The $2 Million Teacher

Teachers Pay Teachers lets educators reassert their professionalism—and earn big bucks.

When Paul Edelman was working as a middle school teacher in New York City during the early '00s, his school gave him none of the lesson plans, handouts, and workbooks necessary for running a classroom. "When school ended at 3 p.m., it was really just the beginning of my workday," says Edelman. He says his first year was "brutal," and his second and third years were only marginally better.

Edelman's experience is hardly unique; many young teachers burn out in part because their schools expect them to generate all of their own materials. "I cried every night," says former teacher Amy Berner. "Every night you sit down and think, 'I am completely unprepared for tomorrow.'"

Out of such pain came an idea: "What if we could create a vast repository of resources that already worked for other teachers," he asks, "juiced with free market forces?"

In 2006, Edelman started Teachers Pay Teachers, an online marketplace for educators to sell digital copies of their classroom materials to each other for small amounts of money. "It's booming," says Berner, the company's head of community and editorial. Gross sales ballooned from $900,000 in 2010 to $44 million in 2013, and so far teachers have earned nearly $48 million on the site. There are more than one million products to choose from, including lesson plans, worksheets, flash cards, PowerPoint presentations, games, quizzes, graphic organizers, bulletin board ideas, and parent guides. And the materials are built by real teachers, so they tend to be perfectly tailored to classroom use.

Edelman says that requiring educators to produce their own classroom materials has its benefits. "I like that teachers in the U.S. have the freedom to create and teach the way they teach best," he says. Despite feeling overworked and underprepared, Edelman says that he was still grateful as a teacher not to have "a nationalized and controlled curriculum," as many other countries do. Teachers Pay Teachers offers the best of both worlds because educators don't have to spend all their free time generating materials from scratch, but they still get to pick what's best for their students—and can tailor the material however they see fit.

For teachers, whose compensation generally reflects not their talent and drive but the number of years they've served in the classroom, Teachers Pay Teachers brings a refreshing dose of market incentives. More than 1,300 teachers have earned at least $5,000 selling their materials through the company, and 164 have earned more than $50,000.

The site's breakout star and top seller is a kindergarten teacher in Macon, Georgia, named Deanna Jump. By selling activities and lesson plans, such as Guided Reading 101: Printables, Strategies and Word Work ($8) and Insects Math and Literacy Fun ($6.80), along with 145 other products, Jump has earned more than $2 million on Teachers Pay Teachers. With her wholesome good looks and exceptional talent as a teacher and curriculum author, Jump makes for an ideal public face. And she hasn't changed with her newfound wealth: Jump still teaches, and the first thing she did after the money started rolling in was purchase a handicap-accessible van for her quadriplegic brother.

At a time when teachers are being judged by central bureaucracies based on how their students perform on high-stakes tests, and union contracts enforce absurd work rules and lockstep pay increases, Teachers Pay Teachers offers educators the dignity of being treated like professionals. "It's like, 'I'm actually being respected for the expert that I am,'" says Berner. "Calling it a revolution in education I don't think is overstating it."

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    And yet when I sold my classwork to fellow students they and I were treated like criminals.

  • UnCivilServant||

    Why would anyone buy your work? Were they doing too well?

  • Certified Public Asskicker||

    I always thought Fist slept his way to the top.

  • Swiss Servator, Alles Klar||

    Huh. I figured it was via blackmail.

  • Certified Public Asskicker||

    Oh, blackmail. I heard black fishnets.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Those two aren't necessarily mutually exclusive.

  • Pope Jimbo||

    No, Fist's obsession with always being first ruined his career as a male escort.

  • Rich||

    Ouch.

  • Doctor Whom||

    Educrats are feverishly working on ways to shut this down.

  • Brian D||

    This must be frustrating as hell to them. On the one hand, teachers should be paid, like, a gazillion dollars a year because they're heroes and some junk. On the other hand, getting that money from some kind of free market is just anathema. Where's the coercion, man? The sweet, sweet coercion?

  • Doctor Whom||

    Also, we run the risk of letting teachers make money on merit, and we can't have that.

  • chmercier||

    ^This.

  • Doghouse Reilly||

    I'm new here, so maybe I've missed the proggie counter-argument, but what would anyone stand to gain by shutting this site down and/or regulating it out of existence? Seems like a win for everyone - teachers, kids, parents, etc.

  • Rich||

    what would anyone stand to gain by shutting this site down

    Ima say "justice". "Fairness", at least.

