The popular resource-sharing platform Teachers Pay Teachers, a private company in business since 2006, predates the #GoOpen campaign; although the site has 4 million active users, it is not one of the DOE’s suggested platforms as much of its material comes with a price tag. On the site, teachers upload a mixture of resources that are free to download and ones that are listed for sale, ranging in price from 99 cents for a slideshow or activity worksheet to $40 for an entire unit plan. Individual teachers are generally the shoppers, sometimes paying out-of-pocket, sometimes using school funds allocated for materials. Copyrights on materials can also be pretty guarded: Some teachers sell licenses for the right to re-share materials with colleagues while others offer their work only as un-editable formats like PDF.
When I first signed up for Teachers Pay Teachers back in 2008, I was giddy—not only was the website founded by another New York teacher, Paul Edleman, but it also cast teachers in the role of author rather than drudge for commercial textbooks. Not to mention that it rewarded (both financially and through networking) one of my very favorite parts of teaching: the reflection, research, and return to content that goes into creating materials. A well-honed, engaging assignment, when it is not shared, can feel like a fleeting success as it can really only be used once per class per year.
But then I sat at my desk, trying to open up shop, flipping through countless resources that I was truly proud to teach, and realized that not one of them could be shared without some serious editing. What I hadn’t understood before this tentative jump into the broader sharing economy was that making assignments is so much about personalization. Much of my work already had the flow of lesson plans written into the materials. Grouped lists of students names, references to specific comments in specific discussions, staggered deadlines, page numbers referring to other texts and activities, and regional jokes all littered my materials. Nothing had the gloss of the commercial. For them to be appropriate for a general audience, I had to wipe them down and make them blank slates. Selling material, or even sharing it for that matter—Teachers Pay Teachers requires all sellers to offer at least one free resource—would have been an intensive project. My colleagues kept my binders and Google Drive links, but my shop did not launch.
Tracee Orman, an Erie, Illinois, high-school English teacher who creates materials about contemporary books like The Hunger Games, is concerned that the GoOpen campaign’s call for teachers to share resources freely reflects a general misunderstanding among policymakers of the difference between lesson plans and the materials the teacher uses as part of the lesson plans. Teachers write lesson plans to reflect the organization and flow, not the content, of their day-to-day classes; materials, on the other hand, are rich in content and take vastly more time and expertise to generate from scratch. For Orman, writing the two things involves separate skill sets, and asking teachers to share enough material for an entire course without additional compensation imposes a huge burden and sends the message that teacher-authors are not valued on par with textbook authors. While many teachers choose to create their own materials, it has generally been to supplement curriculum rather than design it.