Why Teachers Pay Teachers Irks the MTBoS Me

The online math teacher community[1] has I have a problem with Teachers Pay Teachers (TpT) and I intend to explain my own understanding of why.

First, a disclaimer: The MTBoS is a loose confederation of teachers all around the world. I don’t even know it’s fair to say “we” share beliefs and practices. However, I think our community has come to rally around this one idea probably more than any other single idea: we share freely. We share freely to help other teachers out, we share freely because we know we get more than we take, we share freely because we understand more users help make a better product.

Those ideas are more than a grand altruistic vision. It’s not about all the feels we get from sharing, at least not for me.

Part I: Why Share Freely?

mp5ov

If I offer a resource for sale on TpT, I get an immediate benefit. What’s the benefit in sharing freely? There’s a great parallel in the world of software — a group that figured a lot of this stuff out before we hit the scene. Before I became a teacher 10 years ago, I worked in/around the free & open source software (FOSS) movement. Many around us wondered why anyone would spend their time crafting something just to give it away. These doubters also wondered about the quality of work that’s ultimately given away.

I think in our school buildings, plenty of us encounter territorial teachers. Those who feel like if they created it, they’re not gonna just give it to you. The MTBoS is completely opposite that mentality. We don’t even know you, but we’ll share with you our best lessons.

What benefit do I get from that sharing? Oh dear, this is where I’m going to come off to y’all as an egotistical jerk: I the ego boost of “Hey, I used your rational equations project. Thanks!” I like that someone trusted my work enough to put it in front of their kids and then found value in it. Am I circling back around and saying it really is all about the feels? Not quite. Have you heard of the gift culture? If not, go now and read Kate Nowak’s inspired words describing ours as a gift culture. I benefit from the gift culture — more on that later.

While I’m busy being an egotistical jerk over here, here’s another reason I like to share freely — y’all proofread my stuff and let me know about errors. Not to mention, if I share a half-baked idea with the MTBoS, y’all will help me brainstorm it into a complete idea. I definitely get more than I give from this community.

As a user of other teachers’ materials, I love that I can adapt your stuff to fit my classroom. Kindergarten teacher Matt Gomez has issues with TpT because he can’t adapt lessons (it’s mostly distributed in PDF). In the best applications of sharing, the user shares back with the developer ways the resource might be improved for all or mentioned as an offshoot at the source.

Part II: How TpT Subverts

So, let’s turn the corner now and look at Teachers Pay Teachers. TpT treats lesson materials as scarce commodities and therefore something of monetary value.

Teachers who participate in TpT see the immediate benefit of getting paid for their hard work whereas in the gift culture, the payoff is further out. Hey, I’ve been a single mom on just a teacher’s salary — getting paid is valuable. About getting paid through a store on Teachers Pay Teachers, my good friend @approx_normal says

I get that teachers don’t make a lot of money and this is a way to supplement that income. But we didn’t go into education thinking it would pay for luxury cars and vacations in the Bahamas. We went into education to make a difference in the lives of students and no one outside education really gets the trials and challenges of what we do everyday. We have to look out for each other because no one else will.

(she’s one of those altruistic types)

What does getting paid look like over at TpT? Approximately 2400 teachers made between $1000 and $5000 on Teachers Pay Teachers last year.[2] That’s nice money. Not as nice as this, though: my participation in the gift culture is 100% responsible for my current job. It came with a substantial raise from the job before. That raise was way more than I could’ve expected to earn on TpT last year. See what I mean about waiting for the long-term gains?

When you participate in TpT, you give up citizenship in the MTBoS gift culture.

Oh, we’ll still let you visit us (use our resources, read our blogs, and build upon our ideas) but what you lose out on are those long-term benefits of participating fully in the gift culture.

I have other concerns about the TpT gig, ways in which it subverts the whole gift culture because

  • TpT has no method of ensuring the seller has the rights to sell the product they’re offering. Several MTBoS’ers have seen their own creations go up on TpT without their permission.
  • Resources sold as PDFs (as I believe the majority of TpT stuff is) can’t be adapted for the purchaser’s classroom. Adapting and extending on another’s work is an important element in the gift culture.
  • “TpT is making money off of the teachers who use their services, so they’re using the teachers who sell things through them. It’s just another company taking advantage by making a buck off of education.” – @approx_normal

Part III: Why MTBoS Me and TpT Sellers Will Never Reconcile

Two words: culture clash.

