Some Thoughts on Teachers Pay Teachers

As an educator, I’m of (at least) two minds on Teachers Pay Teachers (TpT). On the one hand, I think that because teachers are paid less than other professional fields while working so many additional hours, they should have additional opportunities to reap the benefits of their hard work. On one of the other hands, I feel that even though time is a premium for all teachers, to nickel and dime teachers so that they can build their curriculum is problematic. I think of Doolittle’s Push-me/Pull-me (or to be accurate, Pushmi-Pullya). I have been tempted to enter their marketplace, but then also bear a little ick factor in knowing that I would also gladly share any of my materials with someone knowing that they needed help if asked. But then again, that money….

TIME recently did a longform piece on the pay gap in America around teachers’ salaries. A pay gap is the difference between professionals of one field to others with comparable education. To quote TIME, “In 1994, public-school teachers in the U.S. earned 1.8% less per week than comparable workers, according to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a left-leaning think tank. By [2017,] they made 18.7% less.” And as such, that means “teachers are now five times more likely to have a side gig than the average full-time worker” (Vox, Apr 2018). Lastly, to cite one more statistic, one in five teachers has a second job (EdWeek May 2018). So the drive to meet both needs, that of the ever-present time-crunch and the lack of income makes TpT attractive as both buyer and seller.

I visited the TpT site to research a little about being a seller in their marketplace. There are plenty of testimonials, etc. that let you know the benefits of selling on TpT. There are also lots of how-to videos on YouTube as well—very polished, branded videos from successful sellers. While most of the featured sellers are actively teaching in classrooms, I found that on the top sellers’ lists, there are a good many who are no longer actually teachers. I did not go through and comb all the seller profiles to get an actual number, but I was surprised to see that a good number of the larger “stores” were either vague about being active classroom teachers or were using former experience to validate their curricula.

This doesn’t mean that TpT lessons aren’t any good. Beg, borrow, and steal has often been a mantra for teachers looking for a good lesson or unit (a mantra that hints at desperation). The idea though that one is supporting a fellow teacher is becoming a bit of a fallacy with the format. Perhaps it started with teacher sellers, but TpT is now really a publishing house, rather than a place to share resources. I’ve seen units, lessons, books that sell for over $20. For teachers looking to save some time (who may be working a second job to boot) that can add up. Sure, the items are reusable annually, but that’s only as long as that teacher is teaching the same grade level or content the following year. Depending on enrollment numbers, a kindergarten teacher could be moved to teaching second grade the following year, meaning that their TpT items, for the most part, are no longer useful.

So what do I make of TpT? I waffle. Ask me any given day, I’ll give you any given answer. What I do know, is that TpT exists in a realm of education that complicates our work. Everyone wants teachers to do well, and it seems like everyone is also ready to charge for the teacher for the materials it takes them to do so. And that’s where I’ll leave it, because perhaps it’s not so bad to have one more avenue to resolve that last-minute late night anxiety that can come from not being sure of what you’ll teach in the morning—so long as you can weigh it against the money anxieties of your paycheck(s).

Some articles on the pay gap:

“At least twice a year, every employee goes to a classroom. It's a great experience because we get to see what it's like to actually teach in a real classroom. It's really interesting and helpful” (TPT Website).