Sunday, November 15, 2009

I Got My Mind On My Money and My Money On My Mind

Oh friends! My heart is literally pounding for I am angry! Irritated! Astounded! And no,before you jump to conclusions, this has NOTHING to do with the Bacon Hunter! (Surprised?)

Today I am angry because I finally read the story from Sunday's New York Times (MASSIVE kitchen re-organizing took over my life this weekend....grueling and intense, but well worth it. I do heart an organized kitchen!!). Did you see this article? If you didn't, you can check it out here. It's the one questioning whether or not teachers should be allowed to sell their own lesson plans for profit or whether said lesson plans are actually property of the school. I'll give you a moment to read and for my heart to slow down. I think I'll have a seat (prior to now, you should have imagined me pacing and ranting) and put my head between my knees.

Ready? I'm feeling a little better now (thank you for asking). Where to begin? I think you can guess where Mrs. Mimi stands on this one! And while I encourage free debate in my comments, may I ask you to choose your words very carefully (VERY. CAREFULLY.) if you choose to comment (read: disagree with me) today.

Basically there are many, such as the fine people over at Teachers Pay Teachers (shout out to former NYC teachers....holla!), who believe that yes, this work and these ideas do indeed belong to the teacher. This is probably because these people recognize that most teachers (if not all teachers) create their lesson plans OUTSIDE of school and/or AFTER 3:00. They do this because there isn't even one single second of time during the day where they might be able to sit down and work out anything coherent...you know, 'cuz their days are filled with things like um, teaching, meeting after meeting after meeting, working with children who need extra help, frantically running to the photo copier, desperately trying to catch up on data collecting, or, you know, eating or peeing. JUST TO NAME A FEW.

One d-bag quoted in the article (I am debating about whether or not to name him here because he IS named in the article....um, hi, target on your back much? But, have decided he doesn't even DESERVE naming here in my space - a TEACHER'S space. So we will call him Mr. D-Bag In A Suit since I feel there is no way he is not dry clean only...meaning, there is no way he has ever got down on a floor and worked with an actual child so why doesn't he keep his mouth SHUT!) said that he believes if the materials are created with school district resources that the school district should share in a portion of the profits.

(cover your ears)

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

1) How many RESOURCES have teachers actually purchased themselves to be used in said district with said district children? Does the district ever worry about that?
2) I guess if a teacher is literally copying an already published lesson out of district purchased curriculum guide, than yes. But honestly, we are SO MUCH SMARTER THAN THAT! I've taken a gander at some of the materials offered and they appear to be original material with ideas original to the teacher.
3) If Mr. D-Bag In A Suit is so worried about equal compensation for the possible/alleged use of district resources, then is he also concerned with the equal compensation of teachers for their use of non-school time to create these lesson plans (also known as over time?) I mean, I had to punch a time clock (true story) reinforcing that I was only paid for the hours between 8 and 3 while also cementing the idea that I was perceived as a contractually bound unionized worker (whether I wanted to be or not), rather than a true professional. I'm sure true professionals, who are paid true professional wages, would have no problem with working after the children went home. However, we are not considered true professionals in the eyes of too many, are definitely not compensated as true professionals and therefore feel free to complain about suggestions made my douche bags implying that we should share profits made from intellectual property created on our own time. BECAUSE YOU KNOW WHAT?? WE MAY COMPLAIN ABOUT THE EXTRA HOURS BUT WE ALWAYS DO IT ANYWAY BECAUSE WE ARE FABULOUS! (I am aware that I have started yelling.) (Phew. Must take breath.)