The MTBoS is based on I believe in the gift culture while TpT is based on a capitalist culture. We have entirely different cultural norms and expectations. And excluding individual members being swayed by a blog post, people aren’t likely to change their minds. The comments on this post by Darren Draper illustrate how entrenched in our own cultures we all are.

So if we won’t move and the TpT’ers won’t move, is there any common ground? Andrew Rotherham, in Time’s School of Thought column had this to say:

Regardless of who foots the bill for more-effective lesson plans, this sort of professional sharing is long overdue. Too many teachers are on their own. It’s a sink-or-swim system, as [AFT president] Weingarten has often noted, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

I believe we’re all working to be our best in front of the children. Let’s keep that in mind next time we argue.[3]

Highlights from the Comments

  • Mary Dooms: “Teachers selling on TpT may be violating their teacher contract. If the lessons, activities, etc. are, “prepared by an employee within the scope of his/her employment” it is considered a work made for hire.” It’s a concern others have, but I’m giving TpT’ers the benefit of the doubt that they’ve already checked their contracts and are in the clear.
  • Moniki: “I just lurk in the shadows and learn as much I can, adapt these wonderful resources to suit my kids and teach and reflect in the hope that I suck less than yesterday. But if I got paid for sharing, I might share more easily – a sort of you get what you pay for mentality. Like “it’s only 5 bucks” or whatever, so this will do. Whereas now I prefer to wait until I can really contribute something valuable.” Not the only one to express this to me. Mind blown.
  • Cathy Yeneca: ““Freely sharing” and selling on TpT aren’t mutually exclusive. Presented as an “us” versus “them” issue, should any teacher who wants to be involved in “MTBoS” who happens to have items for sale on TpT just politely step away now, per your post?” She made me think, which is why I replaced MTBoS with me where appropriate above. I can’t speak for an entire community.
  • Sam Shah: “The MTBoS is big and doesn’t have a single philosophy or ethos. However there are a lot of people who do converge on a few key points — Megan hitting on what I think is one of them. It isn’t everyone, and I’m happy that not everyone agrees with everything…I don’t see it as an “us” versus “them” thing. I think if people find good resources on TpT and find it valuable and useful, awesome! Buy them. If people want to make money on stuff they create on TpT, cool! Sell them. We all have to do what works for us as teachers.”
  • cheesemonkeysf: “I think there’s just a cultural mismatch and a skew of beliefs about means and ends. Someone who sells on TpT is probably not going to post a lot in a community where the cultural norm is to share and share alike because they are trying to protect the value of their own materials that they sell. Similarly, I think that someone who posts/shares their materials via the #MTBoS is unlikely to participate much in the TpT world because we simply value materials differently…The reason I share materials and lessons and strategies via the #MTBoS is that I do so in order to improve my practice as a teacher.”
  • algebrasfriend: “But today, I asked myself the same question you did, should I just quietly quit that community. It’s clear they don’t want me. I participate in TpT. I’m not going to defend my choice.” At first glance, there’s conundrum here because I very clearly said there’s little overlap between my gift culture and your capitalist culture. Similarly, there’s little overlap between my religious beliefs and yours, I bet, too. Doesn’t mean I don’t want you around. Just that we don’t talk religion. Please stay. Contribute. Let’s just be aware that we have different motivations.
  • I Speak Math (Julie): “My main worry with TPT is not stolen lessons but it is that the “lure of the money” for underpaid teachers will entice amazing new teacher bloggers to save their best work to sale, instead of sharing for free…Some great bloggers are using TPT, many of them before they even started blogging. This is not a blog against you. I admire how hard you work. However, I would like all NEW math teacher bloggers to realize that TPT is a business. In contrast, what I would like for our community is not more business people, but more volunteers, who freely share their time and work. I would like to encourage new math teacher bloggers who benefit from our gift community to freely give back as well.” There’s that culture clash again. Folks, if you’re considering participating in Teachers Pay Teachers, realize it’s a business making money by offering you a marketplace, be hyper-aware that ideas and materials you download from the Gifters cannot be incorporated into something you sell (without express permission), and the Gifters hope you’ll share freely in addition to selling.

