Teachers Paying Teachers

11Jan09

Scholastic invites me, via bulk e-mail, to sell my lesson plans on Teachers Pay Teachers, where teachers sell lesson plans to each other. This strikes me as doomed. For one thing, teachers are a terrible audience for this: They’re cheapskates (and often poor); they’re generally rear-guard adopters of technology; they have their own networks of photocopies and fellow teachers, and consequently usually have more plans than they have time to use.

More than that, however, it feels like it has the rules wrong. It really isn’t the teacher’s role to pay cash for ideas to use in the classroom. Set aside the rather galling idea of teachers funding the classroom ideas with their credit cards. Systems that work well have elegant inputs. This input feels plug-ugly, just not thought through.

How about this: Start every teacher with a set number of credits to spend on lesson plans available on the site. As a teacher, can sell your lesson plans for credits. Add on a premium membership so you can have your lesson plans highlighted or evaluated. Now you’re spending money in the expectation that you’ll earn more credits, which gain you access to more lesson plans — and perhaps a planning tool, which encourages you to build units out of lesson plans.

Or: Schools could buy up these credits, and issue them to each teacher. Give each school a planning tool to build a full curriculum out of lesson plans, which are coded by what they do. Schools can earn back credits by feeding revisions or new plans back into the system. Acknowledge that teachers photocopy (no avoiding it) and only sell each lesson once to the school that buys it.

It needs to feel more like a game. A key to any definition of a game is that it needs at least the illusion that it doesn’t matter, that you can play without consequence. I don’t know of any game that involves taking out your credit card more than one (painful) time, and never up front. It needs a token economy so people can play with it. Otherwise, it hurt too much.

(There’s an analogy here to grades. When students are lagging, teachers sometimes emphasize how real and important grades are. They’re not just tokens, they say; grades have real consequences to your life. This is the opposite of what many students want to hear. They need more play, more lightness, more distance from consequences so they can play.)

So why go on about all this? I’m fascinated by the educational system’s unwillingness to acknowledge itself as a kind of token economy, of grades and events, as a game system with teachers and students as players. Playing within the system is thought to be insincere or trivial. But is it better for our decisions to weigh a lot?

I think there’s an unbounded field of possibility past these kinds of raw maneuvers. Teachers could be building their instruction through creative play. The curriculum could be expressed through game mechanics rather than institutional decree. But first we’d have to tokenize the system, let it become playstuff rather than teachers, up against the wall, opening their pocketbooks.

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One Response to “Teachers Paying Teachers”

  1. Something about the site just is not right. The best educational material should be free for anyone to use. Like always the communities with money will benefit while the poorer schools will be left in the dust. Title 1 schools should get free access to the site. I have a web site that is completely free, there are ads there but no one has to click on them. It feels improper to charge for teaching these teaching materials. Would the teacher charge the others on their team??


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