But while I'm all heated up, let's move onto another genius bit of commentary....a gem I found in the comments section of this article. An actual professor (of what I don't know) stated that teachers constantly complain about working 40 plus hours a week because evidently he thinks that teachers are the only ones who complain about their hours at work. I don't know about you, but I have heard plenty of people in plenty of careers bitch plenty about their lack of a work/life balance. This individual then moved on to state that teachers are desperate to be considered professionals but are unwilling to incur the obligations of true professionals. Um....exactly what does this guy think we SHOULD be doing that we are currently NOT doing? Because my plate always felt insanely full - both with teaching related tasks as well as the tasks of some of the lazy shmoes around me. Does this fool mean that I should be wearing more dry clean only clothing? Or is he going to rely on the old "you get summers off and therefore aren't a professional person" argument. NEWSFLASH ASSHAT - WE DID NOT ASK FOR/BEG/OR DECIDE TO HAVE SUMMERS OFF....IT HAS BEEN THAT WAY FOREVER! (And if you, Mr. Professor, snap back with a witty retort such as "well, summers off are why you got into teaching in the first place", I shall have to slap you. Hard.)

However, the article also includes the lovely story of a veteran teacher who gave thirty years of her life to this career. After putting her own original lesson plans up for sale, she was able to finally realize her dream of redoing her kitchen. A dream which a teacher's salary alone could not support. Now the lesson plan sales may not have paid for all of it, but that money certainly helped.

The article also includes the stories of several other current teachers many of whom use the extra funds to purchase materials for their classrooms or treats for their students. (Many of these materials are necessary for excellent instruction, yet were evidently not provided by the district with district funds. Just thought I'd point that out for Mr. DBIAS.) Yes, there are a few stories of teachers going out to dinner or (gasp!) making mortgage payments, but I think we can all agree that teachers deserve a few simple pleasures such as food and shelter, can't we?

There was also talk in the article of how charging for lesson plan ideas cheapens the field of teaching which thrives on the free exchange of ideas. I don't know about you, but when I was teaching, I gave away plenty of my own ideas to my colleagues (super or not) for free all the time. ALL. THE. TIME. Of course we don't charge to share with one another in the same building. However, having a market place where teachers can share and profit from their ideas with colleagues around the world whom they have never met is a totally different ball game. (In my opinion.) Yes, you can find resources for free or you can choose to spend a little money on them. To me, it's no different than going out and buying a book on reading comprehension to help beef up your instruction.

There is the implication that such an exchange will encourage teachers to be lazy (I HATE that so many people assume we are lazy...what is THAT about?) and add no original thought to the work, basically poaching the ideas of others to make their job easier. First of all, too many school districts are purchasing scripted curriculum which rob teachers of the ability to think for themselves or cater instruction to their children so clearly, many school districts don't have a problem with teachers simply reading from a script. (I have a problem with this, but we'll save that for another day.) So to those school districts, I say "quit your bitching." To others who believe that too many teachers are simply hitting print and listlessly going through the motions....well, that makes me sad. That may be happening in some places, but resources such as TeachersPayTeachers did not create that problem. Yet, this line of thinking doesn't consider that many teachers are also using these resources as a starting point which they will adapt to their own style and the needs of their current students. Why reinvent the wheel? Why not benefit from the shared ideas of other professionals even if it is at a minimal financial cost? Is that any different than using a free lesson plan to jump start you thinking about a new unit? Or using a published book to change the way you teach? I don't think it is.

What do you all think? I know that in Mrs. Mimi's new website (coming soon!!) there will definitely be a space for teachers to exchange ideas and lesson plans -some for free and some for profit. I think it's a way to acknowledge hard work and compensate excellent teachers for their contributions.

24 comments:

Mike G said...

1. I'd love to see more post-for-$ lesson plans.

Real issue: so much total crap lesson plans on each LP website. It's rarely worth the time to dig. Easier to just make it yourself.

Markets can solve that. A few teachers will hopefully emerge as $100,000++ per year earners -- b/c their stuff is most appealing to...teachers.

The key is going to be to be able to get entire teacher-generated units, or even year-long curricula...where Ms. X's Algebra 1 is used INSTEAD of Houghton Mifflins.

If you like 3 lesson plans from Ms. X, you're probably going to like 180 of 'em that are connected coherently.

2. Ms. M, "Does the district get a cut" issue is less black-white than you say.

Right now it's small potatoes, so simply silly for districts to horn in. Let the lady redecorate her kitchen.

Still, as pie grows, consider: universities often have agreements with professors around intellectual property created by profs. They split proceeds in some fashion.

I'm not advocating same for districts, I'm just saying it's not a nutty idea.

