Teacher Tim's TEFL International Blog July 16th, 2011

It’s 4 AM – Do You Know Where your Lesson Plans Are?

The New York Times recently ran an interesting article on teachers and lesson plans. If you’d like to read the whole thing, just follow this link: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/15/education/15plans.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=lesson%20plans&st=cse

For the TEFL teacher here in Thailand, lesson plans are both a bugaboo and a blessing. We need them and rely on them heavily when we first get into the teaching game, and often the schools where we work demand that we have them written out in advance for their spot inspection. Even as we progress in the trade, there are still many occasions when something planned and written down is essential to our success as language instructors – especially when we are covering new material that not only may challenge the student but us as well.

That being said, it is tedious in the extreme to be fettered to a piece of paper for every cotton-pickin’ class we teach, and most teachers eventually advance to the stage where they need very little time to prepare a lesson. If they’re smart, they save and file away their detailed lesson plans, which can then be pulled out and recycled whenever the occasion requires. And isn’t it wonderful how the Internet is providing so many sites where you can go pick up a prefabricated TESOL lesson plan for free? Kinda restores your faith in humanity, don’t it? Or maybe in computers . . .

But, as the New York Times makes plain, free lesson plans on the Internet may be a thing of the past. Let me quote the first paragraph of the story verbatim: “Between Craigslist and eBay, the Internet is well established as a marketplace where one person’s trash is transformed into another’s treasure. Now, thousands of teachers are cashing in on a commodity they used to give away, selling lesson plans online for exercises as simple as M&M sorting and as sophisticated as Shakespeare . “

The story goes on to detail some of the vexing questions that retailing lesson plans on the Internet entail. For instance, who really owns a teacher’s lesson plans? It might seem obvious, on the face of it, that it is the teacher himself or herself that did the work and so owns the rights to the lesson plan. But if the teacher is an employee of a school system and has done most or even some of the work on the lesson plan during school hours, on school property, using school resources such as pencil, paper, and computer, then there is a good case for the school claiming ownership of the lesson plans as their intellectual property.

To a teacher in the United States this may seem a far-fetched proposition, but we humble TEFL scholars here in Thailand can readily imagine a Thai school eagerly horning in on any kind of income a teacher makes on the side selling lesson plans on the Internet.

Which begs the question, should lesson plans be sold or should they be a free commodity?

According to the New York Times, teachers in the United States who are marketing lesson plans on the Internet are making, on average, from $195.00 to $3000.00 a year on it. Not beau coup bucks, to be sure, but it’s a brand-new market out there – 2 years ago nobody was selling lesson plans. The Times goes on to say that most of the teachers who are marketing their lesson plans use about 75% of the profits to benefit their students, buying things like art materials and special books for class – the other 25% they spend on dining out and other personal indulgences. Kelly Gionti, who cleared close to three-thousand dollars last year selling unit plans for “Catcher in the Rye” and “The Great Gatsby” used the money to fund field trips for his classes to Ireland and Rome. Here’s another juicy quote from the article that will whet your capitalistic appetite:

“Margaret Whisnant, a retired teacher in North Carolina, earns an average of $750 a month from lessons based on her three decades of teaching middle school classics like “The Outsiders,” enough to pay for new kitchen counters and appliances.

“I have wanted to redo my kitchen for 20 years, and I just could not get the funds together,” she said. “Well, now I’m going to have to learn to cook.”

Lisa Michalek, 40, who taught for six years in Rochester and now works for Aventa Learning, a for-profit online education company, said she spent about five hours a week tweaking old lesson plans and creating new ones, like an earth science curriculum that sells for $59.95.

“I knew I had good lessons, so I thought, ‘Why not see what other people think of it?’ ” Ms. Michalek said.

After $31,000 in sales, she has her answer. Alice Coburn, 56, a vocational education teacher in Goshen, N.Y., said she saved two to three hours each time she downloaded Ms. Michalek’s PowerPoint presentations instead of starting from scratch. “I hate reinventing the wheel,” Ms. Coburn said.”

So there’s gold in them thar lesson plans! Here’s a great link for looking at what’s being bought & sold nowadays on the lesson plan market: http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/

You don’t hear about it much anymore, but some language schools here in our neck of the woods expect teachers to sell a particular line of textbooks to their students – and the school takes a cut out of the price charged. So isn’t it just plain tit for tat if teachers make a little something on the side from the sweat of their own intellectual brows?