Are you familiar with the website, Teachers Pay Teachers? It has created a buzz recently in the mainstream media because a few sellers (who usually are also classroom teachers) have made some BIG money selling their units and lesson plans to other teachers.
I have found that people seem to have strong reactions to this site. Some teachers love it and say that it has become their “go-to” resource for fun and creative lesson ideas. Others are highly critical, believing that it reinforces an outdated “cutesy worksheet culture” that our profession should avoid.
I spent some time browsing the site, purchased a few sample products, and even uploaded a free resource (my Reindeer Games packet) to get more familiar with the site. You know what I think? In terms of quality, it’s just like any other “teacher store.” There is good and bad. Helpful and not-so-helpful. Best practice and oh-please-that’s-so-1950s practice.
The trick is to be a discerning shopper.
Think about it: most cities have a “teacher store” full of bulletin board borders, pocket charts, “Sign Here” stamps, unifix cubes, Judy clocks, and science materials. But the biggest draw in those stores is the “Teacher Resources” section. There you find books- hundreds of books- written to support teachers in their daily work. And in that moment you have to be discerning because not all resources are created equal. For example, there might be two different books titled “1st Grade Math” sitting on the same shelf. The first is a book full of worksheets with 1st grade math problems and lots of adorable cartoon bears decorating the pages. The second is a guide to implementing “math games” in your classroom and contains management tips, assessment forms, and printable game boards and manipulatives.
Which one would you buy? Which one should you buy?
The answer depends on your teaching philosophy.
Every teacher has one, whether we realize it or not. It influences every facet of your teaching- including how you set up your classroom, how you interact with your students, and how you design and implement your lessons.
Sometimes teachers are conflicted- I know I spent part of my early career with a “split personality” in terms of teaching philosophy. If you had asked me what I believed, I would have said, “Children learn best by actively doing! They need hands-on, authentic experiences that give them an opportunity to construct their own understanding.”
So why did most of their work look traditional- pencil and paper stuff? Why was I assigning them writing prompts every day? Why was I telling them about science instead of engaging them in doing science? My practice didn’t match my stated philosophy. One day a veteran teacher gently called me on it. She said,
“Your real philosophy is on display every day through the kinds of thinking and learning experiences you create for your students. Right now, I’d say your philosophy appears to be teacher-centered (Sage on the Stage.) You seem to believe that you have the information and the children have to sit and listen to you to get it. I know you say that your philosophy is constructivist in nature, but currently that’s more of an aspiration than a reality. Think about how you could change your teaching- it might just need some tweaking- to get closer to your stated philosophy.”
She was exactly right. I needed to keep the strongest elements of my direct instruction but I also needed to build in more opportunities for my students to explore and experiment with academic concepts independently. It led me to many curricular changes, including an inquiry-based method of science instruction using FOSS kits, a writing workshop model, and manipulative-based math units. (Note: Those changes did not occur “overnight” and took several years and lots of professional development, peer support, and trial and error!)
What does this have to do with Teachers Pay Teachers? Quite a bit, actually!
1- Get clear on your teaching philosophy before you start shopping! That goes for all suppliers of “teacher resources”- Amazon, TPT, and your local brick and mortar “teacher store.” Until you are confident in your beliefs, you will be like a feather tossed by the wind- flitting this way and that without any sense of direction. You will be seduced by adorable clip art and starred reviews. You will end up with a collection of conflicting resources that lead you in a dozen different directions. Not sure of your philosophy? I’ll be back tomorrow with a post designed to help!
2- Once you have clarified your personal teaching philosophy, think about what you need in terms of materials and resources. Yes, the Easter Bunny printable with the matching writing prompt looks adorable, but if you embrace a writing workshop approach, it’s not for you. However, perhaps you have determined that teaching scientific process skills through hands-on activities is a priority. OK- now you know what you’re looking for!
3- Read the product description carefully and check out the sample pages. Just because a product has the words “Writing Workshop” in the title, remember that broad labels of that kind mean different things to different people. Shop carefully and make sure the product you purchase is really going to support your instruction.
4- Finally, I believe there is something on TPT for everyone. My friend, Cassie, who is the “poster-teacher” for authentic teaching and learning, showed me some well-designed sticky note coding cards (freebie!) on TPT for use during her Reading Workshop. My son’s first grade teacher used a collection of lessons designed for the first days of school at the beginning of the year. Part of her philosophy is to make the first days of school fun and exciting while building a positive classroom culture. The “Fun with Firsties” TPT resource gave her some great strategies for accomplishing that goal.
In regards to the critics, I agree that there are some “cutesy” lower-level materials on TPT to be avoided. I certainly wouldn’t purchase them myself. That’s true of any “teacher store.”
However, there are also some quality resources for sale that will save you time and energy. Better yet, I LOVE that the money goes directly into another teacher’s pocket instead of to a large educational publishing company. It’s high time teachers started getting compensated for their hours of hard work spent planning and designing lessons!
After taking the above steps, if you still have trouble finding anything on TPT that aligns with your philosophy, it can only mean one thing: it’s time for you to publish your own stuff! One of my goals for 2013 is to post some products that are focused on constructivist practices and arts integration. I’d like to see more of that on TPT so I’m going to add my voice. (In fact, I begged Cassie to write up her Shoe Store Unit and sell it on TPT so all teachers can have access to her wonderful ideas and materials! She promised to think it over.)
How about you? Do you have a solid “teaching philosophy” or does it need some tweaking? What do you think of TPT? Do you have any favorite products or sellers?