The Business of Lesson Plans

07/29/2014 10:53 am ET | Updated Sep 28, 2014

Creating and writing lesson plans are activities common to basic teacher education courses. Before entering a classroom, young educators are taught how to meticulously plan their time for the benefit of their students.

Through online collaboration though, many teachers now take a different approach to lesson planning than even a decade ago, and it has stirred up some controversy from both sides of the aisle.

Buying or borrowing lesson plans

The most obvious way that teachers avoid the traditional lesson planning concept is by finding ideas, or even entire plans, online. This shortcut can be as simple as finding an in-class activity idea on Pinterest or as complex as downloading a grading period's worth of lessons that are grade-appropriate. Critics of this type of planning cite ethical issues, saying that a teachers' lesson plans should always be original. Creating these plans is simply part of the job and should never be outsourced.

Even if teachers spend just a few hours per week on lesson plans, that is a few hours of time that educators could feasibly be doing something else. The internet has made so many other professions more efficient - shouldn't teaching benefit too? If sharing lesson plans cuts out some of the non-student interaction time, then maybe that is a cause worth getting behind.

Selling lesson plans

It's well-known that the teaching profession is not a get-rich-quickly (or ever, really) way to earn a living. Some educators are finding ways to earn some extra income: by writing and selling lesson plans. A teacher who spoke with the New York Times said that she brings in an additional $36,000 annually from selling her original lesson plans on websites like Teachers Pay Teachers. On one hand, if teachers are developing something that is both useful to other professionals and boosts their own bottom line, why not? As long as these lesson plans are carefully vetted and that the teacher on the receiving end does due diligence to check the accuracy, what's the big deal? In this context, selling lesson plans can be compared to people who knit or sew and sell their patterns online for others to buy and use. The buyer can make customization changes based on preference and knitting or sewing style, but if the end result turns out the way it is supposed to, everyone wins.

It is not that simple though. According to the Copyright Act of 1976, when teachers complete lesson plans for their classrooms, those materials are technically owned by the schools. Along that line of thinking, a lesson plan then sold to other teachers infringes on the inherent copyright of that material. Legalities aside, should a teacher who is already being paid to write a lesson plan for his or her own classroom then "double dip" and make even more revenue on it?

And what about teachers who keep the lesson plans they write for their classrooms and the ones they write on a freelance basis separate? Shouldn't these teachers be able to do both things, as long as their primary teaching job does not suffer?

This is an area where it seems like teachers are expected to live up to an impossibly higher standard than other professions. By common cultural standards, any lucrative activity outside classroom hours is deemed a distraction to the purpose of teaching children. How, though, is making a little extra cash and therefore being a little more satisfied with a teaching salary really that bad? Why does it bother so many people, inside and outside the teaching industry, when teachers find a way to get ahead?

What is your take? Do you buy or sell lesson plans - or do you find either ethically wrong?