By Lindsey Ziliak
Tribune staff writer
PERU — Teacher Allison Mathews spent hours every weekend last year searching for online resources to help her launch a new reading program in her classroom.
Blair Pointe Upper Elementary School was implementing Reader’s Workshop to teach all of its students to become better readers.
Mathews said it’s an individualized program that focuses on the needs of each student.
There is no textbook. Students read real literature.
There is no guide on how to teach it, either.
“We didn’t have a teacher’s manual or many resources,” she said. “We had to find our own materials.”
Crafting lesson plans that first year was difficult and time consuming, she said.
She carved time out of every weekend to write out lessons on things like distinguishing fantasy from reality, self-selecting new books, effectively rereading book passages and what readers do after finishing a book.
She said her plans were “detailed and wordy” so that even a substitute could teach the lessons with ease.
Then, over the summer she heard about a new website that was gaining popularity in the teaching community.
It’s an online marketplace called Teachers pay Teachers, where educators can buy and sell lesson plans and classroom activities.
Mathews checked it out for herself and fell in love with it.
“There’s something for everybody on there,” she said.
After browsing the products for sale, she decided that she might actually be able to make some extra money by selling her Reader’s Workshop lesson plans to teachers who were struggling like she had the year before.
She posted five different sets of lesson plans on the website along with a vocabulary matching center and a reader’s notebook printable pack.
Mathews said she wasn’t sure at first that people would buy it.
“But I gave it a try, and it really works,” she said.
To date, she has sold about 320 products.
“Every day I get an email saying a product sold,” she said.
Teachers who have purchased her work are offering positive feedback on her profile.
“I liked these simple matching cards because they remind me of what I am teaching and give me a way to define the process too,” one customer posted about Mathews’ vocabulary game.
Some have said her lesson plans are detailed, user-friendly and make it easy for teachers to stay organized.
“Coolest thing I’ve ever seen,” one teacher said. “Can’t wait to try them in my class.”
She’s not getting rich off of it yet. She’s made about $300 so far.
According to the website, sellers with a free membership earn 60 percent of their gross sales minus transaction fees. Sellers who purchase a premium membership earn 85 percent of their gross sales and pay no transaction fees.
Like many teachers, Mathews hasn’t spent her profits on herself. She spent most of the money on her students, she said.
“I put a lot of the money back into the classroom by buying books and materials,” Mathews said. “I used some of it this summer to make crate seats for the kids to sit on during reading time.”
But a handful of sellers on the site are rolling in the dough.
A kindergarten teacher from Georgia was recently featured on CNN because she made $1 million by selling her creative lesson plans and classroom activities.
The teacher told reporters she spent five hours after school every day loading products to the website and answering teachers’ questions.
CNN reported she used a portion of her earnings to buy a special van for her quadriplegic brother, and she and her husband can now afford to pay all of their bills. But they still live in the same home, and she drives a Kia.
She’s not the only one profiting, though.
According to the website, teachers have earned a combined $15 million so far.
There are 350,000 products for sale and 60,000 free resources.
“This is huge with teachers,” said Chris Loftus, a second-grade teacher at Elmwood Primary Learning Center in Peru. “I wish I would have thought of the idea.”
She said it’s a great resource for busy educators.
Loftus said they have all kinds of resources on there. There are educational posters to hang in a classroom, charts and graphs, hands-on activities and activities specially designed for a smart board.
There are math and literacy lessons for almost every holiday and special occasion like election day and the 100th day of school.
“It’s a godsend,” Loftus said. “We don’t have enough prep time in our day anymore to be creative and come up with new ideas all of the time.”
The elementary school teacher said she gets bored easily and likes to bring fresh ideas and lessons to her students.
This allows her to do that even when she doesn’t have time to sit down and develop a lesson or activity on her own.
Loftus said she and her students read the book “Paper Bag Princess” recently. She was able log on to Teachers pay Teachers and download a board game for free that tested her kids’ comprehension of the book.
She does spend her own money sometimes to buy items, but it doesn’t bother her.
“The things you buy on there are so cheap,” she said “I can afford it even on a teacher’s salary.”
Most items cost anywhere from $3 to $10.
And she said she likes the idea of supporting the teachers who have worked hard to create those lessons. Most of them are doing it on their own time after school or on weekends, she said.
“It’s a great avenue for teachers to make a little extra money,” she said. “And teachers have good ideas. They’re definitely putting their minds to good use.”