15 November 2009

Teacher Freelancing for Fun and Profit

Yesterday's New York Times post "Selling Lessons Online Raises Cash and Questions" is provoking quite the discussion on Twitter this morning. Some, like Paul Bogush (@paulbogush) point out "If I worked for Bayer and created a drug on their salary, could I then take it and sell it to other companies?" Others, such as Matt Montagne (@mjmontagne) say "I don't see what the big deal is w/ the article in the NYTimes about teachers selling lesson ideas for $$$. I think it's great."

I lean toward the "what's the big deal" side of the argument.

I have been paid by organizations other than my school district to create lesson plans or present at conferences on their behalf. I have written articles for professional publications and have been paid for that too. I am currently in an agreement to work with a group of teachers in my district to create lesson plans for a private organization. When we are finished we will be paid and the lesson plans will be available for free to anyone who wants them.

This last case actually led me to do some research on this topic. The organization that I am working with is adamant that the lesson plans be free for anyone who wishes to use them (even though the primary intent is for the teachers in my own district to use them). I actually found a school board policy addressing this very issue. As a result, none of the work that we do is done during duty hours, on a school campus, or using school equipment or resources. We do not use school telephones or school email to communicate about our work for this project. The board policy is not overly restrictive, but we don't want the copyright to come into question later.

Maybe a few years ago I would have felt differently about freelancing. At one point I did work in a district position where my agreement stated that anything created while in that position (as a paid mentor teacher) would be the property of the district. I was fine with that. I don't know if I'd agree to it as readily now.

I don't know many people outside of education who regularly give up their evenings and weekends to create lesson plans, do research for lesson plans or correct papers. I regularly work the equivalent of three extra days per week on school-related tasks (and I know teachers who spend many, many more hours on a weekly basis). I don't get paid for those days and I don't think that time is implied in my work agreement with my district.

If I can get even marginal compensation for my extra time, why shouldn't I be able to do that? I'd love to hear your thoughts.