Those who can, sell lesson plans online

Some teachers earning quick cash by selling classroom aids to peers in e-marketplace

NEW YORK • What kind of tunes do you think Iago, the villain in William Shakespeare's Othello, would listen to if he had an iPhone? That is the kind of question that Ms Laura Randazzo, an exuberant English teacher, often dreams up to challenge her students at Amador Valley High School in California.

So, when she heard about, a virtual marketplace where educators can buy and sell lesson plans, she was curious to find out whether the materials she had created for her students would appeal to other educators.

A couple of years ago, she started posting items, priced at around US$1 (S$1.42), on the site. Her "Whose Cell Phone Is This?" fictional character worksheet has sold more than 4,000 copies.

"For a buck, a teacher has a really good tool that she can use with any work of literature," she said in a phone interview. "Kids love it because it's fun. But it's also rigorous because they have to support their characterisations with evidence."

She clearly has a knack for understanding the kinds of classroom aids that other teachers are looking for. One of Ms Randazzo's best-selling items is a full-year collection of high school grammar, vocabulary and literature exercises. It has generated sales on TeachersPayTeachers of about US$100,000.

Teachers often spend hours preparing classroom lesson plans to reinforce the material students are required to learn, and many share their best materials with colleagues.

Founded in 2006, TeachersPayTeachers speeds this lesson-plan prep work by monetising exchanges between teachers and enabling them to make faster connections with farther-flung colleagues.

As some on the site develop sizeable and devoted audiences, is fostering the growth of a hybrid profession: teacher-entrepreneur. The phenomenon has even spawned its own neologism: teacherpreneur.

To date, Teacher Synergy, the company behind the site, has paid about US$175 million to its teacher-authors, says chief executive Adam Freed. The site takes a 15 per cent commission on most sales.

A former chief operating officer of Etsy and former director of international product management at Google, Mr Freed is a veteran of data-driven growth companies.

By selling tens of thousands of items, he says, 12 teachers on the site have become millionaires, and nearly 300 teachers have earned more than US$100,000.

On any given day, the site has about 1.7 million lesson plans, quizzes, work sheets, classroom activities and other items available, typically for less than US$5.

At a time when many politicians, technology executives and philanthropists are pushing novel digital tools for education, many teachers are also seeking old-school offline techniques that other teachers have perfected over the years. That has positioned TeachersPayTeachers as a kind of Etsy for education.

"A lot of the stuff you see in the digital world that is interactive, teachers are making them in analog form," Mr Freed said, noting that many teacher-to-teacher products are PDF or zip files meant to be downloaded and printed out.

As an example, he cited an Interactive Reading Literature Notebook, developed by Ms Erin Cobb, a middle-school reading teacher.

In her lesson plans, students are asked to actively learn by, in part, cutting out and gluing assignments into their notebooks, taking notes in class and sometimes even drawing illustrations to demonstrate that they understood the reading.

"There's a lot of creativity and innovation," Mr Freed said, "but it is tried and true in a lot of its methodology."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 07, 2015, with the headline 'Those who can, sell lesson plans online'. Print Edition | Subscribe