The New York Times recently reported a new phenomenon among public school teachers. Thousands of teachers are selling their lesson plans online.

These teachers justify their actions by claiming that this not only gives them extra money, but ensures they get credit for their hard work. Some teachers use this money to buy more books and supplies for their classroom. Others use it to help with their mortgage payments or vacations.

Where are Teachers Posting their Lesson Plans?

There are many websites dedicated for the sales of lesson plans:

  • Teachers Pay Teachers, is one of the largest sites. It has more than 200,000 registered users and has recorded $600,000 in sales since it was started in 2006. The top seller, a high school English teacher in California, has made $36,000
  • We Are Teachers, advertises itself as a “knowledge marketplace” and includes lesson plans and online tutoring

What do Teachers Do with the Profits?

Kelly Gionti, a high school teacher in Manhattan has sold $2,544 worth of lesson plans for novels such as The Catcher in the Rye and The Great Gatsby. This extra earning helped her to buy more supplies for her class, and helped her finance trips to Rome and Ireland.
Margaret Whisnant, a retired teacher in North Carolina, uses her three decades of expertise in middle school classics and earns an average of $750 a month. She used this money for new kitchen counters and appliances.

Margaret Whisnant, a retired teacher in North Carolina, uses her three decades of expertise in middle school classics and earns an average of $750 a month. She used this money for new kitchen counters and appliances.

Each year, teacher budgets get cut and salaries remain fairly low in many districts. It isn't unusual for teachers to purchase extra supplies for their students and have jobs on the side to make ends meet.

Who Owns this Material?

As selling lesson plans has turned into a profitable business, many questions over ownership are being raised. If the teachers are using the school resources to develop these plans, some people argue that the school district should have a share in the proceeds.

Schools liken these lesson plans to intellectual property rights: If an employee comes up with a new invention at work using work resources and time, the employer usually has rights - not the employee.

However, in reality, most teachers spend their evenings, weekends and summers working on these plans. They don’t have time to write a plan during the busy school day. Teachers likely write these plans on their own time, in their homes with their own resources. As a result, the districts’ claims of ownership are probably misguided.

Unless the teacher's contracts expressly specify ownership of materials developed on school time, it’s likely that the teachers have full ownership and can profit from selling their work.

Must You Give Credit to the Seller?

Many teachers turn to these websites as a starting point to their own lessons and tweak them accordingly. They understand the benefit of not reinventing the wheel. Also, some newer teachers can use lessons already tested in the classroom to create their own plans.

If these teachers are buying these plans to fill in the gaps, then making the plans unique and their own, they would be entitled to ownership of the new material under standard intellectual property law.

Final Thoughts

Besides the legal issues, many ask whether selling lesson plans online impact the teaching profession and jeopardize sites intended for the free flow and exchange of ideas and lesson plans between teachers. There is a fear these entrepreneurial teachers may jeopardize the entire learning profession.

While there are arguments for both sides, teachers have found another avenue for their expertise and hard work that has a value in the marketplace.

Questions For Your Attorney

  • I want to use lesson plans I found online. Do I have to attribute them to the teacher who posted them? 
  • Can I get my school to reimburse me for money I spent on purchasing lesson plans? 
  • Does my employment contract say that the school owns my lesson plans?

Tagged as: Education Law, School Law, entrepreneurial teachers lesson, school law lawyer