[1] also referred to as #MTBoS as an acronym for mathtwitterblogosphere.

[2] Source: TeachersPayTeachers.com/about. I refuse to link to them.

[3] Want to start a firestorm? Tweet this: “I love Teachers Pay Teachers! #MTBoS”. I’ve been meaning to check back in on Chris Robinson since he decided to monetize his sharing on Twitter.

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40 thoughts on “Why Teachers Pay Teachers Irks the MTBoS Me

  1. Another point to consider is the legal implication. Teachers selling on TpT may be violating their teacher contract. If the lessons, activities, etc. are, “prepared by an employee within the scope of his/her employment” it is considered a work made for hire. In other words the work is owned by the employer, not the teacher. Teachers should check their contract.

    • Great point. It was a major push of Darren Draper’s post I linked to. The reason I chose not to highlight it is that if my employer owns my work then I may not have the right to give it away, either.

  2. Like the teachers commenting on Dan Draper’s post, I work long hours at home for low pay and spend my own money for supplies. Because of this, I have been exceedingly grateful for the open nature of the MTBos.
    I have often seen interesting things on TpT, but can’t afford to spend money on a resource I can’t customize to meet my students needs. Even the free offerings on TpT are only good for mining ideas, since they are not customizable.
    Thank god for the MTBos, that puts out editable documents. And, more importantly, is willing to discuss questions I might have about revising or implementing their offerings.

  3. Another consideration: I suspect the desire for more income is a motive to post materials that are, shall we politely say, less than your best work. Other teachers pay for this crap and subject their students to less than what they deserve. I will admit to publishing work on my website as a pdf, because this makes things most easily accessible to my students. If I neglected to also post an editable document, just ask.

    • Completely understand the point that you may post a PDF on your blog when sharing out to other teachers. I think we all understand that you can just ask in the gift culture.

      As for the idea that teachers who post their stuff on TpT that may not be sharing top-notch work, that’s an interesting thesis. You’re suggesting there’s an element of making a quick buck among teachers? How dare you?! /sarcasm I bet every TpT fan who reads this and comments will feel compelled to tell you they’re posting their best over there*.

      * yeah, I jumped at the chance to use their/there/they’re in one sentence.

    • Luann,

      I have to say I agree with you. Right now I don’t contribute my work as I feel it is not good enough. I just lurk in the shadows and learn as much I can, adapt these wonderful resources to suit my kids and teach and reflect in the hope that I suck less than yesterday. But if I got paid for sharing, I might share more easily – a sort of you get what you pay for mentality. Like “it’s only 5 bucks” or whatever, so this will do. Whereas now I prefer to wait until I can really contribute something valuable.
      This is not just me – research confirms that the moment one attaches a price tag, people evaluate things completely differently. (Check out the work of Dan Ariely).

      Regards,

      M

  4. I don’t see why PDFs can’t be adapted for one’s own purposes. I use bits and pieces of PDFs I’ve found all the time in pulling together my own remix of materials. I would remove the idea that the resources you buy have to be used as-is from this argument.

    • Hm, you do have a point there. Screen capture tools, for one, do make it possible to take pieces from PDFs. Where that breaks down is if I want to reword something, change something in an image, etc. Would it read as a stronger argument that PDFs aren’t intended to be adapted?

      • You can easily take text from a PDF (I do that all the time). You can also pretty easily take images and tweak them a bit (I also do that pretty frequently). I would bet that PDFs are being used because they are easily opened from any device.

        I wouldn’t use screen capture tools for getting pieces of a PDF, though, because you’ll lose the resolution (and so it will look terrible when you print the document you’re making).

        I just don’t buy the argument that you can’t edit/adapt/dissect these materials. But I also wonder if I just feel more comfortable with using tech to create documents than the average internet-resource-finding teacher. Maybe?

      • My problem was that first I had to pay, then I had to convert to text and then reformat and refine. This is the most difficult with foldable templates that take much longer to design than a regular worksheet. I’m great with technology, but for me, it’s just not worth it. I don’t want to have to spend so much time on something I have paid for.

  5. The bummer of this post is the bigger-picture issue it articulates – if you sell materials on TpT, then you’re not welcome at #MTBoS. “Freely sharing” and selling on TpT aren’t mutually exclusive. Presented as an “us” versus “them” issue, should any teacher who wants to be involved in “MTBoS” who happens to have items for sale on TpT just politely step away now, per your post? Or are all teachers who are interested in growing in our practice of teaching mathematics welcome, regardless of an affiliation with TpT?

