working conditions. If I sold something I developed using my employer’s time and resources I would be in big trouble. That may not be the case here. I do not understand the objection. We do not expect each teacher to write their own textbook.

  2. Good teachers will give new teachers things that work, thus hopefully giving a hand to the next generation of teachers. The only lesson plans I might buy are comprehensive simulations that have the details already created, and many of those are free around the Internet if you know where to look.

    Here’s a hint to new teachers: stealing other people’s good lesson plans and ideas is perfectly acceptable. Great teachers will love to give you their material. Hell, I haven’t met a good teacher yet who wouldn’t let me go through drawers and file cabinets. Sign on to list-serves and find blogs that offer lesson plans or simply go to other teacher websites and download presentations and lessons. Then take it all in and adjust it for your class.

    I love capitalism, but I’m not about to pay for lesson plans. If society wants good teachers, it could start by giving them the right tools to succeed.

  3. Our contract explicitly states we control any intellectual property created on our own time. If I had the time (since I have a second job on top of 60+ hours of teaching/planning/grading), I’d definitely put my units online for sale. I’ve already had 2 teachers ask if I’d sell my units when I leave the classroom at the end of the year.

  4. Dontcha just love the free market?

    School districts all over the country have so little regard for teacher’s time that pretty much every last one of their teachers is required to produce their own lesson plans or those districts have so little regard for the professionalism of teachers that lesson plans of dubious value are shoved down their throats.

    Now come teachers who are willing to put their particular lessons plans to the harshest test of all. The test that requires other teachers to see sufficient value in those lesson plans to shell out their own, personal money for them. And the response from an ed school prof? That it’ll cheapen what teachers do.

    It’s a choice complaint.

    If the good professor were asked to name the three best teachers in New York state his life could depend on the answer and he still wouldn’t be able to name them. Yet it never crosses the good professor’s mind that being unable to name the best practitioners cheapens the profession to a degree that buying lesson plans never could.

  5. The vast majority of schools do nothing to support their teachers lesson plan development. No online system to archive lesson plans, homework sheets, curriculum schedules, quizzes, tests, etc. They do not provide a process for teachers to collaborate on lesson plans to develop a common curriculum in the school.

    If a school has such systems or processes and actually added value to their teacher’s lesson plans, then I would completely understand a support any claim of ownership.

    But since most schools have no such systems, I have no sympathy. Teachers can do what they want with their independently developed lessons plans, which as we all know, were probably written late at night in their homes.

  6. If patents could apply to lesson plans then maybe districts would have reason to claim ownership of lesson plans. However i suspect that copyright law is more applicable, as lesson plans seem like a form of recipe:

    http://www.copyright.gov/fls/fl122.html

    In general this seems like a really good idea. I also think it is filling a need that districts and states are not doing much to fill.

  7. As a homeschooler, I have bought lesson plans that can be fitted for my kids or for co-op classes. In fact, online “stores” like CurrClick have had great success. If great teachers want to sell their material, and they’re successful to the point that they can take a much-needed vacation or do whatever they wish with it – I say good for them! I would think it would make them better teachers to feel that their work is actually worth somethimg. How much do people appreciate stuff they get for free, anyway? They don’t.

    I think the schools want to make a big stink because they aren’t the ones cashing in.

  8. Cardinal Fang says:

    In my area, a person’s employer owns everything the employee creates as part of his job. Creating lesson plans is part of a teacher’s job. So I would expect the lesson plans to belong to the school district.

  9. CF,

    Do you mean on company time? I think that CA distinguishes on this factor. The idea for a lesson plan can’t even be owned, so any unique presentation of that lesson plan can be copyrighted. So if I could find a better way to explain someone’s lesson plan I’d be free to sell it.

  10. On second thought, I should have said different explanation rather than better explanation as that’s all thats required for me to attempt to sell the explanation.

  11. Cardinal Fang says:

    No, I don’t mean on company time. I mean that in every adult job Mr. Fang and I have had, our employers have owned anything we did that was related to our job, whether we did it while sitting at our desks at work or thought it up in the shower at home.

    I don’t know whether lesson plans can be copyrighted, but you can’t sell something that doesn’t belong to you. Teachers make lesson plans as part of their teaching jobs, so I would expect the teaching plans belong to their employers.

