Teachers Pay Teachers and My Ambivalence

Teachers Pay Teachers, the website described as “sharing economy”  for teaching professionals, has always felt a little strange to me. One of the joys of teaching, for me, has been developing and sharing materials with other like-minded colleagues–that has been one of the impetuses for this blog, after all. I believe in the quality of my materials, but I also believe in professional collaboration, and I learned, through the years, that sharing in the labor of developing lessons and assessments makes both the more mundane tasks of teaching less tiresome and the more creative tasks more invigorating. Therefore, I’ve never felt that I need to sell them in order to feel they have worth, or that sharing them freely is a mistake.

There’s also just my own cheapness. Why would I pay for a worksheet I can make myself? (Which is basically how I feel whenever I do my own googling for lesson ideas and come across something that someone has posted on TpT). That makes it hard to believe that others would pay a buck or two just to save time, but the reality is, many teachers will. Some don’t have the support of colleagues or many resources at their disposal, and some just would rather spend a couple of dollars than reinvent.

A few things recently have caused me to reconsider TpT, and (spoiler alert!) open a store of my own. First, I have two friends that are total pros: History Gal and Writing by Rachel. Their materials are high-quality, their stores are professional-looking and complete, and they enjoy the creating that they do for the site. Second, I’ve been out of the classroom and I don’t have many opportunities to share work, collegially, with friends. While I wholeheartedly believe that new teachers shouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel, I also like to share with folks who are contributors, who I trust to use the materials well, and who will genuinely appreciate the help. (My Dropbox files are open and available for any former colleagues meeting the aforementioned description–my items are free for you). But why shouldn’t I take advantage of a platform where maybe I can help those teachers who are short on time or in creativity and perhaps make a little fun-money on the side? (Emphasis on “a little” bit…most items sell for $1, of which you might take home 85 cents. I’ve made about $9 in two months).

So, I’m selling some of my teaching materials. My teaching experience has been so collaborative that it can be tricky to separate out what is mine and what belongs to others, but I try to be strict about using only what I produced myself, and what I haven’t already shared with my district or created for other grants (an issue discussed in this earlier NYT article on the subject). It’s also hard because you realize that so much of classroom magic is not in what’s put down on the handouts or in the assignment description, it’s in the live-action bits: the class discussions, the lectures, the bad jokes…the reasons that teaching can’t simply be reduced to a computer interface or workbook of exercises. A lot of what I have used in the past simply can’t be put into a format that will sell on the site–it wouldn’t make any sense.

It’s tough to advertise, too, when honestly I would give away most of it to anyone who asked nicely. But perhaps the few friends who are reading this might share it with a few more friends who need good United States History or World Religions resources, and they might pass it along (or pin it! or tweet!) We’ll see how it goes, and I have faith that the fun-money will add up eventually, and I’ll be able to buy some new books or something!

Oh yeah, the link! Creative Instruction. Check it out!

P.S. Also, if anyone from TpT is reading this, why is it so cumbersome to add new materials? The worst part is labeling what type of resource it is and what subjects you teach. Instead of a drop-down everytime, it should recognize that most teachers reuse the same labels each time and allow you to choose from those. Just an idea! Thanks!

P.P.S. Anyone out there reading have a store? Or thoughts on TpT? I’d love to hear–please leave a comment below!

Good advice on Digital Literacy from EdSurge News

Last spring, I wrote about lessons in my World Religions class that veered away from simply being about religion and religious bias to thinking about how we read, interpret, and interact with what’s on the web. This article reminded me of some of those lessons and gave me some ideas to take it farther next time. Enjoy the excerpt below and keep reading at the link…

Twenty-five years ago, the term “literacy” was synonymous with the printed word. Today, that definition has evolved and being literate necessitates more than simply interacting with text. We must be digitally literate, too…

Source: Three Techniques for Teaching Digital Literacy | EdSurge News

Wu wei, the Pooh way, and New Year’s Resolutions

It seems like every article, blog post, and Pinterest “pin” I see right now are about which resolutions to make, or not to make, this year. There’s a lot of wisdom out there on how to improve ourselves. Usually, I’m quite in favor of New Year’s resolutions. I enjoy the opportunity to take stock of the year that has gone by and to think about how I would like to adjust my routine and ways in the coming days. This year, however, I didn’t have anything great in mind when New Year’s Day rolled around.

Even before the  New Year’s rush, I’d been contemplating meditation (or contemplation!) and been making some attempts to fit it into my life. I even downloaded an app, Headspace, that I enjoyed using occasionally to help guide me through that practice. However, I found that I wasn’t feeling like I really gained much, or gained enough to keep doing it on a regular basis.