Mimi said...

Mike G,
First of all, you are lovely and I can totally see your point. It is a tricky issue but in my Rant and Rage state, things do seem a little black and white (I can be a bit blunt from time to time!). But you're right, as this issue continues to develop and if/when the market continues to develop, this will need to be factored into teachers' contracts or dealt with in some way...

Thanks for reading!

Tom Hoffman said...

I'm not a lawyer, but I end up having to know a lot about intellectual property for my work in software development.

In most cases, work done for teachers for their classroom would be considered work for hire. Period. It belongs to the employer. If someone works 80 hours a week unpaid overtime on a software project, it is still the property of their employer.

Perhaps a happier way of looking at the situation is that the status quo currently gives teachers far more control over work created for their job than just about anyone else, and the people questioning this are a small minority. Shouting them down is probably a good idea, tactically. ;-)

OTOH, I don't think you have a legal leg to stand on.

susan said...

Maybe it's ok for districts to get a cut of the profit.....

.....IF districts will also agree to pay a cut of the cost for those teachers who purchase lesson plans?

John Spencer said...

I have a few random thoughts on this:

1. I don't want market norms deciding if a lesson is "good." Much of what districts pay for is total crap - i.e. McGraw Hill and its dirty grip on education.

2. I prefer to offer things free, because I believe in the vocation of teaching and the democracy of information. I have plenty of free resources on my site and will add free lessons eventually. It would cheapen it if I charged money for the lessons.

3. Districts are entitled to the money made off lesson plans only if it's a part of the contract. In the case of software, the product itself is the work. It's proprietary in nature. Teaching is not quite the same. Yet, software engineers often create their own open source programs independently. If districts want a cut of the profit, they have to state it in legal writing ahead of time. It might be even more gray when considering that the district has already purchased proprietary resources / texts. So, if a teacher creates something independent of the prescribed text (and is not being paid for research as is the case in professors) and chooses to use that independent resource in his or her classroom, it belongs to the original teacher.

4. People who are outraged that a teacher would buy lesson plans need to be equally outraged that teachers are forced to use prescribed texts, resources and curriculum. It's actually a waste of resources when a district buys a curriculum, while the teacher buying lessons is spending his or her money independently.

Danielle said...

I think that if the the districts want a cut of the profit, they need to realize that the work teachers do outside of the classroom should be viewed as overtime. When I was teaching I spent more time at home working than actually "being at home." I would have loved to a: be payed by my employer for the extra hours I was putting in or b: be payed for the lessons/activities/worksheets/etc I was creating.

sheldinski said...

I've got so many problems with this article.

First, I agree. How is this any different than purchasing a methods book from a bookstore? How does the "online" factor suddenly mean that a school district gets a cut? Teachers do consulting work all the time. That's another way to make extra revenue as a teacher. Are school districts suddenly entitle to that as well?

And I also disagree with Tom. I don't think that my lesson plans are work for hire. I work between 8-3:30. I feel that any lesson I create outside that time frame is my own work. To me there is a difference in what a software company and a school district should consider the product. The product for a software company is a program. The product for a school district is an educated child, or more likely, a high quality test statistic. (Let's not pretend that most school districts are out for anything other than higher test scores.)

Another difference I might point out is that, generally speaking, lesson plans are not copyrighted works. And I have never in my professional career as a teacher signed any such thing as a copyright transfer.

If a school district is willing to pay me overtime for the hours it took to create said lesson plans then, MAYBE, we can talk.

But, I'm feeling a "NO DEAL" bubbling up.

And good heavens, does this mean that every time I change schools I have to forget everything I've ever learned about teaching, or any of the lesson plans that I know work, and guarantee results. (See, results here aren't the lesson plan, they are the children.)

Cristal said...

I would be OUTRAGED if my district felt entitled to money from my plans!!! Where's a cut for all the money I've poured into my classroom? Selling plans straight from the curriculum would be wrong, but I have spent HOURS researching and personalizing lesson plans and feel I have rights over them! We all share with our fellow coworkers, but should be allowed to choose if we want to share with the world for free or profit.

The Millers said...