  • Agammamon||

    It undermines the excuse that teacher's need a lot of money because they have to put in so many hours 'after work' grading tests and making lesson plans.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    Generally, the NEA is supportive. So much so that they are lobbying to change collective bargaining agreements to provide legal protection to teachers who sell their works (some districts are claiming the rights to the work).

  • Marshall Gill||

    some districts are claiming the rights to the work

    Don't most "teachers" receive an paid hour every day for "lesson planning"? If they developed their work while being paid by the district, shouldn't the district own it?

  • chmercier||

    Districts may move to get copyright on materials.

    Otherwise, lesson plans are technically the property of the teacher based on copyright law, at least at the university level.

    I wouldn't be surprised if public ed moved to make all materials used/developed property of the universities/schools in the future to combat teachers sharing or selling their materials.

  • beth_ann||

    My experience as an elementary teacher is that I get about 35 minutes 3 times per week when students are in "specials" to plan, grade, run copies, go to the bathroom, check email, etc. (This is fairly typical for an elementary teacher.) I also have to have team meetings during that time, so when all is said and done, I might get 40 min of paid time each week to grade/copy/plan/etc. I also make products to sell on Teachers Pay teachers, but I do that at home on my OWN time. These products take sometimes 20-40 hours to create (in-depth units between 50-80 pages long). I spend extended holidays like summer or Christmas break working nearly full-time hours to create products that I can use in my classroom, but also sell on TPT. I know that the other teachers making these products are likely also doing it at home on their own time. There is absolutely no reason my district should have any rights to the things I create. I am doing it on my own time with my own resources that I paid for out of my own pocket. I love this site because we can buy from and sell to other professionals in the field that are creating quality products to engage our students. Would I still make these units without the site? Of course I would. Teachers have been doing it for centuries. But do I like that there is a little monetary incentive? You bet I do! Oh... And most of what I make just goes right back into purchases products from other teachers. :D

  • Rasilio||

    These materials should be distributed to the teachers by the schools for free, they should not have to pay for the curriculum material.

    If different teachers are using different materials how can we ensure that all students are being taught to the same standard.

    These works are works for hire and belong to the schools, individuals should not b e making a profit off of them.

    Shall I go on?

  • beth_ann||

    Disagree! Teachers can teach the same standard in many different ways. Most of us have Masters degrees in pedagogy, content, child development, etc. we are highly qualified to make products to use with our kids that will help them learn best. As I stated above, every product I have created for TPT, I have done on my OWN time at home, using my OWN resources purchased with my OWN money. Just as I can go buy books at a book store to use in my classroom, I can now buy products other teachers have created on their own time. Now, when my district provides the computer I use to create them, the software I use to create them, purchases the clip art and font licenses for me, AND actually PAYS me for the countless hours I spend at home making them... Well, THEN they maybe they have a case to claim copyright. Until then, these are my products that I created and the profit is mine. My district is already benefitting from them as well because my student test scores show more than a year's worth of progress.

  • iheartliberty||

    Wrong. Requiring people to give the fruits of their labor away for free is immoral and is the backbone of the terrible ideals of socialism, communism, and fascism.

    Every person what walks the face of this Earth is entitled to ask for compensation for their labor. That compensation must always be determined by the two parties involved without interference from a 3rd party.

    This is what is known as liberty.

  • Scarecrow Repair||

    Control freaks hate people working independently outside their control. This applies to union bosses and flunkies, and to school boards, and to other teachers.

    Teachers who have been in the system for any time resent other teachers who have found a way around the stifling rules and procedures.

    Progressives get just as ragey at the idea that the money for these extra curricular activities is not being coerced out of taxpayers. Dammit, taxpayers need to know who's the boss, and show some respect for their betters. This outside income is undermining civilian respect for their authority.

    There are other reasons, but these should suffice for starters.

  • chmercier||

    But...without taking money from others, how will teachers get paid? It just doesn't make sense.

    People will never pay teachers without taxes. Evar.

  • Bill||

    Indeed, this cries out for regulations. To help the childrunz!

  • chmercier||

    Indeed - why does nobody bring up the children? If teachers are making money, then the children get hurt by greed and capitalism!

    Of course, teachers should make a lot of money in the unions and from tax-based salaries. In that, teachers don't make nearly enough money.

    OR: Teachers wouldn't need to sell stuff if they were paid a million dollars a year because greedy capitalists steal all their income.

  • beth_ann||

    I make and sell products on TPT. My students LOVE the units I create. They also LOVE the other units I purchase from TPT from qualified professionals around the country. I assure you children are not being hurt by TPT.

