The Two-Million-Dollar Teacher: An Online Marketplace Empowers Educators and Lets Them Earn Big $$$

Chapter three of a four-part series on the sharing economy.

In 2006, a New York City public school teacher named Paul Edelman launched Teachers Pay Teachers, an online marektplace that lets educators sell digital copies of their classroom materials for small amounts of money. 

"It's booming," says Amy Berner, who's the head of community and editorial for Teachers Pay Teachers. Gross sales grew from $900,000 in 2010 to $44 million in 2013. With over a million items to choose from on the site, so far teachers have earned nearly $48 million on Teachers Pay Teachers.

For public school teachers, whose pay generally reflects not their talent and drive but the number of years they’ve served in the classroom, the site is bringing a refreshing dose of market incentives. More than 1,300 teachers have earned in excess of $5,000 selling their materials on Teachers Pay Teachers, and 164 have earned more than $50,000. The top seller and the site’s breakout star is Deanna Jump, a kindergarten teacher from Macon, Georgia. By selling activities and lesson plans, like Guided Reading and Writing Through The Year, along with 145 other products, so far Jump has earned more than $2 million dollars on Teachers Pay Teachers. Her newfound wealth hasn’t caused her to quit or job or alter her lifestyle much; when she started raking in big profits, the first thing Jump did was purchase a handicap accessible van for her quadriplegic brother.A Teachers Pay Teachers Gathering in Las Vegas. Deanna Jump is in the middle row on the far right. ||| Photo Credit: Natalie CrockettPhoto Credit: Natalie Crockett

The site is so popular because its addressing a major problem in public education. Schools often fail to provide teachers with basic lesson plans, leaving them to create their own materials from scratch, even when there are tens of thousands of other educators around the country teaching the exact same subject matter.

Through the power of a peer-to-peer community, Teachers Pay Teachers gives educators something that’s been largely stripped away by union contracts and browbeating bureaucrats: the dignity of being treated like a professional.

“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." 

Click here to watch Reason TV's entire series on the sharing economy.

Written, shot, and produced by Jim Epstein.

About 2:45 minutes.

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  • Ken Shultz||

    Well, obviously, for the good of children (somehow) this sort of innovation needs to be stopped immediately.

  • ||

    Wait, I've got one for this: "Paul Edelman" everyone knows that all men are serial child rapist pervert psychos. Can we really let them guide education policy without the aegis of government to keep them in check?

  • Ken Shultz||

    How do they know that the people buying these products aren't parents that are homeschooling their children?

    Is this making it easier for people to homeschool their children?

    Somebody needs to put a stop to this, quick!

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Does Randi Weingarten know? Has she approved this? Is the AFT getting their FAIR SHARE?

  • Raston Bot||

    Sounds like an unmitigated good for the education market place. I expect the usual control freaks to introduce legislation to heavily regulate it.

  • KDN||

    I feel like my wife has spoken to me about this before and I just ignored her like I always do whenever she starts talking about work. She already does the lesson plans for half the math teachers in her district, I should probably encourage her to try to make some cash on the side at the same time.

  • R C Dean||

    She already does the lesson plans for half the math teachers in her district,

    Enough with the freeloading and mooching. Have her join and put 'em up for sale. If the moochers still want them, they can pony up. If they don't, fuck 'em.

  • KDN||

    Considering that they're fast tracking her for a supervisor's gig, it's probably not the greatest idea politically to shut out her colleagues (especially since teachers are by nature a very communal lot). But for some stranger four towns over using the same textbooks? Yeah, I think they'll have to pay for the privilege.

  • Marshall Gill||

    Enough with the freeloading and mooching. Have her join and put 'em up for sale. If the moochers still want them, they can pony up. If they don't, fuck 'em.

    Is there any reason to believe that individuals are actually paying all this money? There are a ton of "public online" schools which are entirely funded by taxpayers. The article doesn't say from where this money comes. People paying out of their pockets or people spending subsidies? I would assume that this is simply more of the same, pouring money down the bottomless "education" hole.

    If not, the market at work, yet again.

