New teachers are often the beneficiaries of other educators’ lesson plans, building their curricula on shared materials that are authored and tested by more experienced peers.
Launched in 2006, the popular lesson-sharing site Teachers Pay Teachers has helped monetize the custom, turning it into a side hustle that has made a few teachers millionaires.
Teachers Pay Teachers acts like an online marketplace where third-party sellers set their own prices and market their own materials, with the company taking a cut of each sale.
The average teacher salary for 2020-2021 was $65,090 with California teachers earning $85,892 and teachers in Florida, one of the lowest-paying states in the U.S., earning $49,583.
Georgia kindergarten teacher Deanna Jump is known as the first full-time teacher millionaire on Teachers Pay Teachers. She earned about $80,000 a month, more than the average Wall Street banker at the time, according to a 2013 Business Insider report. Jump said she found a niche creating units that integrate curriculum with higher-level thinking skills. She each item in her 60-piece collection for $10 or less.
Kindergarten teachers “don’t have the kinds of textbooks and materials available for grade-level teachers,” Jump said. “So I began creating my own.”
Abigail Walthausen, a writer and high-school English teacher, has used the platform.
Teachers upload resources for free or for sale, with prices ranging from 99 cents for a slideshow or activity worksheet to $40 for an entire unit plan, Walthausen wrote for The Atlantic. Shoppers are generally individual teachers paying out-of-pocket or using school funds allocated for materials. Some teachers sell licenses for the right to re-share materials with colleagues. Others offer their work only as un-editable formats such as PDFs.
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Teachers Pay Teachers is not without controversy.
The site has struggled for years with racist lesson plans, allegations of plagiarism and poor content quality—all of which are regularly discussed on social media, EdSurge reported. Quality can vary widely when anyone can upload materials with minimal oversight.
A Wisconsin district placed several teachers on leave in 2021 after a lesson plan downloaded from Teachers Pay Teachers asked students to decide how to punish a slave. And in 2020, Education Week searched the site and found at least two dozen lessons that involved slavery reenactments or simulations.
A Fordham Institute review compared many of the most popular lessons for high school English classes on Teachers Pay Teachers with two other lesson-sharing sites, ReadWriteThink and Share My Lesson. Teachers Pay Teachers scored the lowest.
Yet the site remains popular and claimed that more than two-thirds of U.S. educators have used it, with more than 1 billion downloads worldwide.
Jennifer Gallagher, an assistant professor at East Carolina University, looked into content quality on sites like Teachers Pay Teachers.
“Market forces in general often uphold the status quo in terms of things like white supremacy,” Gallagher said, remarking on the idea of whiteness as default. “I think the fact that it is a marketplace, those spaces don’t tend to be justice oriented to begin with, so it’s not necessarily surprising to me that there wouldn’t be a mechanism within that system to think about equity.”
In an interview with EdSurge, Teachers Pay Teachers CEO Joe Holland said the site now uses artificial intelligence to identify lessons that include certain keywords, especially relating to social studies and historical events, and subjects them to manual review. Content moderators have reviewed tens of thousands of lesson plans and when one is deemed problematic, the team will ask for revisions or take it off the site.