  • chmercier||

    Teachers making more money than other teachers???!! This needs to be stopped! Greed is evuhl!

  • Charles Easterly||

    What a refreshing article.

  • Rich||

    "What if we could create a vast repository of resources that already worked for other teachers"

    Common Core, DUH!

  • beth_ann||

    Common Core isn't a vast repository of resources. It is set of standards that we yeah our students. It tells us what to teach, not not how to teach it. It doesn't provide us with resources for teaching the standards, either. Many teachers on this site align their products to Common Core standards.

  • beth_ann||

    *teach not yeah (autocorrect fail)

  • Agammamon||

    He says his first year was "brutal," and his second and third years were only marginally better.

    The first year aligns with what a teacher friend of mine says about his first year - developing the lesson plan starting at 3 months before the school year started, constantly revising it because of changing requirements and then have to constantly change it again once he got into the class and realized his students were dumber than he planned for.

    That's along with making the mistake of being *nice* at the start of the year - then he spent most of the rest of the year trying to get control of the kids.

    HIs second year was been much easier though - plan's mostly done, just needs some tweaking and he was an authoritarian arsehole right from the beginning. Once the kids accepted his authority he was able to lighten up later in the year.

    He figures his third year and on should be cakewalks.

  • Bean Counter||

    Never smile until November. Basic rule of classroom control. Works in college classes too.

  • beth_ann||

    I have been teaching 10 years, and it has never been a cakewalk. Quality teachers are constantly growing in their craft, knowledge of pedagogy, and content. They are trying new things, reflecting on how it went, and improving for the future. They attend professional development, read professional literature, and collaborate with colleagues. Quality teachers don't believe in "cake walks".

  • toolkien||

    Of course everyone knows in every other profession the first few years are a breeze. It's only tough in education...

  • Tommy_Grand||

    Why do the left and the union support “free” enterprise in this case?
    Here’s why: “none of the lesson plans, handouts, and workbooks [b]necessary[/b] for running a classroom. "”
    These can be helpful, but the only reason they are “necessary” is because educrats FORCE teachers to use 'em. Teachers have to prepare lessons plans and much other (often useless) stuff. There is the coercion the left so adores.
    Of course, teachers do not want to produce all this junk. The best response from them would be a rebellion against the stupid, myopic, autocratic rules. Just teach. If kids learn, teacher gets paid. If not, teacher gets fired & someone new gets a chance -- with no requirement s/he possesses a teaching certificate and/or education degree.
    The union does NOT want that outcome, so they are totally cool w/teachers getting a FAT tax deduction on money paid to other union members, money that's paid to satisfy the pointless bureaucratic edits that require teachers to generate and distribute an ever-growing mountain of mostly useless materials. In this way, educrats get the sweet visceral pleasure they derive from making someone obey, teachers do not become fed up and rebel, and we taxpayers get to subsidize it.
    Eliminate the regulations requiring teachers to prepare these materials. Eliminate the tax deduction/ subsidies. See what happens to Teachers Pay Teachers' revenue. That said, I have no problem with teachers selling their materials. Why the hell not?

  • Eggs Benedict Cumberbund||

    Remove tenure and most of the mid level bureaucrats, THEN you can pay teachers quite a bit more.

  • Tommy_Grand||

    Yes, there are too any bureaucrats and most of em accomplish precious little of value. It would be good to fire, oh, 60% of these cats and see if the reminder pick up the slack. I bet so -- especially if we take a machete to all the red tape and regulations with which it's their job to comply.

  • Han Solo||

    It's seems like quite a paradox - teachers earning $$ (and some getting rich) from other teachers. I guess its like the paradox of war - you have to kill people in order to stop people from killing each other. Hmmm

  • beth_ann||

    I don't look at it as a paradox. Teachers have always shared their resources with one another. I love that TPT allows teachers to share on a much broader forum, impacting more students around the country. I love being able to buy products directly from colleagues around the country (and sometimes the world) instead of giving my money to a publishing company. As long as this site is around, I will always look to my colleagues first for professional resources. The world is full of AMAZING teachers that are highly qualified to create engaging content for my students. I love this site!

  • iheartliberty||

    This^^^

    People should be allowed to get paid for their fruits of their labor without others dictating to them about...whatever.

    It is called liberty.

    If a person, not your employer, came up to you and said, "Umm, no, you can only make this amount of money doing this job.", and then proceeded to implement that policy, I highly doubt you would tolerate that. And if you did then you are a fool.

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