And then we started our unit on Daoism. My wonderful student teacher has picked up my World Religions class, which gives me the opportunity to observe the class and to think about the concepts in a more abstract way. As supervising teacher, it’s less about how we will fill 90-minutes and more focused on the bigger ideas that I want to help her convey to the students. Glancing through my materials, I was reminded of the Daoist concept of wu wei. Continue reading

Snakes and Ladders

From the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The Victoria and Albert Museum has a great website full of information and art related to Jainism. It makes perfect sense–the Jains, noted for their scrupulous honesty, have acquired some wealth in fields like business and the law. Yet their religion emphasizes having only the things you need–and as a result they have become great patrons of religious art, giving away excess wealth in order to benefit their faith. Many of the objects and tapestries they have created are catalogued on the site.

What is probably the most useful for teaching about Jainism to high-schoolers, however, is the online version of Snakes and Ladders that the V&A has available for exploration and play. This was brand-new to me! Apparently “Chutes and Ladders” is a blatant rip-off of a game developed in ancient India. The ladders represent virtues–actions Jains can take to become more like the enlightened beings. The snakes represent vices, or those behaviors to be avoided. (I think this might be because in Jainism, there is a story about Mahavira being bitten by a poisonous snake. Or just because snakes are noted for being mean and slippery.) As my students worked through the game online, they learned about the characteristics that are valued by Jains, and a little bit about Jain interpretations of the cosmos. They also got increasingly frustrated by the snakes that took them farther and farther away from becoming liberated beings, but hey, you can’t expect to get enlightened in just one class period.

Another “fun” activity that we did during this short unit on Jainism was that I challenged my students to be vegans for a day. Coincidentally, the start of this unit coincided with the Jain worldwide day of compassion on November 1st (more info here). Not a one of my students (except for the one who already wears the vegan badge), made it through the day, but I think it helped get them to focus on just how diligent and aware one has to be to maintain such a diet. (Nevermind that Jains also avoid some vegetables grown underground. We didn’t even get into those limitations!) I think that following a restrictive diet like that leads one to be exceptionally aware and mindful of what one is eating. Based on the one month of my life where I tried to give up sugar, I can tell you that it can be exhausting to check over every single thing that you eat. I wonder if for Jains, however, this attention to detail also helps connect them to and constantly remind them of the reason they are doing it: ahimsa (non-violence), compassion, and kindness. I’m not sure my students felt that same compassion or kindness when they were thinking about what they couldn’t eat that day, but it was good to hear their reflections. It certainly got them talking about Jainism.

Ted-Ed and Origins of Religion

Have you used Ted-Ed yet? It’s a site that takes awesome Tedtalk videos, or just other wonderful Youtube videos, and allows you to build lessons around them. You can search other educator’s lessons as well, share them with your students online, and encourage them to post in discussion boards. For me, it’s a step towards occasional “flipping” of the classroom, but without the hassle of recording my own lectures and sometimes you can get lucky with what other teachers post.

I have some issues with the “flipping the classroom” model, enough that the topic probably deserves its own post. For the uninitiated, (and those unencumbered by edu-jargon) flipping the classroom is a movement to deliver lectures and content outside of classtime (for homework) and then use class time with the teacher as facilitator for project-based learning, skill development, and research. Part of my concern is that I think history teachers do much of this already–we assign reading that reviews the content, and then aim to work with the material in class. Most “flippers” rely heavily on video lectures as a way to relay content, however, which I question. It limits reading and I think can be just as challenging to focus on (how many times have you had several tabs open on your browser? You probably do right now!).  I also worry that not all of my students have reliable and frequent access to the internet. All that being said, I realize the value of novelty (students get excited by sometimes watching a video) and the help that video can provide when clarifying a challenging topic.

Origins of Religion lesson by Kate Harris

The question of why human societies developed religion is one such difficult topic. Every year, I debate how much I want to teach about this. It’s interesting stuff–why do we see religious beliefs developing in every society, across time and space? What need does it fill? But the answers can be heavily philosophical and often critical. This video does a nice job of outlining what life was like for early humans, and how they perceived the world. It gives the students some content to work with about reasons why religion might develop, and then in class I have the opportunity to guide them through some critiques.

Ted-Ed isn’t perfect–it’s heavily weighted towards science, but there is some social studies and language arts sprinkled through. But it’s quick and easy from a teacher’s perspective and engaging for the students. I will keep posting other useful videos that I find on there–let me know what you find as well!