Teachers are making millions selling their lesson plans online to fellow teachers around the globe

“Why reinvent the wheel?” ask teachers. This question is the driver behind the new trend of buying and selling classroom lesson plans online. Today, virtual marketplaces boast an array of lesson plans, created by educators for educators. Offerings span subject matter and grade level.

This new online market spells saved time for some and big business for others.

Recently, about a dozen or so educator-entrepreneurs have spun science, math, reading and social studies into gold by selling their lesson plans online to fellow teachers around the globe. Business is booming – this handful has created its own million-dollar club. Behind soaring sales of online teaching materials is the willingness of teachers to pay out-of-pocket for classroom-tested materials.

Meet Miss Kindergarten. She has a popular (and lucrative) online presence on Teachers Pay Teachers, a website geared towards fellow kindergarten teachers. Here, educators can purchase and download classroom materials ranging from free alphabet flash cards to $120 full-year units on math and literacy. To date, Miss Kindergarten has made over $1 million from her online cache of about 300 resources.

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Teachers Pay Teachers launched a decade ago, recently reported that it hit a milestone last year – the site’s 80,000 contributors earned more than $100 million. The site’s structure allows teachers to set their own prices for the current 2.5 million resources. The tradeoff is that educators selling on the site pay a commission. With a $59.95 premium membership, the commission is 15%. With a free basic membership, it’s 40%.

And Teachers Pay Teachers is not alone. Other major sites, like Teachwise and Teacher’s Notebook, cater to the same audience. Corporate players like Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Amazon have also launched similar sites of their own.

Teachers who buy the materials, however, see it as a minimal investment that gives a massive payoff in time. Instead of spending nights and weekends otherwise starting lessons from scratch, they can purchase quality plans online, often for no more than the price of their morning coffee. For educators who are onboard with online planning materials, they estimate that their prep time plummets from 20 to 30 hours a week to only two hours. That’s a huge time difference.

When it comes to the quality of the plans, teachers tend to trust and support other fellow teachers. And accessing individual resources from the web is less expensive and easier than going to the district for new textbooks or resources. Proponents of the marketplace claim that teachers are already spending money from their own pockets on their classrooms; now they’re just doing it online.

Some educators are leery; they worry that monetizing lessons will stifle the longstanding practice of teachers sharing freely in their ideas. A spokesperson for the National Association of Secondary School Principals says taking proprietary rights over ideas and lessons could disrupt the traditional collaborative atmosphere of schools.

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Legal experts have their own concerns, like the question of whether teachers actually own the lessons they are selling. While some school districts have language in their teaching contracts that bar teachers from selling their lesson plans, others don’t. Still, attorneys argue that the resources teachers produce while working for a school are actually the property of the school district.

Regardless of how courts may come down on this issue in the future, I think selling online lesson plans that are tried and true is a great move for teachers.  After all, education is crucial for kids.

Right now, my wife and I are investing in SSAT tutoring for our boys. The bill comes in at over $180 per hour. But you know what? My wife and I write that check. Because it’s worth it. So if teachers can apply their knowledge base and expertise to generate income above and beyond their salary, whether by tutoring or selling their lesson plans, I say go for it.

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