  12. Therein lies the difference CF. Your employer probably owns what you do because you can only do it on company time. However, I’m working on lesson plans in the evenings or weekends and summer – my time. They might not even be on what I’m going to be teaching that day, week, or month. They’re just ideas that I’m working on. Not to mention that as a pre-service teacher, I’m developing lesson and unit plans for schools that I don’t even work for. I’ve posted lessons for teaching the Holocaust on a previous blog and I know they were downloaded and used. How is a school going to claim ownership of something of mine that I developed before I even began work as a teacher or in their district?

    No. They don’t own it. I agree with someone else – they’re just mad because they’re not cashing in on it.

    For the record: I’m not a young undergrad. I’m 43 and am making a career change. So don’t think I’m naive about how the “real world” works.

  13. Charles R. Williams says:

    This is properly a matter for collective bargaining. School districts would benefit from their teachers using lesson plans that are of sufficient quality to be marketable. This seems like a win-win solution to me.

  14. Cardinal Fang, different jobs have different contracts. Your company likely makes a profit by selling the intellectual output of a number of its workers, a general contract like that saves time on disputes on who owns what. School districts don’t sell their IP directly to customers, probably have never thought about it, so probably didn’t write contracts with this in mind.

    And as for teachers selling their lesson plans, good on them.

  15. Ownership iof intellectual property is a whole legal field unto itself, and I expect that if sale of lesson plans continues to be a trend, there will be lots of legal activity to follow. As I read the article, I thought about several things–in addition to those already raised about own vs company time (which, in the case of a salaried professional can be murky–and if not clarified by contract might go either way if challenged) and contract specifications. The issue of copyright comes up right off. Selling one’s own stuff without copyright raises the specter of reselling with minor or no changes. While copyrighting original material is not a difficult process, the article pointed out that much that is being sold is not wholly new material. If providing some value-add (like the m&m’s counting mats) to something already in the public domain, one would be in the clear. However, doing the same with copyrighted material could be a recipe for trouble. In classrooms a good deal is begged, borrowed or stolen. Copyright law provides some specialized provisions with regard to copying work for individual classroom use. These protections vanish when the teacher becomes a proprieter. Even tweaking a rubric that has been kicking around the file cabinets for awhile could bring problems if used as part of a lesson without the permission of the original author.

    I recall a couple of my daughter’s teachers who had put together a Spanish as a Second Language curriculum for elementary school that relied on translations of well-known children’s books. When they went to publish their product, they found that they were prohibited from using these and had to come up with some original stories to use.

    I also suspect that if this becomes a widespread trend, districts will start to take a serious look at the ownership issue and whether teachers are producing work as a part of their contract that they then lay claim to and sell.

  16. Well, I wonder about three things:

    1) Why in the heck aren’t teachers and districts organized about this? I would have thought that a district-wide archive of lesson plans would have been old hat generations ago. Why would every teacher be expected to reinvent the wheel?

    2) All of the intellectual property agreements I’ve signed over the years apply to everything I create related to my employer’s business, whether at my desk or dreamed up while walking the dog. This is only reasonable, since later on there would be no way for anyone to prove whether something created was done on the job or on my own time. On the other hand, I doubt teachers sign any IP agreements.

    3) Copyright laws allow for “fair use” and one aspect of fair use is education. While you can’t just copy a whole book for use in your classroom and call it fair use, you can certainly copy a few paragraphs or a diagram. So, when you copyright your lesson plans, it seems to me that you’re giving other teachers the right to copy small portions of them. Copyright law as applied to education could get interesting.

  17. This doesn’t work in business because employees would essentially be “competing” against their employer. In education, though, everyone benefits–the teachers, the students, even the school and district (via higher test scores). I cannot for the life of me think of a good reason not to encourage this practice.

  18. Bill Leonard says:

    I can’t see a lot of difference between teachers selling lesson plans created on their own time and what I used to do as a newspaper reporter nights and on my days off: I wrote freelance magazine articles. Good for the teachers who are making a buck off their own efforts.