  • Robert||

    I figure in most cases it'll come out of petty expense acc'ts of intructors, just as they'd be reimbursed for other small purchases of materials. So, an institutional clientele, and those tend to be good ones.

    It looks bad to you only because education is so dominated by tax-funded players, but is there any reason to believe that if all schools were private, a business such as this wouldn't still be a good idea? I just signed up.

    Plus, this looks like a good model to bust the racket that is textbooks!

  • IceTrey||

    I don't think there's any "probably" about it.

  • ||

    If your wife does end up doing this, report back. I'm not a teacher or anything, but I'm curious as to how easy it is.

  • Paul.||

    This needs to be regulated.

  • Brandon||

    This is awesome. A way for teachers to get paid for actual productivity, and a way that will self regulate, weeding the lazy and incompetent out of the market. Why don't we stop paying them for teaching, let them use the classroom as product research, and not limit how much they can make through this system? The administrators can go get real jobs unless teachers want to pay them as overhead out of their earnings from TPT.

  • Tonio||

    This is not their work-product to sell. They developed those plans on the taxpayers dime, so those lesson plans are taxpayer assets. While their selling them doesn't rise to the level of simple theft (since they are not depriving the taxpayers of those assets), it is not appropriate.

  • Paul.||

    I was wondering about that. What exactly are they selling, who's the owner of the materials etc.?

  • Rasilio||

    Uh no they didn't dumbass. Teachers get paid a salary not hourly rate and so unless there is an intellectual property clause in their contract (which given that they are collectively bargained I highly doubt there is) then the ownership of any teaching materials developed by the teacher remains with the teacher

  • UnCivilServant||

    If my contract is anything to go by, it depends on where they were when the did the work. If they developed the lesson plans while at home, they own them. If they were at their desk in school, it's the district's property as work product.

    Of course, not all contracts are the same.

  • William of Purple||

    so I open Google Drive at work, and start editing my screenplay, it becomes property of my company?

  • tarran||

    Quite possibly...

    I'm serious. Don't work on personal stuff on the company dime.

  • Paul.||

    Agreed. In my former job, I had to sign a contract that said anything I developed on or off the job, during my tenure of the company would become the intellectual property OF the company.

  • Rasilio||

    For most private companies, absolutely.

    In fact doing it at home from a company issued laptop might give them ownership depending on the wording of your contract

  • R C Dean||

    Could be a work made for hire, especially if they are just posting the lesson plans they use in their classroom. If so, the copyright is held by the school.

    If they are developing alternate lesson plans at home, though, you could get into a sticky argument about whether those alternate lesson plans are "derivative works" of the work-made-for-hire plans.

    A smart school district would take a strictly hands-off approach, of course. So, I expect a rash of litigation from school districts trying to shut down/cash in.

  • Bill Dalasio||

    Really? Who cares? What your argument boils down to is that the teachers making a work product that is worthy of buying are the bad guys, while the teachers who loaf about reading the sports pages are okay. If the prospect of resale makes them actually produce a decent lesson plan, I'll be happy to put up with their "theft".

  • iEagleHammer||

    Now wait, this is "unfair," not every teacher makes $2 million. We must put a stop to this. It's for the good of the children?

  • Paul.||

    Oh, and big scarves... alive and well.

  • John||

    Teachers are right when they say teaching is a tough job. They miss the implications of that, however. Teaching is a tough job and there is only a finite number of people who do it well. Generally the proscribed solution to our education system has been hiring more teachers and reducing class size. When you realize that not everyone is cut out to be a teacher and that really good ones are often hard to fine, it doesn't surprise you that this has made things worse.

    Reducing class size is really just a polite name for reducing access to and the productivity of the best teachers. The information revolution has started to effect the medical and legal field by cutting into the bottom of both fields and rewarding the top even more so than the past. The same thing needs to happen in education. If someone is a gifted teacher, why limit them to teaching a couple of classes of 20 in the local school when you can put them on the internet and let them teach thousands?

    Yes I know, getting a lecture from the internet is not the same as getting one on one instruction. But getting a lecture from the internet from a truly gifted teacher supplemented by some one on one instruction by an assistant is a lot better than sitting in a class taught by a bad or even average teacher.