    • Oh dang, I usually hold back on my opinion whenever I fear it’ll alienate people. This is one of those times I second-guess every word I wrote.

      I really don’t want this to turn into some kind of holy war. It’s just that I see TpT and MTBoS as different cultures that are pretty much separate. Sure, some MTBoS’ers have TpT stores and I’d never dream of asking those folks to go away. For one thing, I really dislike the echo chamber that the MTBoS can be when dissenting opinions are absent.

      You said ““Freely sharing” and selling on TpT aren’t mutually exclusive.” I believe they are mutually exclusive. If you hold back on your resources so as to be able to sell them in your TpT store, then you’re not freely sharing.

      Not that I’m the one granting MTBoS membership or anything, but I ask TpT’ers to please stick around the MTBoS. I think though, that realizing our cultures clash is important.

    • I love this comment. I’ve had this conversation privately with a few math teachers, because TpT really does irk me. Here’s my personal thoughts.

      The MTBoS is big and doesn’t have a single philosophy or ethos. However there are a lot of people who do converge on a few key points — Megan hitting on what I think is one of them. It isn’t everyone, and I’m happy that not everyone agrees with everything.

      I personally think that everyone in the online math teacher community can do what they like with TpT. Seriously, I mean that. If you want to sell your stuff, that’s totally your prerogative. I even understand that desire!

      I don’t see it as an “us” versus “them” thing. I think if people find good resources on TpT and find it valuable and useful, awesome! Buy them. If people want to make money on stuff they create on TpT, cool! Sell them. We all have to do what works for us as teachers.

      But we all have to create our personal online networks that match what is useful for us. It’s impossible now to follow everyone on twitter or follow all the math teacher blogs. There are so many and I’m so grateful for that! The downside is that we have to curate our networks with blogs and people that are valuable to us individually. And me personally, I love the gift culture. I LOVE LOVE LOVE IT. So I don’t follow blogs/people who aren’t part of this gift tradition. Not because I have any animus. I just don’t feel like clicking on a link and seeing someone ask me to pay. I like sharing and having things shared with me freely.

      That doesn’t mean that everyone has to stop participating in TpT. It really doesn’t. What a teacher using TpT puts up there probably has value to a lot of people. It just doesn’t have value for me.

      I have no control over what others do, or where they find value. But I suspect though that many of us find value in the gift culture. And that’s probably why we personally curate our math teacher networks with people who feel similarly. So it might feel like an “us” vs. “them” mentality. But I suspect that is probably because a lot of us feel similarly about this one thing.

      (I’m sorry I’m not articulating this well… It’s hard to get this out clearly.)

      • Something I said above is bothering me — because it came out wrong. ARGH! I don’t think that TpT users/blogs don’t have value… And I don’t even mean they don’t have value to me. They probably do have tons and tons of useful stuff — and probably tons of useful things for me even if I ignore the TpT stuff.

        But I personally don’t want to see something intriguing, get excited about it, and then be asked to pay for something. It’s happened to me a few times and it is disappointing. I just don’t want that. So I choose not to have that. That’s all.

  6. My sense is that it’s a big overstatement to say that anyone who sells on TpT is unwelcome in the #MTBoS. I’m sure there are plenty of people who start in one direction move in another and vice versa. Rather, I think there’s just a cultural mismatch and a skew of beliefs about means and ends. Someone who sells on TpT is probably not going to post a lot in a community where the cultural norm is to share and share alike because they are trying to protect the value of their own materials that they sell. Similarly, I think that someone who posts/shares their materials via the #MTBoS is unlikely to participate much in the TpT world because we simply value materials differently.

    For my own part, I feel that the materials and strategies I share via the #MTBoS are pearls beyond price, as are the gifts I receive. When I stumble on things for sale via TpP, I never find myself thinking that about them. They just seem like good, steady, adequate workhorse materials of the kind I already have a lot of. So I’ve never yet been inclined to pay money for them. As we say in New Jersey, No disrespect.