Tom -- I semi-agree with you. In fact, I brought up your point when I was discussing this issue with another teacher today. However, that software developer you mention probably makes a heck of a lot more money than I do. According to PayScale.com, a software developer with the same amount of experience in the field as I have in teaching makes between $50,000-$70,000 a year. PayScale also says that a teacher with that amount of experience only makes $32,000-$43,000 a year (I make $36,000). That extra money buys that "intellectual property," so the companies can assume ownership of any software developed by their employees. My district doesn't pay me beyond 2:30pm (and they make it a point to highlight that when it benefits them), but I often work until 10:00pm each night at home or at school. In short, I don't make that extra money that would "buy" my "intellectual property."

Stu said...

One thing I've learned about lesson plans is that (at least in elementary schools - primary grades) they don't always work as planned. Each teacher knows his or her classroom best...so another person's lesson plan, no matter how fabulous it is will nearly always have to be tweaked for a different class.

That being said, and ignoring the legal issues and precedents (yes, I know that in other industries work done is the property of the company...but what if I do the work during the summer when I'm technically "laid off" hmmm?), I think that it's wonderful for teachers to reap the rewards of their skills.

Share...sell...pass on your good ideas to the next generation of teachers, the colleague next door, or the one across the country. If money received is used for a new kitchen or a couple of night's out at a restaurant...so what? If the plan is good, and it works, then the children are benefiting.

P.S. *hugs, Mrs. Mimi

Christine said...

That is ridiculous that any DBIAS would think that our intellectual work should belong to the district we work for. With the curriculum, rigorous testing, and high expectations we are given, we must develop our own lessons to keep students engaged and meeting the standards. Like Mrs. Mimi said, we share, we collaborate but we also deserve a chance to afford food and shelter. There is nothing wrong with teachers earning extra income selling their own lesson ideas.

The perceptions people have of teachers are infuriating. Have they never met a teacher? We are far from lazy and in no way greedy (at least most of us aren't). To those people ignorant enough to say we do it for the summer vacation, I'd like to see you do my job for a month. Teaching is amazing but it is HARD work. I stay until dark, go in on the weekends, and think of ways to become a better teacher the rest of the time.

Grr...

Thanks Mrs. Mimi for getting angry for us!

Meanwhile, I keep dancing said...

Well said, everyone.

I agree with John--without specifically stating it in the contract, the districts don't have a leg to stand on.

The professor on the article also upset me, Mrs. M. I'm still physically ill at his reaction, actually.

Mike, while some college professors split intellectual property rights with their professors, it's not as if any and all work they produce becomes automatically and permanently the possession of the university. In addition, those professors are frequently publishing the products of their work at the university, e.g. experiments and research, which is actually what they are there for--for some, teaching is something they have to do to support their research.

If lesson plans aren't the intellectual property of teachers, then let's seriously consider work to rule. Counting an hour of lesson planning a day (with my previous experience and curriculum I created at previous schools)along with my English teacher's paper load, I wind up with at least 10 hours of work that cannot be completed in 40 hours a week. I'm not interested in trying to remember if I wrote a quiz at 8am, 3.20pm, or 4pm. Let's just say it comes out in the wash.

Tom, it's important to remember that teachers are being paid to teach--the product is kids who know what we were supposed to teach, not lesson plans. If I were being paid to produce lesson plans and not to teach, I would have far less stress in my life! Also, I could probably teach by regurgitating whatever Houghton Mifflin the district shelled out for, and kids probably could still learn. To me, this means that the work I decide to spend time on is mine.

Jimminy, I'm getting carried away. Thanks for the dialogue, everyone!

Caroline said...

I particularly "enjoy" the part where the journalist states that every lesson imaginable for preschool through college is available online. Really? Huh. Maybe I should just buy all of my curriculum and stop thinking for myself then...

Thanks for your thoughts, comments and wisdom. I can't think of a single colleague who would disagree!

Kirsten said...

I see your point.

But who will own your dissertation? I am pretty sure that you turn your rights over to the university that gives you the PhD. And you paid them in the first place.

