By Eric Wearne
A kindergarten teacher in middle Georgia has earned $213,000 over the past three months. No, Houston County has not started the largest bonus pay program ever. No, this is not a scandal. And no, this is not a trick; she didn’t win the lottery or even change jobs. The teacher, Deanna Jump, earned that money through her own creative efforts, and through a new educational market in which teachers can sell lesson plans to each other online.
According to Businessweek, “Deanna Jump is not a trust fund baby. She never married into money and she has never won the lottery. But in the past year-and-a-half, the 43-year-old kindergarten teacher in Warner Robins, Ga., has earned more than $1 million. Her unlikely strategy: selling catchy kindergarten lesson plans to other teachers.”
The site that made this possible, TeachersPayTeachers (TPT), was founded by a former New York City public school teacher and launched a few years ago. It now boasts over 15,000 teachers selling lessons (the site also offers some free items). It’s hard to argue with the logic the company espouses. According to TPT:
Many teachers have had the experience of searching online for lesson ideas. Many sites are free and some are of high quality, but are rarely all-inclusive. TPT resources include lessons, materials, and assessments in many subject areas. Rather than a large, undifferentiated mass of free materials, TPT is a system in which, ostensibly, the best lessons will become the most popular – and will therefore make their way in front of more students across the country.
In addition, these teachers are making money by uploading and pricing lessons that, in many cases, they likely often teach in their classrooms already. Without a tax increase, without a hard-fought new labor contract, and without delving into odd new territory to measure schools, they are offering their value to the world and being rewarded for it. According to TPT founder Paul Edelman, “Of the 15,000 teachers who are contributing, about 10,000 make money in any given quarter.”
Ultimately, TPT says of themselves that they are “pioneering teacher-authors who are changing the rules about what it means to be a teacher, and we are showing the world our true value.” They call their efforts “Free Market Merit Pay for Teachers.” TPT is just one company; others could easily emerge, focused on specific content areas, or with different business models. But the concept is an intriguing and potentially powerful one: teachers are paid for the intellectual efforts, and for the time they’ve invested creating these materials. All of these teachers can say, “I did build that…and was rewarded for my efforts.”
(Eric Wearne is a Georgia Public Policy Foundation Senior Fellow and Assistant Professor at the Georgia Gwinnett College School of Education. Previously he was Deputy Director at the Georgia Governor’s Office of Student Achievement.)