A close-up look at NYC education policy, politics,and the people who have been, are now, or will be affected by these actions and programs. ATR CONNECT assists individuals who suddenly find themselves in the ATR ("Absent Teacher Reserve") pool and are the "new" rubber roomers, people who have been re-assigned from their life and career. A "Rubber Room" is not a place, but a process.
What kind of tunes do you think Iago,
the villain in William Shakespeare’s “Othello,” would listen to if he had an
That is the kind of question that Laura Randazzo, an exuberant
English teacher, often dreams up to challenge her students at Amador Valley
High School in Pleasanton, Calif.
So, when Ms. Randazzo heard about TeachersPayTeachers.com,
a virtual marketplace where educators can buy and sell lesson plans, she was
curious to find out whether the materials she had created for her own students
would appeal to other educators.
“For a buck, a teacher has a really good tool that she can use
with any work of literature,” Ms. Randazzo said in a phone interview last week.
“Kids love it because it’s fun. But it’s also rigorous because they have to
support their characterizations with evidence.”
She clearly has a knack for understanding the kinds of classroom
aids that other teachers are looking for. One of her best-selling items is a
full-year collection of high school grammar, vocabulary and literature
exercises. It has generated sales on TeachersPayTeachers of about $100,000.
Speaking from her tiny home office, formerly a bedroom closet,
Ms. Randazzo still sounded amazed at her success.
“What started out as a hobby has turned into a business,” she
Teachers often spend hours preparing classroom lesson plans to
reinforce the material students are required to learn, and many share their
best materials with colleagues. Founded in 2006, TeachersPayTeachers speeds up
this lesson-plan prep work by monetizing exchanges between teachers and
enabling them to make faster connections with farther-flung colleagues.
As some on the site develop sizable and devoted audiences,
TeachersPayTeachers.com is fostering the growth of a hybrid profession:
teacher-entrepreneur. The phenomenon has even spawned its own neologism: teacherpreneur.
To date, Teacher Synergy, the company behind the site, has paid
about $175 million to its teacher-authors, says Adam Freed, the company’s chief
executive. The site takes a 15 percent commission on most sales.
A former chief operating officer of Etsy and former director of
international product management at Google, Mr. Freed is a veteran of
data-driven growth companies. By selling tens of thousands of items, he says,
12 teachers on the site have become millionaires and nearly 300 teachers have
earned more than $100,000. On any given day, the site has about 1.7 million
lesson plans, quizzes, work sheets, classroom activities and other items
available, typically for less than $5. Last month alone, Mr. Freed added, more
than one million teachers in the United States downloaded material, including
free and fee-based products, from the site.
“If you have a kid in school in America, they are interacting
somewhere with TeachersPayTeachers’ content,” Mr. Freed said in an interview
last week at the company’s headquarters in Manhattan.
Mr. Freed took the helm of Teacher Synergy in 2014. One of his
first tasks was to bring the technology behind the homespun company up to date
without introducing radical changes that might upset its following. That goal
has become more urgent now that TES Global, a British company with its own
teacher-to-teacher marketplace, has entered the American market.
Last week, for instance, TeachersPayTeachers introduced an
iPhone app from which educators can buy materials. The app replaced an older
version that allowed users to look up products but, oddly enough, not to
“We were not a technology company until very recently. We were a
teaching marketplace with a technology underlay,” Mr. Freed said. “Now we are
trying to be both.”
The site’s popularity with teachers reflects the convergence of
a number of trends in education and technology.
For one thing, school districts around the country have been
introducing new learning objectives, called Common Core state standards, for
different grade levels. That has sent tens of thousands of educators to
TeachersPayTeachers looking for lessons to reinforce particular math and
reading standards — like the requirement that sixth graders and older students
be able to delineate and evaluate the argument in a given text.
At a time when many politicians, technology executives and
philanthropists are pushing novel digital tools for education, many teachers
are also seeking old-school offline techniques that other teachers have
perfected over the years in their classrooms. That has positioned
TeachersPayTeachers as a kind of Etsy for education.
“A lot of the stuff you see in the digital world that is
interactive, teachers are making them in analog form,” Mr. Freed said, noting
that many teacher-to-teacher products are PDF or zip files meant to be
downloaded and printed out.
As an example, he cited an “Interactive Reading Literature
Notebook,” developed by Ms. Cobb. In her lesson plans, “interactive” does not
refer to digital video or audio. It means students are asked to actively learn
by, in part, cutting out and gluing assignments into their notebooks, taking
deep notes in class and sometimes even drawing illustrations to demonstrate
that they understood the reading.
“There’s a lot of creativity and innovation,” Mr. Freed said,
“but it is tried and true in a lot of its methodology.”
For teachers, building a successful business on
TeachersPayTeachers may also entail a lot of work.
To draw attention to the tools she developed for
TeachersPayTeachers, for instance, Ms. Randazzo, the English teacher, started a
teaching blog where she recounts her experiences or highlights
resources she finds interesting. She also recently started a YouTube channel in
response to requests from other teachers who asked her to demonstrate how
to teach complicated concepts like irony.
She added that many teachers considered TeachersPayTeachers
credible because they can find ideas from more experienced teachers who face
the same classroom challenges they do.
“That is what ground-level teachers are able to do that textbook
publishers can’t,” Ms. Randazzo said.