  19. Bill–I can see where it would get dicey. Suppose the 7th grade archery teachers decide to collaborate on a set of lessons. One designs a new bulls-eye with research-based color selection to aid in student aim. Another develops a series of arm exercises and a third puts together a set of pneumonics to help learn the steps in taking aim and shooting. The teachers hatched this idea over lunch one day and each one just started playing out their ideas in their own classes–and did research in the library on weekends. When they put it all together they discover that they are turning out some phenomenal archers. They agree that it is the system of all three pieces together that is responsible for the results, so they apply for a patent, get a developer and start selling it. Another school in the district takes notice and wants the teachers to come do a workshop for them. They are disappointed to find out that the system depends on copyrighted (or patented–whichever it would be) materials which their school must purchase–even though the original school got theirs free. They take it up with the superintendent who consults the district’s attorney.

    Odds are, the lawyer’s first response would be that the district owns the ideas, not the teachers.

    From there, it’s anybody’s guess which way this might go. The teacher’s case might be stronger if they did their developing together at some summer camp–or if they were employed to teach home economics instead of archery. The district’s case might be stronger if they had put a clause in the teachers’ contract. But–I would look for a long case (and the opportunity for lots of other archery teachers with similar ideas to chime in that they thought of it first).

  20. Bill Leonard says:

    Margo/Mom, the problem with your “what if” scenario is that the story refers to individual work by individual teachers.

  21. Prove I didn’t come up with my excellent idea on my own time.

  22. Bill–I don’t necessarily see that as a problem (not really sure why you do). It is the collaborative work (the system) that is in question–even though the argument might be that each individual teacher developed their portion alone, on weekends or whatever. The counter argument would be that they developed the parts or the whole as a part of their day to day responsibilities for teaching archery, and that as salaried employees they do not have a clear distinction with regard to either location or time of their work–teachers routinely take work to their homes to perform in non-working hours, but no one would claim that grading papers is not a part of their official duties simply because it is done at 7 PM at home.

  23. “Prove I didn’t come up with my excellent idea on my own time.”

    Darren–that might be the direction a case might fall in–I don’t know. The burden of proof might fall on you to prove that it did occur to you without any connection to your work.

  24. Oh, Margo/Mom, I sincerely doubt that.

    In fact, I would assert that it is precisely because of my brilliance and creativity that the district hired me in the first place, hoping to take a little advantage of that genius to benefit students. I can’t imagine they’d be able to say, “We hired you because you’re smart and competent; prove you’re smart and competent only because you work for us.”

    But now I challenge you: please identify one good reason why districts shouldn’t encourage this practice.

  25. “The burden of proof might fall on you to prove that it did occur to you without any connection to your work.”

    Guys … we don’t need to speculate. Darren has a contract. It either covers this, or there is almost for sure some sort of default position established by case-law (as an example, my company owns whatever I invent that has relevance to what my company does … stuff that I do on my own time and with my own materials is owned by me). So, we can guess and argue, but it is kinda pointless … if it *REALLY* matters, Darren should check his contract (and then, possibly, run it by some California lawyer friend — maybe other people know one if Darren doesn’t). But arguing when neither of you know:

    (a) What the contract says, and
    (b) What California case-law defaults to

    is pretty silly :-)

    Arguing about what *SHOULD* be case-law is a separate matter, of course …

    -Mark Roulo

  26. Follow up: *OTHER* stuff I do on my own time is owned by me.

    -Mark Roulo

  27. I see no reason why teachers shouldn’t be able to sell their OWN material and value that THEY created. Besides, if it’s good and another teacher or educator elsewhere can benefit from it, isn’t that a win-win situation?

  28. My point exactly, Travis.

  29. @Darren, prove that you didn’t … when you are going to court on a civil matter there is no such thing as beyond a reasonable doubt. The judge determines if you are in breach of contract and doesn’t need ‘proof’ — instead he/she will look at the contract and whether it was reasonable that the work was done while not under contract.

    This is not a what if scenario. Teachers have been sued by school boards because many employment contracts specifically state that all intellectual property (including moral rights) is owned by the employer during the period of employment — not the hours of the day the employee is at work.

    In St. Albert, Alberta a teacher who no longer worked for the school board put together ‘his’ lesson plans into a book and published them for sale. The board argued that most of the lesson design and refinement work was done while he was under contract. The board was successful and he had to share his profits with the board.

    Read your contract and if you don’t understand it — talk to a lawyer.

  30. @Mark Roulo in his followup makes an important distinction “*OTHER* stuff I do on my own time is owned by me.”

    His contract is like the majority of employee contracts that state all intellectual property related to the business of the employer is owned by the business regardless of the time of day it was developed.