And some lesson plans are only valuable with the curriculum that was in use at the time that the lesson plan was designed.

mollymaureen said...

Wait just a minute..... you have time to pee????????

Roger Distill said...

Excellent article - I share your rage!

Shouldn't the head/principal of any decent school/academy be absolutley delighted to cash in on the kudos of having teachers whose work is so good that it is being sold around the country/world? What a proud boast to parents and governors! What an encouragement to other teachers to produce high-quality schemes of work and other resources. Short-sighted doesn't describe it!

Grumpy Old Teacher
ict-grump.blogspot.com

Hugh O'Donnell said...

My take:

If the material is developed on school time, while the teacher is on the district clock, just as with any other corporation or business, the material belongs to the employer, and not the teacher.

If I develop something at home that I happen to use in the classroom, woe be to the administrator who tries to claim it as public property because it's not.

I cheer teachers who give away their hard-earned lessons and plans. I also support those teachers who will eventually make a few bucks because the stuff they developed at home is gooood stuff. :)

Tracey said...

Districts who would like a cut may have one.....if....they are willing to offer me help when I pay for my own actual writing curriculum or my own tools to enhance a lesson...wonder if it would all come out even in the end....NOT.

Urban School Teacher said...

This is a brilliant, brilliantly passionate post. I had already read the newspaper article and have seen the same issue being debated on numerous other edublogs.

I agree with you that my lesson plans - almost always completed out of the school building, at home, in my own time when I could be doing something for myself or actually spending time with family and friends and having a life - belong exclusively to me. It is my work. If I am able to make money from it to supplement my lousy pay, then I should be entitled to keep all of it in my own pocket. Neither the school nor the state should be entitled to a single penny. Where is the support from these people when I am up late at night creating the lessons? Exactly!

The deeper issue here is that teachers from all over the world are seeking ways to make extra money because the current pay structures fail to reflect the realities of the job. The local authorities and the schools cannot give us unacceptable levels of pay and then complain when we seek to supplement our wages by making extra money elsewhere.

Also, I agree with Mike G that the real market and therefore the real money will probably be found in the creation and subsequently the sale of entire units/schemes of work that can supplement and/or entirely replace current courses.

halpey1 said...

I have to agree with John - give it away. We should share and share alike. I tell my students, 'In Kindergarten, we share EVERYTHING!' I don't think anyone should have to pay for my lesson plans and I don't particularly like the idea of paying for others (I do feel you have should have the right to, however, if you so choose). Good teaching is all about collaboration and that should be free in my book.

Candice Chiavola said...

The article never addressed the the idea of copyright. I don't always feel comfortable giving out my lesson plans because someone can then pass them off as their own. However, if someone goes through the proper channels of selling them, pretty inexpensively by the way, there is a bit more security in where they came from.

How is publishing some lesson plans and getting money for them different than writing a book that has an appendix at the end for the teacher to make copies of? It isn't...the teacher still makes a profit off of the book and the other readers/teachers get the help they need. Are districts now going to suggest that teachers that have books published give a portion of the profits to the district? I hope not because in a lot of ways, the district just gives us a place to teach. Almost everything else we come up with comes from our own effort.

People make extra money on the side utilizing the skills they learn on the job. Those can't be owned or regulated by anyone but the professional.

Mark said...

I agree with John Spencer. Teaching is a community of friends that share, probably more than any other work, job, profession! Lesson plans that work and help students should be shared for free. Places like AtoZ, teachershare.scholastic.com, Yahoo's E-L-S sharing group are all free and help everyone do better.

Ruth D~ said...

Oh, and feel free to post a link to the IRB to share your review. ;>)

Ruth D~ said...

Sigh... I took an "early retirement" option, and no longer serve on the front lines, but it seems so foolish. Lessons plans work best for the teacher who created them for her own class. Sure they can be packaged and used by others, but that's like following a recipe and not having all the right spices to add.

I'm an associate editor for the Internet Review of Books, and today we published out annual holiday gift issue. I suggested your book as a great gift for teachers.

Copy and paste the url and scroll a bit.
http://internetreviewofbooks.com/holiday09/contents.html

Best of luck.

Who's Peeking?