    Also, I would say that the reason I share materials and lessons and strategies via the #MTBoS is that I do so in order to improve my practice as a teacher. I learn and grow from sharing and receiving feedback. That doesn’t seem to be the culture outside of the #MTBoS. Khan Academy doesn’t care about improving effectiveness for actual human students, and TpT vendors don’t seem to be actively soliciting feedback or new ideas (though I’d be happy to be proven wrong).

    All of which is to say, I think that Megan is right to say there’s little room for overlap between the two cultures. I don’t even know who runs TpT or what their business model is, but I doubt the business itself is set up to benefit teachers.

    - Elizabeth (@cheesemonkeysf)

    • TpT takes 40% of EVERY sale (for a basic seller) [https://support.teacherspayteachers.com/How-much-should-I-charge-for-my-products-c37-a45.html]

      Basic sellers: In order to earn a profit, you will need to price your products carefully.
      You earn 60% minus a $0.30 transaction fee for all items sold. Don’t underprice your items, and consider if the Premium Seller Account might be right for you.

  7. Maybe I’m a weirdo lone ranger here ;-) but I share regularly about my teaching and classroom experiences via my blog, with detailed descriptions about lesson strategies, samples of student work, resources, photos of lessons in action, … I just happened to be a TpT’er long before becoming a blogger or math Tweep. I live in both the world of sharing about my practice and TpT’ing, and it suits me well.

    • And that’s cool!
      “To each their own.”
      That’s true for you, and that’s true for me!

    • So, I popped on over to your blog and see that you do, indeed share a ton of free stuff. I’d say you write one of the few TpT’er blogs that isn’t just a short plug for your store.That’s refreshing. Pinterest links are the worst for this TpT promotion. As Sam said, “to each their own”. And I’d never call you a weirdo!

      • Thanks for the visit! Just trying to be a voice for others who may not be as comfy posting – I don’t want to see anybody shy away from #MTBoS who is genuinely wanting to share and improve their practice. I want the message “to each their own” to ring louder than “#MTBoS does not welcome TpT-types” and I think our dialogue here shows that – so, thanks!

    • Cathy – I’ve been watching this conversation unfold today. I have had a range of feelings because for the past year I have participated in MTBoS … reading, contributing, replying, and learning so much! I’ve felt on the outside much of the time … and I’m quick to own that, I’m pretty much an introvert. I’ve loved the discussion among the key players in MTBoS about how to involve more math teachers.

      But today, I asked myself the same question you did, should I just quietly quit that community. It’s clear they don’t want me. I participate in TpT. I’m not going to defend my choice. I feel no need to do so. I share widely. And I choose to also offer some material for sale. I don’t use my blog as a sales platform … that’s my sharing platform.

      And I have never felt in conflict until today. I’m glad you spoke up. Didn’t want to leave you out there on your own though.

      I’m confused by this MTBoS group. They seem to want to be inclusive, and yet, today’s “big” deal doesn’t feel that way at all. Guess I’ll have to give this some time. Not sure where I fit in as far as the online community goes.

      • Algebrasfriend – I understand your conflict, and share it, which is why I had to speak up a bit and not just fade away… or allow myself to feel like I have done something… “wrong” perhaps? I have learned (just like we tell our students) that if I have a question, others probably have it too, so I ask. Over-generalizing about any one group of people over anything is not a good idea. I commit to share and participate in a group of folks just as crazy about students and math education as I am. I’m going to risk the implied impossible and *gasp* continue to share AND sell! Are you in too? :-)

      • More than likely … definitely continuing to blog, share, and at least listen in to this group. I signed up to do the MTBoS activities again this year. My TpT stuff … well it’s there … doing its thing.

      • I’m glad you’re both up for the challenge, Cathy and algebrasfriend! We can definitely get along. My purpose today was to highlight what I see as a cultural divide, not make enemies. For much the same reason, I prefer the “salad bowl” description of cultural diversity rather than the “melting pot”. We can retain our individual flavors and live together. Maybe even, *gasp*, learn from each other.

        Algebrasfriend, glad to hear you’re doing the challenges this year! Explore the MTBoS is an amazing project led by great people.

        Thank you both for speaking up. For every one of you, there are 10 lurkers who just read this post, got pissed, and moved on. I can’t have discussions when no one shows up to talk.

      • Megan – not wanting to drag this out … but have to say the original post did not sound like a salad bowl at all. I’m glad to hear you use that term. I did the MTBoS initiation last year … was looking forward to it this year. Today … not feeling that excitement … we’ll see.

