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Lesson Plan Millionaires met with Persisting Legality Questions

Apr 25, 2017

If you’re an educator, you probably already have Teachers Pay Teachers (TpT) bookmarked on your web browser. Founded by Paul Edelman in 2006, TpT is the education community’s first and largest classroom marketplace where more than 4 million active members buy and sell over 2.4 million resources that range from lesson plans to classroom decor. The site estimates that its teacher-authors have earned over $330 million since its founding. Around a dozen of its entrepreneurs have become self-made millionaires simply from sharing their resources.

One such teacher entrepreneur, Hadar Hartstein of Lake Forest, California, goes by Miss Kindergarten on TpT and has earned over $1 million through it over the past six years according to Education Week. She offers over 300 resources that range from free A-Z flashcards to a $5 file of classroom songs all the way up to math and literacy center plans for an entire school year at $90. “I am so thankful and blessed that it came into my life and that my passion and career can kind of mesh into one,” Hartstein told Education Week. “You definitely have to look at it as another full-time job. You have to put a lot of effort into it.”

Hartstein and her peers’ additional effort saves other educators time and money. For the cost of a morning coffee, a fifth grade teacher could buy a new bulletin board idea or math game without waiting for district support. One educator estimated that her prep time for school dropped “from 20 to 30 hours a week to two hours” thanks to TpT. However, some members of the educational community aren’t so sure about its impact - or its legality.

“You want teachers to collaborate and share ideas freely,” Bob Farrace, spokesman for the National Association of Secondary School Principals argued, claiming that taking “proprietary rights over ideas and lessons” could weaken the spirit of open collaboration between teachers. Other critics have raised concerns over increased plagiarism and the exchange of weak or ineffective materials. While TpT and similar sites attempt to regulate and rank resources based on ratings, some worry that bad content may still be exchanged.

Another obstacle to lesson sharing is ownership. “This is a legal issue,” Cynthia Chmielewski of the National Education Association (NEA) General Counsel commented. “So if you want to sell your lesson plans online, make sure you actually own them.” Any teacher who plans to sell content on the web must review his/her employment contract. If the contract explicitly assigns copyright ownership to the educator for all created materials, sharing should be fine. However, as stipulated by the Copyright Act of 1976, if nothing is specified in the employment agreement, then “materials created by teachers in the scope of their employment are deemed ‘works for hire’ and therefore the school owns them.” The New York Times reported at least one case of a district barring its teachers from selling plans in 2009, and it’s likely that other cases have popped up more recently.

Despite the criticism and legal obstacles, resource sharing has proven valuable for educators on both sides of the transaction. Millions of people have experienced real benefits from this service through additional income, saved time, or improved student achievement. Will the negative backlash actually impact usage? Should it?

Category: News

About The Author

Megan Hankins