Saturday, December 19, 2015

Teachers Shouldn't Have to Pay Teachers

In a recent chat with some friends of mine, we somehow got onto the topic of the impact of sites like Teacher Pay Teachers. Let me emphasize that this post contains my personal opinions. Please keep this in mind as you read the rest of this post.

Just in case you missed it - this is only my opinion.

I'm not a fan of teacher revenue sites like Teachers Pay Teachers. I've had long conversations with friends, colleagues, and my parents about the subject, and I feel like I should just put it out there. Most of the problems I have with those types of sites are the same issues I have with traditional textbooks (although most teachers don't have the option to make textbook purchasing decisions).

The Problems:

1. Value

If you ask teacher to "pay to play," you better make sure that what they're buying adds value for students.

Asking teachers to "pay to play" is asking them to dip into their already-limited resources. Any time you ask for this, it has to be for something that has a big impact on student learning outcomes. Is the purchased, static content really going to add that much value? What about those schools who badly need access to resources of all kinds - are they included in this model? Anything that requires additional demands on those limited resources better bring a lot of value to the table.

2. Flexibility

Are your students the same, year after year? In my experience, each year has a unique combination of personalities, and an approach that worked really well with one group won't work with another. Student-centered classes don't do the same thing year-in and year-out. Maybe the steps look similar (define a problem, identify a potential solution, test the hypothesis, analyze the results, iterate), but the content will change each time.

Static PDFs don't reflect an understanding and focus on our students; they prevent collaboration and sharing.

Static content doesn't change. It's not flexible. It won't accommodate different students, different interests, or different circumstances. Educators need the ability to modify, adapt, and change things as needed - that's why teachers need continual professional development after all the training and experience we get when pursuing a degree and teaching certificate. When you get a static PDF, you can't remix, modify, or re-share.

3. Mindset

Truly digital learning involve building learning experiences that simply cannot exist without technology.

Sites that perpetuate worksheets aren't encouraging digital learning - they're promoting digitized learning. If an activity is simply another worksheet, it doesn't matter if kids are doing it on paper or on an iPad - it's still a low-level learning task. To move toward student-centered learning, we need to shift the way we look at learning. Instead of focusing solely on answers, ask students to explain their problem-solving process. This is a lot harder to do with a low-level activity.

4. Exploration

I want to thoroughly investigate something before I decide to spend money.

I like to mess around with things, and experiment. I want freedom to explore and test, but any time I have to pay for something, I feel like I'm stuck with my investment. I have no problem paying for a service that I use and that provides value (coincidentally, Wikipedia could use a hand), but I want to make sure it's valuable before I shell out any bucks. If you're hiding something great behind a pay wall, how many educators are going to miss it because they can't access it without paying?

So What's the Solution?

It's easy to identify problems. It's simple to be a nay-sayer. It's much more challenging to come up with solutions to problems.

The problem these types of sites try to solve is clear.

Many teachers don't make a lot of money, especially when salary figures are compared to the cost of living in the associated region. and many teachers put a lot of work into the resources they create, and feel they should be financially rewarded for providing resources. For all their investment (not just in creating resources for use in the classroom, but all the work involved in becoming a teacher in the first place), educators often aren't seeing the benefit. I agree. Please read that again - I agree that teachers should be compensated for creating and sharing resources.

I'll write that a third time, just in case. Teachers should get compensation for the resources they create and share. I have no problem with earning money from your own hard work - we all need to eat. But there are ways to earn money, while at the same time providing resources for free

Advertising revenue can compensate content creators, while at the same time making those resources freely available. Donations through PayPal or Patreon can allow your audience to support you if they so choose. I strongly believe that the more a community needs resources, the less likely they are to be able to afford to pay for them, and research tends to agree. An organization I admire (and that I try to mimic as much as I can) provides its work for free for everyone - it's part of their mandate.

I don't use advertising on my site, and I don't include it on my YouTube channel. It's a personal decision I've made, but the value is in having alternative revenue streams as an option. As a content creator, I have the ability to decide if I want to monetize my work, while at the same time keeping it free for my intended audience - educators, and ultimately, students.

Truly digital learning involve building learning experiences that simply cannot exist without technology.

Personally, I don't believe that the value of my work lies in how much I can charge for it. It doesn't even lie in having my name associated with it. The work I do is valuable if it can help students learn. The more accessible it is, the more valuable it is. By putting anything I do behind a pay wall, it loses value. You may not agree, but in my opinion, by asking teachers to take money out of their pocket for my work, I'm reducing the value of what I do.