  8. Megan, thanks for writing this post. You have expressed something I have felt for a while but never articulated (publicly, that is). Long before I became immersed in the MTBoS – which is any time before the past year – I scoured the internet regularly for materials as I wrote my curriculum, put together new courses, and looked for differentiated resources, and I am grateful for the many generous teachers who I will never meet but who made my life a little easier, and helped me become a better teacher. Whenever I was or am able to thank someone via email or website, I do. And I have always posted my own work on websites where it is freely available – whether it is on my wiki, blog, or sharing websites like betterlesson.com. Sometimes I feel like there are only tweaks we share on existing ideas; nobody really ‘invents’ new material. Every teacher brings their own personality, teaching style, and knowledge of their students as they use any resource they have. I understand that we all have financial needs, and that teaching is not a necessarily lucrative profession, but I would never want to supplement my income with the hard-earned dollars (and I know exactly how hard-earned they are) of other teachers.

  9. And, BTW, I’m going to borrow your Rational Equations project! ; )

  10. Pingback: Favorite Resources – MS Sunday Funday | I Speak Math

  11. Reblogged this on I Speak Math and commented:
    When I first decided to go back into teaching after taking almost 10 years off I was pretty excited. I was also pretty scared. I knew things had changed in education, and I was going from teaching high school to middle school. Luckily, I was accidentally exposed to math blogs at a NCCTM meeting that I had recently attended. It led me to Dan’s blog and then a host of others through blogs and twitter.

    I was completely amazed, an incredibly grateful, that Dan and other math teacher bloggers openly posted everything they made FOR FREE on their websites. Sam’s virtual filing cabinet, Kate’s folder of Row Games, and Shelli’s I Love Math.org pretty much blew my mind. After teaching in a school district where teachers in my own building did not want to share their materials, I could not believe that I could find all of these amazing, editable lessons for FREE online. I admit that I freely stole and adapted as much as I could find. I can’t even express how much this helped me when I was brand new, and starting over. Exposure to this wealth of excellent teaching material changed my teaching practice forever.

    Since I was desperately searching for resources, I discovered Teachers Pay Teachers soon after. However, it frustrated me. First of all, since I was starting over, I needed many lesson ideas and $3 a lesson would add up fast. Additionally, as a lesson modifier, I had trouble with the pdf files. I could convert to text or take screen shots, but that was a lot of work for a lesson I had to pay money for. I also noticed that many lessons on TPT were similar to editable ones found on bloggers websites for free! It just took a little more searching (or simply asking for ideas on Twitter) to find these lessons. But most importantly, every lesson on TPT did not come with a heart-filled blog full of methodology, pictures of their students doing the lesson, thoughts for improvement, and great commentary from other bloggers. THIS is what I had become use to, and treasured in each and every one of the lessons that I found for free on every bloggers site. These bloggers and their commenters are what inspired great ideas that helped me adapt their lessons to fit my needs.

    Yes, I have had my bad experiences as well that taint me against TPT. I have had material that I developed reformatted and sold. I have seen other teachers original material treated the same way. And I have had tense conversations with TPT bloggers who even swear they created stolen materials. I like to look for the best in everything, so I am assuming that this is the exception, not the rule. No, my main worry with TPT is not stolen lessons but it is that the “lure of the money” for underpaid teachers will entice amazing new teacher bloggers to save their best work to sale, instead of sharing for free. This may be selfish, but nothing makes me happier than seeing a new math teacher blogger arrive on the scene. It is the reason that I have been involved with the blogging initiative for two years in a row. That initiative is an incredible amount of work for me. But it is worth it if I can get more math teacher bloggers online, freely sharing their incredible materials with others. THIS is the way that our community grows and helps each other.

    Some great bloggers are using TPT, many of them before they even started blogging. This is not a blog against you. I admire how hard you work. However, I would like all NEW math teacher bloggers to realize that TPT is a business. In contrast, what I would like for our community is not more business people, but more volunteers, who freely share their time and work. I would like to encourage new math teacher bloggers who benefit from our gift community to freely give back as well.

  12. Megan,
    Very interesting post. Before I comment, full disclosure: I have taught middle school math for 26 years, have my own website that sells math downloads at DigitalLesson.com, and also post my materials on TPT.

