On the Money

Etsy for teachers? TpT becomes hub for education materials

Teachers helping teachers
Teachers helping teachers

The Internet is a hub where virtually everything can be a commodity, and students with Web access have entry to a wealth of information. That same principle now applies to teachers.

Some argue that education is a learning tool that should be free nationwide, yet some teachers are starting to cash in on the same classroom lessons they teach, with help from an online education resource called TeachersPayTeachers.com (TpT).

TpT offers a combination of free and premium memberships. Premium sellers pay a $59.95 annual fee and a 15 percent commission on all sales. Basic sellers have a free account and pay 40 percent commission on sales.

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For some teachers, TpT sales have proven to be a big salary boost. According to the site, approximately 12 teacher sellers have become millionaires, while nearly 300 teachers have earned more than $100,000. Total earnings paid to teachers since the site's launch have been more than $175 million.

Founded in April 2006 by Paul Edelman, a former New York City public school teacher, TpT is the first and largest open marketplace where teachers share, sell, and buy original educational resources.

"We know that teachers don't have a lot to spend and we want to make sure every dollar is a dollar well spent," says Adam Freed, TpT's CEO, in an interview with CNBC.

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Freed, Etsy's former COO and a Google alum, describes the site not only a marketplace, but a global community of teachers collaborating in a new way. The idea is to create a resource center filled with content intended to enhance students' educational experience.

Materials on the site feature extensive lessons in math, science and English, and include various subject categories including seasons, holidays, arts & music, foreign language and social studies. Lesson plans are tailored to grades from pre-Kindergarten through high school, and also include homeschool and adult education lesson plans.

The benefit can be mutually reinforcing to students and teachers alike, Freed said.

"Everyone remembers that one teacher or that transformational moment when being in class changed their life," says Freed. "Teachers want to learn from one another to make education fun and smart for their students."

Angela Watson, a former teacher and educational consultant, is a seller on TpT. She sees the advantage of purchasing classroom instructional materials as a benefit to those with time constraints.

"What we see is there is a learning curve," says Freed. "It's definitely not Cliff's Notes for teachers. In order for you to get the most out of the lesson plans, you have to know what you're teaching and how you want to teach it."

"The average teacher spends many hours outside of school on work-related tasks like grading papers," says Watson. Instructors "might not have the hours of free time it takes to develop rigorous, engaging learning resources on top of everything else that's required," she added.

Another benefit Watson describes is the price point of the site's reproducible materials that have already been tested in classrooms by experienced teachers. The average teaching resource on TpT sells for $5.

"Many teachers would gladly pay $3 in order to get a ready-made resource and have their evening free to handle other tasks," she said.

"If a teacher wants a more robust resource, like a complete set of learning games or activities, she or he might be willing to pay a lot more, since the resource is comprehensive and covers all the necessary learning standards," Watson added.

Sold to Scholastic Inc. in December in 2006, Edelman repurchased the company in March 2009 and spun it back out as private business to Teacher Synergy, the company behind the site.

With more than 1.7 million available resources on the educational portal contributed by 3.5 million global members, the company estimates that in August 2014, 1 in 3 U.S. teachers downloaded learning materials consisting of lesson plans, quizzes, work sheets and other available items.

However, TpT insists it's not all about dollars and figures.

"The sharing comes first but then comes the educational impact," says Freed. "Sure there's a great business there, but for teachers who use our site, it's always all about the students."

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