Teachers Pay Teachers: What It Is and Why It Matters

teachers pay teachers, teachers
“Teachers Pay Teachers”-Fishbowl

If you are a teacher or know any educators you probably are well aware that the teaching profession typically is underpaid and under-resourced. For the amount of time teachers spend preparing for classroom instruction and grading tests, quizzes and assignments at home their effective hourly rate is very low. In other words, teachers easily may work well beyond 40 hours per week but they don’t receive overtime.

Teacher pay and the underfunding of public schools are two leading reasons for teacher strikes. Too many teachers are overworked and they typically receive low pay. In certain school districts there also isn’t enough money for students resources so underpaid teachers pay for them out of their own pockets. Here at Fishbowl we surveyed our teachers about how many of them engage in this practice and we found that is was almost all of them! 

“By bringing teachers together and giving them a chance to discuss important topics, such as unwritten policies that require them to pay for school supplies, we hope to highlight issues that need to be addressed by those with the power to do something,” said Mara Lecocq, our company’s brand and community director.

(If you’re a teacher and want to connect with other teachers on our app go here.) To make matters worse, every year there can be education budget cuts and in this case teachers can lose their jobs.

What is Teachers Pay Teachers?

It’s an online marketplace for teachers started in 2006 by New York public school teacher Paul Edelman. Teachers make their own products and upload them to the site so other teachers can use them.

If I want to sell or give away products on the site how do I start?

If you are going to upload instructional materials like lesson plans, workbooks and task cards to Teachers Pay Teachers you might try some that are free and others that are for sale. Providing free products allows potential buyers to try before they buy and get to know your products on a practical level so they can potentially build a relationship with your offerings and you.

Offering free materials is a content marketing strategy that has been proven to work in some situations. You can also create a blog with articles about your products and how to use them. When people are searching on Google and other search engines your articles may appear in the search results and you can get visitors to them which increases the probability that you receive greater visibility and more downloads of your products. More downloads means more sales.

In the first month you try using the Teachers Pay Teachers site you might have no sales at all. As you familiarize yourself with the site, choosing products to make, learning how to make them, creating them and uploading you will most likely see an uptick in interest. You will also see other teacher’s products in your niche and it will be beneficial to study these to see how well yours compare and if you are going in the right direction. Some of the site’s users can generate a decent side income selling their products while they do their full-time jobs.

Another benefit is that if you know your educational specialty area well you might have noticed products created by educational publishers miss the mark sometimes. Knowing this helps you have an advantage over them because teachers are in the classrooms every day of every school year working with students so they know first hand what is effective and what isn’t.

Will I make a lot of money?

It depends what you mean by a lot of money but most likely not. The top seller on the site reportedly has made about $2 million dollars but that’s an outlier. Most make far less than $50,000, which doesn’t particularly matter because the main motivation is supporting education not trying to become wealthy.

At the same time, the ability to generate a small side income is quite important for teachers who tend to be overworked and underpaid. An average annual figure for how much teachers have paid for student supplies has been reported to be about $470 dollars per teacher though in some cases that figure has been several times higher.

If a teacher pays $400 a year for a decade for school supplies that sum very obviously is $4,000 which is a lot of money for a middle class professional who might be struggling to pay personal bills like car repairs, health care, utilities and so on.

Teacher pay has been a central issue for decades. In the last several years, teachers have gone on strike to protest their low pay and lack of support. In some parts of the country teachers who didn’t strike were considering it along with their teacher associations or unions.

Teachers Pay Teachers provides an opportunity for teachers to offset some or all of those costs.

Why do teachers upload their products at all?

They want to share effective instructional products they have created or used and know are beneficial to students. Imagine the total inventory of instructional materials that have been created over the decades of mass education and how many were a waste of money and time because they were ineffective. With the Teachers Pay Teachers marketplace the ‘middle man’ is less relevant and materials are presented by the people who know what works — teachers.

Do I have to create products?

You can use the site without creating and uploading any products. You can get ideas of your own by browsing the site’s products, download free materials or buy the ones for sale. You can also communicate with other teachers and share information through the site’s online forums.

Communicating and collaborating with people who are outside your ‘comfort zone’ can be very stimulating in terms of having new ideas, learning different approaches and picking up new insights. A special education teacher who uses the site regularly explained, “You don’t always get an opportunity to talk to teachers who are outside your building. It’s great to see how it differs from teacher to teacher. Teachers from all over are able to take these resources and make them their own.”

In fact, there are hundreds of thousands of teachers who use the site.

How did Teachers Pay Teachers begin?

The online marketplace was created by the New York public school teacher Paul Edelman in 2006. He saw a huge potential in the value teachers generate every day in classrooms in the form of their original educational materials. 

“When I was a newbie teacher in the early 2000s, there was very little teaching content on the internet that was good. So like most teachers, I had little choice but to create my own resources — materials that eventually my colleagues started using in their own classrooms,” he said.

Teachers often improvise new materials to meet every day learning opportunities. By providing a marketplace teachers could collaborate, sell and make money. To date, the site has had about one billion downloads.

Not that long after its launch, the site was sold to a company called Scholastic. However, during the time of the Great Recession, Edelman was able to buy it back.

The money teachers pay each other also stays within the educational community rather going to non-teachers.

What are some of the site’s top sellers?

The website is searchable so you can enter keywords like top 100 products to see a list of numbered results. The products are searchable by grade level and subject matter to focus your searches. (Otherwise, you might spend a lot of time looking at materials that don’t match your needs.)

What are some benefits for teachers when they participate in the marketplace?

Aside from getting ideas they can use in their classrooms and learning from the other teachers on the site, teachers who create and upload products can learn about product pricing, product presentation, and product positioning. If they want to market their products they can make YouTube videos and blog posts for their own websites. Additionally, they can create their own social media accounts and perhaps even try developing their own podcasts. They can also learn new tools like Adobe Illustrator or InDesign when creating the products.

During each school year some teachers receive their paychecks throughout the entire calendar year and others get them only during the school year. For the ones on the 10-month schedule, they can choose to work during the summer or not, but for about two months they don’t have income. For many American adults, including teachers, not having income for two months is very challenging. So, having an online marketplace for teachers provides the opportunity to generate some income during these months.

How much do American teachers make?

Of course it depends on what grade level, years of experience, the school district and so on. The highest paid teachers usually teach high school. In US states like Alaska, California and New York high school teachers make well over $70,000 and sometimes over $80,000. That level might sound like a lot of money but cost of living is also high in those states. For elementary school teachers the median salary is about $57,000 and  these teachers typically make the least compared with the other grade levels.

In Las Vegas, a teacher who is just starting out makes only around $40,000 annually. The salary for an elementary school teacher in Kansas City is about $50,000.

One issue with these salaries is that in expensive cities home ownership might be out of reach, which means that career teachers in some areas of the country are going to be restricted to renting so they miss out on the financial benefits of home ownership.

Using Teachers Pay Teachers probably won’t generate enough side income to help buy a home but a number of teachers have been able to supplement their regular pay significantly.

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