WASHINGTON – For all those teachers who take work home at night, creating lessons they hope kids will like, the reward is a good day in class. Now there could be another payoff: cash. Teachers are selling their original lectures, course outlines and study guides to other teachers through a new Web site launched by New York entrepreneur Paul Edelman.
"It's a way to pat teachers on the back, to value what they do," Edelman said. "They create the material night after night. The best way to value that is to put a price on it."
Lots of Web sites offer lesson plans that can be purchased or downloaded for free. Yet Edelman says they don't cover a fraction of what teachers themselves have come up with. By offering them a way to make a buck, the 33-year-old former teacher says he's found a niche.
He's banking on it. Edelman cashed in his retirement fund and maxed his credit cards to launch the business in April. He keeps 15 percent of every sale, but he knows the only way he will really make money is by getting "teacher-authors" to pay the membership fee.
So far, he's recruited about 80. That includes eight former state teachers of the year who got free lifetime memberships.
Need a lesson about the history of China? How about a way to teach the Industrial Revolution through documentary photography? Or a manual for organizing a poetry slam?
They're all for sale. Many of the items go for only a dollar or so.
"We're all out there looking for different things," said Ron Hubbard, 36, a fifth-grade teacher in San Ramon, Calif., who has purchased 11 items for $41. "Each class is different, each year is different. You like to put your own little spin on it."
Hubbard, for example, picked up some timelines on American history, logic games for his gifted students, and a software program that lets him randomly select pairings of students. He's pleased.
"It's fellow teachers, so you figure they're going to give you a good deal," he said.
States decide which subjects must be covered in class. Textbooks provide outlines and exercises along with the basic facts. But teachers decide how to fill the gaps each day.
"This is what we do all the time — we're down in the trenches, sharing information. This just gives us access on a much wider basis," said Jim Smith, who teaches U.S. history in Las Cruces, N.M., and took the state's top teaching honor a few years ago.
Smith just made his first sale on the site. He isn't expecting to rake it in.
"I've got lessons on there for $3.50," he said. "I'm not going to get rich off of that. Maybe an extra night each month I'll get to go out to eat."
Jerry Caveglia, a retired 32-year teaching veteran from the San Francisco area, said he hates to see years of his original lessons go to waste. So he has posted 11 items, from a free list of excellent novels to a $10 unit on American studies.
"It's hard for new teachers to know where to turn," he said. "This way, you can go online, get the material and look like a star without anybody knowing where you got it from."
The site warns teachers not to post someone else's copyrighted material. If they do, their online store will be shut down and they may face legal consequences.
Reg Weaver, who represents hundreds of thousands of teachers as president of the National Education Association, said he's never heard of teachers trying to sell their lessons. He said he didn't know enough about the Web site to judge it. But he doesn't mind sharing ideas.
"This is the new generation of teachers we're talking about. They rely more on technology," Weaver said. "If something works, it doesn't matter where it comes from."
Teacher entrepreneurship isn't new, said Charlene Gaynor, CEO of the Association of Educational Publishers. Teachers have helped turn supplemental publishing — that is, the daily classroom lessons and materials beyond textbooks — into a $3 billion industry.
The new site is just another form of that, Gaynor said.
While students have been criticized for plagiarizing other people's work through the Internet, Edelman says that scenario doesn't apply here. Teachers are willingly selling their work, and those who buy it still have to apply it in their own way in the classroom.
Unlike eBay, the online auction site of everything from used cars to trendy sandals, Edelman's specializes in teaching materials. Teachers can browse through a range of subject areas, such as science, and then delve into subcategories, like chemistry and physics.
Edelman hopes teachers will be wooed by the little things. Every purchase is tax deductible. Every seller gets a 30-day money-back guarantee on the annual fee.
Overall, the project's fate will depend on how big the catalog gets — and how good it is.
"Why just give it away?" Edelman tells teachers. "This is what you've worked hard on."