    While I understand the allure of the “gift culture,” I consider myself to be in the self-publishing business and to be an entrepreneur. Instead of teaching summer school or getting another job in the summer like some of my friends, I create math lessons, projects, and programs that help me to support my family. This past summer I spent 150 hours creating Common Core Math Warm-Up Programs for both 6th and 7th grade math. I always include full teacher instructions based on my past experiences so that teachers can be successful the first time.

    I love creating these resources, think I am pretty good at it, and it blesses me incredibly to hear back from teachers all over the country (and internationally) telling me how my resources have helped them.

    If I were to meet you in person I would let you know that I have a website for math teachers and would be happy to share anything from my site that you would like – for free. I never sell to people I have met in person. Just last week I went to the other 6th and 7th grade math teachers on my campus and offered them my resources for free (and they accepted).

    That being said, I definitely would not have spent 150 hours of my summer creating resources that would not give me a financial return. I would have been out working another job.

    On my website and on TPT teachers can take a good long look at the preview pages for each of my math programs, lessons, and projects. Then they can decide if purchasing my Amateur Architect Fraction Project for $9.00, which they can use every year throughout their teaching career, is worth their money. The project probably took me 10 hours or more to put together and format, yet they can have it in their hands in minutes for a few dollars and save themselves time and energy.

    I also refund the money of any unhappy teachers but this rarely happens because teachers already know exactly what they are getting by looking at the preview pages.

    I sold my first lesson back in 2004 and I know that I have helped many teachers who made the decision that paying me for my time was more convenient and easier for them than creating for themselves.

    The opportunity to be able to tap into the talents of so many other teachers through a medium such as TPT is an incredible chance to benefit from the experiences and creativity of others. Personally, I am happy to pay for a resource that is top quality and that will improve my teaching. That is why I bought Steve Marcy’s Pizzazz books with my own money when they came out and didn’t begrudge him the fact that he would profit from his hard work.

    While I understand teachers taking a personal stand that they will not purchase from other teachers, I believe it is wrong thinking when people criticize those who spend long hours to create and then expect them to give it all away for free. This is a new age. Anyone can publish a blog, a YouTube channel, a Kindle book, etc. We don’t complain when we pay Prentice-Hall or another publisher for materials, so why treat an individual differently?

    The market will determine that “junk” only sells to one or two people before their negative reviews cause others to shy away. Conversely, when many teachers have reviewed a math resource and given it tremendously positive reviews I am happy to support the resource creator.

    I wish all of you math teachers reading this blog a wonderful week positively impacting the lives of your students! Aloha!

  13. There is a place for both the TpT folks and the MTBoS gift culture. They both have their place and offer their own rewards.You can belong to both or neither and reap the rewards. There is no reason for them to be exclusive. MTBoS is an amazing place to think about your craft as a teacher, to put it out there for others to improve on, chew on , make it their own. It makes us all better teachers when we challenge ourselves and each other to improve a lesson, develop better questioning strategies, explore alternative assessments. So many teachers that never post a blog, a tweet, a comment, still read, rethink, refine what they do with kids because so many math ( and science) teachers put themselves and their lessons, practices etc out there, for us all. Thank you, from the bottom of my hear! I am the entire 6-8 math and science dept. for my school. Get your head around that for a moment. I teach six different preps a day, sometimes seven ( sometimes including 3 different lab activities) with no one to share lessons, or bounce ideas off. I don’t have time to write up lessons plans that can be posted anywhere or put together great handouts or foldables, but I can teach the hell out of a good idea wherever I find it. I’ve been to TpT and found some good free materials, mostly stuff that I can use without much tweaking, a good reinforcement game etc.. Some of it is new and creative, some is kind of familiar just packaged different. But honestly, I pay for almost none of it because there is a ton of free stuff available. I appreciate that these teachers are willing to put their time and energy into creating materials and that there is a place where they can publish them and choose what to charge for them.In the past, a few teachers wrote for publishers that controlled content etc and they were sold through school supply stores. While TpT isn’t perfect and the owners profit from it, teachers, not publishers, are choosing what to put out there for sale and how much if anything to charge for it and that in itself is refreshing.