    This general concept about corporate ownership is often called “Work for hire” see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Work_for_hire which actually provides the section for the 1976 US copyright act that specifically mentions instructional materials.

    Some contracts will state that by default ALL ideas (even ‘other stuff’ ideas) belong to the company or the company has the right of first refusal. I seem to recall that while Steve Wozniak worked for Xerox PARC he went to them with some ideas about computing — Xerox passed on the ideas and allowed him to ‘own’ the work, some of which became the Apple Macintosh computer.

    As to @Travis — so the reason teachers under contract likely don’t ‘own’ their work is because their contact specifically states this and this position has been enshrined in the copyright laws of the US.

    Boards may (IMHO should) encourage their teachers to share WITHIN the board. They probably don’t mind if teachers share outside the board either — but when it comes to commerce, the teacher was already paid (albeit poorly in most cases) and used the resources of the board (the physical classroom/equipment and the assembled students) to test and refine the lessons. So in essence the board has paid for the content and should benefit from its monetization.

    This is actually going further than the work for hire in the classroom … some education ministries are starting to look at the idea that if they have hired a publisher to write a textbook for their region, the government should own the intellectual property and the publisher will get a contract to print copies…

    Obviously, some of you are teachers — can you post the intellectual propery clauses in your contracts as an example?

  31. If I could quit my second job to sell my lesson plans I would in a heartbeat! All of the hard work and long hours we put into developing lesson plans would help me financially but also help another teacher. Sometimes I feel like I live at my school developing lessons and most of the time that is after hours and on the weekends. If I could help another teacher save hours of work by looking at mine and using it in their classroom I don’t see the big deal. Teachers are not paid a lot in my state so I would hope that the lesson plans are not very much money that would be my only concern.

  32. I find nothing in my contract about intellectual property, so I’m free to sell what I’d like.

    Absent a specific statement, though–some people here seem to have a visceral dislike for the mere idea of teachers’ selling their lesson plans. What is the drive there? What motivates the feeling that they should *not* be able to? I do not understand it, but want to.

  33. Hmm…. moral turpitude, yep. Intellectual property… nope. Not mentioned. Several of my colleagues have published books with Heineman and have kept all the profits, even though they were about educational research and stuff, so there’s actually precedent in my district if I wanted to sell my LPs.

  34. Different states have different laws about what employers can require of employees as far as intellectual property rights. For example here is a link to California Labor Code 2870:

    http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=lab&group=02001-03000&file=2870-2872

  35. Not sure which states this discussion applies to, but here is some information from the School Library Journal:

    “The school holds the copyright on lesson plans because its employees created them as part of their job. If a teacher created lesson plans during nonwork time, she would retain ownership.”

    The rest can be found here:

    http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/article/CA6302204.html

  36. Fascinating post – I wonder if contracts will now be changed to make it clear who owns what!

  37. These are great posts about selling lesson plans, from a great variety of points of view.

    I thought I would let you know that the CBC radio (Canadian Broadcasting Company) program The Current, will be discussing this issue on Monday, Nov. 23rd (8:30-9am Eastern time). I have been approached to participate in the discussion – as a teacher who does use TPT to sell her materials.

  38. Thanks for the tip on the radio broadcast, Jill. As a teacher who also sells on TpT, I am very interested in the discussion.

    Teacherspayteachers.com has a discussion board for sellers, and one of the sellers who was featured in the article said that she had no idea that the article would take that slant. She feels that it was done mainly to sell papers and that teachers do not need to be worried about this.

    She was responding to teachers who are worried that parents and collegues will discover their products on TpT. It seems a sad thing when teachers feel they need to hide their identity to sell work they are proud of.

  39. This is intriguing. I would argue that my work, including lesson plans, belongs to me because I created it. It seems to be a moot point, however, because I find it crazy that someone would hand over money for a lesson plan, something they could easily create on their own. Also, it tends to be specific to the teacher and to the class it is aimed at and would rarely be of use to somebody else. Rather than a single lesson plan, it would need to a comprehensive scheme of work with appropriate, differentiated resources.

    Having said that, an item is worth only what someone is willing to pay for it. If another teacher values something that I have created and wants to hand over cash for it, then surely this is mutually beneficial and isn’t doing any harm?

  40. PS: $31,ooo?! You can’t argue with that. Well done to that person.

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