  • John||

    If we had a free market education system in this country, gifted teachers would be making really big money as they charged for their lectures to go across the country. Such a system of course is an anathema to the dedicated socialists who currently run our education system.

  • kbolino||

    Teachers are right when they say teaching is a tough job. They miss the implications of that, however. Teaching is a tough job and there is only a finite number of people who do it well.

    I've said the same thing about managers (roughly speaking, in the sense of people in charge of large engineering projects). Management is a very difficult job because to do it well you not only need to know how to get the work done, you need to know how to get other people to get the work done.

    Even after profusely saying that most people who call themselves managers are anything but, and most such people are paid exorbitant salaries to essentially fuck things up, the individual I was arguing with could not get over the association "management is a hard job = everybody with the title 'manager' deserves praise".

    Some jobs are hard. Just because you can find someone with a beating heart and slap the title on them does not mean they are performing the actual job.

    For some people, apparently this is beyond their understanding.

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    Another fine mistype. You are a true idiot/savant. :-)

  • KDN||

    Completely true. My personal idea is to have one teacher teach multiple classrooms via video conference with in-class support from teacher's aides to handle the hands-on aspects of instruction. Not the biggest cost-saver, but it's a model that I think could be successful for consumers that are still wedded to the more communitarian concept of education.

  • BakedPenguin||

    The videos should be pre-taped. That way, each student could move at their own pace.

  • UnCivilServant||

    I took an online course with taped lectures once. The lack of interaction with the instructor when you have the benefit of context was a pain. If I had questions, it'd take an essay to provide context to the question so that I had a hope of a coherent answer. And I've found people tend not to read what I write for context when trying to get information out of them.

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    I've taken a few classes online. Some were ok, some sucked. But my Business Law class (from a California community college!) online was amazing. Because the instructor understood the medium, had strict standards, and made a "classroom experience" in a virtual realm. This model works. But only the top 20% of educators will be able to do it well.

  • BakedPenguin||

    I'm not saying there should be no in class instruction, but it should depend on the subject matter.

    I do know that if a student gets it, they shouldn't have to sit around listening to something they already understand. Not that I'm bitter about being bored as fuck all through grade, middle & high school or anything.

  • Sudden||

    What could be done, assuming a large enough scale, is that the head instructor first require a seminar to the aids/teachers that will be using the lecture in their class rooms where he provides FAQs and responses to questions that do come up or provides some in-room discussion guides to highlight the most critical portions.

  • BakedPenguin||

    There was a teacher I saw on the news who reversed the typical pattern - she had her students watch video lectures as "homework", and then do the traditional homework in class where she could answer questions. I thought that was great, but I'd still say carry that one step further by allowing students to proceed at their own pace.

  • KDN||

    That's one way, but my thought is to keep the live-instruction model. People seem to prefer it, and I think that having students around to ask questions and work in groups can be helpful in its own right. YMMV, however, and I wish we lived in a world where such experimentation would be encouraged instead of fought against.

  • Robert||

    That version (BakedPenguin's) is called "distance learning". Or at least that's what it was called some years back.

  • Robert||

    I did that at Mercy College over a decade ago. We had remote classrooms in places like day care centers & church basements. Unfortunately between the unreliable technology and the unreliable assistants on site, it was abandoned after a few terms.

  • buybuydandavis||

    So now that cheap lesson plans are available, we'll be cutting the government educational payrolls and reducing pay, right?

    But I kid. The landed aristocracy of Tax Ranchers has just cleverly reduced the amount of work tending the Tax Cattle requires. With all that new found time, they can better politically organize, indoctrinate the tax cattle, or just nap.

    Life just got even better for the Tax Ranchers! Yay!

  • Narc O'Lepsy||

    I have a teacher friend who has been making lesson plans for years and shares them from her own site under a creative commons license. She has to check teachers pay teachers regularly because people seem to really enjoy grabbing her content and selling it.

  • BLEEDINELL||

    Just a matter of time before the Department of Edukashun puts a stop to this.

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