  14. I’m a stalker. I have reaped the benefits of the many generous people who freely share their resources. I have taught for so long that I remember what it was like to teach before the internet. Because I have taught a new class every year for the past 7 years, I never feel like the stuff I make is good enough to put online, so I don’t share freely outside of my district. But, I know I’m close.
    I had to respond to this post after reading the last few people trying to explain why they sold their materials online. This is what I keep thinking about– I haven’t seen a raise in salary for years and I’m feeling the pain of almost 20 years of having a less than adequate paycheck. How is teachers paying teachers morally acceptable? Maybe I’d be okay with this if it were SCHOOL DISTRICTS pay teachers or CORPORATIONS pay teachers, but TEACHERS pay teachers? My god! I can barely pay for groceries.

    • Hi Oaktownmath,
      Thank you for your 20 years of service to students and their families. I understand that not everyone is in a position to purchase materials from their own funds and some schools and districts are unable or unwilling to help out. I would be happy to share some of the resources off of my website DigitalLesson.com with you. Just send me an email to mark@digitallesson.com and let me know if any of my materials would be helpful to you.
      Have a wonderful day!
      Mark

  15. I like that both communities exist, even though I stand pretty far to the #MTBoS side, if there’s a side. To me it feels similar to people not getting why I blog instead of publish in the university culture. But I’m glad that people publish – that’s important work. It’s not completely analogous, but if the TpT is what motivates teachers to polish an activity, to reflect, to share – those are what I want to see. Money for teachers, nice bonus.

    Any objections I have are based on the exploited workers feel of them making 40% off of your hard work for doing what blogs allow you to do for free.

    When I first started doing PD I offered it for free. Schools didn’t want that, and many teachers didn’t take it seriously because I wasn’t charging. I wonder if that helps teachers seek out TpT materials, attracted by the allure of proffesionalismishness.

    • To clarify, TPT only takes 15% if you pay a yearly fee of $60. Therefore, if you are just starting out on TPT it may make sense to have a free account and let them have 40%. You only need to make $240 to break even (with the $60 fee) so more established TPT sellers purchase an upgraded account and only pay 15%. That is a little more palatable than 40%, I agree!

  16. Mark, thank you for your pushback on my post. Between you, algebrasfriend, and mathycathy, I’ve updated my thinking in a few key areas:

    1. The MTBoS isn’t a single culture that all adherents agree to. This isn’t a religion, after all. I was wrong to say otherwise. A better title for this post and the sentiments within (which I’m updating shortly) would have been “Why Teachers Pay Teachers Irks Me”.

    2. You point out that “Anyone can publish a blog, a YouTube channel, a Kindle book, etc. We don’t complain when we pay Prentice-Hall or another publisher for materials, so why treat an individual differently?” Sam Shah’s reply of “to each his own” works great here. I have no problem with you publishing materials for sale. I stand by my original statement, however: “When you participate in TpT, you give up citizenship in the MTBoS gift culture.” If you’re selling stuff then you’re not part of the gift culture. Where I went wrong was to say/imply you’re not a part of the MTBoS. Part III above needs to be updated to speak from my own point of view. “Why TpT fans and I Won’t Reconcile”. It’s nothing personal against you and your choices, just as I hope you won’t hold it against me that I share freely.

    Also, thanks for clarifying the cut TpT takes on sales if you pay for the premium selling account. A 15% fee isn’t unreasonable.

    Nancy, there absolutely is room for both cultures! By saying culture clash in my original post, I only meant to point out that we have different goals in participating. Just as I have no problem with [insert other country here], my US-centric culture clashes with theirs. Neither is right or wrong. Of course I have opinions in both national cultures and online teacher-ing, but that’s different! (And I feel for you on being the whole math & science departments at your school. That’s a tough position and makes planning time all that more precious.)

    Oaktownmath, some vendors are doing just that and charging my employer for the lessons/curricula they write. Who pays is just one of several reasons I don’t love TpT.

    goldenoj, two things:
    1. I like your analogy to the university publishing culture. It works on some levels — in that we don’t begrudge the publishers nor they us. It breaks down when you realize “Publish or Perish” is a thing and “TpT or Perish” isn’t.
    2. “I wonder if that helps teachers seek out TpT materials, attracted by the allure of proffesionalismishness.” Yes. We’re conditioned to expect free=cheap AND folks like me might put something out there that’s not quite finished because there’s got to be something good in there.

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