In 2009, Laura Candler’s oldest daughter was ready to go to college. There was just one problem. Laura didn’t have the money. She didn’t want her daughter to get buried under a pile of student loans. So Laura found a fast, creative solution.
For years, the North Carolina based-school teacher shared her best classroom material online for free. She decided to create new resources to sell online. “Last year, I made more than 3 times as much money from sales of my teacher resources as I was as a classroom teacher with a Master’s Degree, 29 years’ experience, and National Board Certification.”
Eric Burnett also sells his classroom creations. He wrote a World History textbook, called Our World’s Story. So far, more than 100 schools have paid the $90 license fee. Students at these schools can access the book online. Burnett includes a vault of tools that these teachers can use. They include Burnett's own classroom videos, tests, lesson ideas, and student engagement activities.
He sells the package on his personal website. But thousands of other teachers juice their income by selling through an online company called Teachers Pay Teachers. Some have earned more than a million dollars, including kindergarten teacher, Deanna Jump. In a CNN interview she said, “Like 90 percent of the teachers in America, I was juggling bills.” Those problems are now behind her.
Her sales page includes 207 products. Four of her featured products include a Guiding Readers unit for $18. She sells a Back to School Math and Literacy unit for $9; a Math Guiding Kinders Workshop for $12; and a Writer’s Workshop unit for $10.
But not every teacher believes that selling lessons is a good idea. One such teacher won her state’s Teacher of the Year award last year. Wanting to remain anonymous, she told me, “This kind of selling goes against a culture of sharing. Many amazing teachers still share all of their work online for free. You shouldn’t have to pay for ideas.”
Laura Candler disagrees. “We don’t just upload our lesson plans and tests. We are authors who are creating fully-developed teacher resources. Many of them are free.” After selling lessons from her own website, Laura Candler also joined Teachers Pay Teachers in 2012. “In the past, teachers who loved being in the classroom always had their salaries capped,” she says. “But now, good teachers can stay in the classroom, live out their teaching passion and they can afford a decent lifestyle.”
It’s easy to see why teachers want to make more money. Wages are dragging behind the rising cost of living. Fewer school districts offer pensions. Teaching is also expensive. To maintain certification, teachers have to keep taking courses. In many cases, they pay for them out of their own pockets.
Most pursue higher education. According to the National Center for Education Information, more than half of America’s teachers hold Master’s Degrees. Many are swimming in pools of student loan debt—with a narrow ladder out. The average schoolteacher earned just $56,383 in 2013.
But if teachers are struggling, why are they parting with their hard earned cash to pay other teachers? The Common Core could be one reason.
The Common Core is a new set of education standards. It was introduced in 2010. Forty-five states follow the new guidelines. Teachers are scrambling to create lessons and grading rubrics that adhere to it. According to a national teacher survey, 87 percent of respondents said they trust other teachers when it comes to matching curriculum materials with the Common Core. Only 38 percent of respondents said they trust curriculum providers and publishers.
This could shake an old monopoly. Traditional publishers sell textbooks (hard copy and digital) to school districts or entire states. If teachers put more trust in their colleagues’ resources, it could create an industry-wide seismic shift.
But it takes plenty of work to create and sell high quality, online lessons. That’s one reason Laura Candler eventually quit teaching. “I couldn’t run my online business and still be the kind of teacher that I wanted to be.”
She says that teachers can’t just upload a few tests or plans and expect to grow rich. They have to make their work visually appealing. They have to promote it with a variety of online media sources. They have to keep making new material. It all takes plenty of time and effort.
Mrs. Candler, however, insists that those selling on Teachers Pay Teachers aren’t competitive. “We help each other. It’s like a community, allowing us to share sales strategies.”
Should teachers be in business for themselves? That could be open for debate. Perhaps it’s evolution. To survive and thrive, some of the strongest are adapting for the future.
Andrew Hallam is a Digital Nomad. He’s the author of the bestseller, Millionaire Teacher and The Global Expatriate's Guide to Investing: From Millionaire Teacher to Millionaire Expat.