Jen Regan, 37, left her full-time teaching job in 2017 to spend more time with her family, a move that was made possible by the sizeable side-income she pulls in by selling curated classroom resources online.
The mother of four calls herself an “accidental entrepreneur.”
For years, Regan’s life looked the same as most other grade-school teachers. She spent five days a week teaching fourth graders English, math and other subjects at a public school in western New York. She’d occasionally spend several hours outside of the classroom making lesson plans, buying and downloading resources for her students online.
To spark ideas, she’d go on Pinterest, the visual discovery engine that functions much like a crowdsourced bulletin board or social networking scrapbook.
Now, she makes a living by providing teachers with the types of educational materials she once searched for. The career shift gave her time to volunteer at her oldest daughter’s school, get work done during naptime and save money on childcare costs for her little ones that aren’t school age yet.
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When most people open Pinterest, they save inspiration for projects they may never begin or vacations they may never take. But for teachers, it’s ground zero for innovative lesson plans, classroom decorating ideas and hacks that make monitoring a room full of children more manageable.
For those who are dedicated to sharing those tools online, six-figure salaries are far from unheard of.
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Regan is just one of many educators dubbed “teacherprenuers” who have gained hundreds of thousands of monthly viewers on Pinterest over the years and translated those clicks, views and downloads into cash by funneling their followers to an open marketplace called Teachers Pay Teachers where instructors buy, sell, and share original classroom resources.
Leaders of K-12 classrooms were early Pinterest adopters as the platform connected them with other educators, often through collaborative group boards where they could each contribute pins (or posts). Nine-years after the first photo was pinned online, teachers continue to drive some of the platform’s most popular search trends.
Searches for lesson plans on the social networking site are trending up 59% over 2018, according to Pinterest. Those inquiries include searches for Spanish, English, art, library, toddler curriculums and daycare. Lesson plan searches pick up during the late summer months and are at their highest in August as teachers prepare to go back for the school year.
In a world where teachers are overworked, time stretched and often underpaid the helping hand online materials provide can add some breathing room in the classroom and in their personal budgets.
“There’s a notion in some places that teachers are supposed to write their own curriculum rather than using a published program,” said Marcy Stein, a professor in the School of Education at the University of Washington Tacoma who specializes in curriculum analysis. “One, very few teachers have ever had courses in instructional design and two, even if they did have those courses, how would they have time to execute and implement that?”
Stein says that teachers go online in droves because they either “want to make more money, hear testimonials from other teachers” or are looking for “things to supplement published materials and activities that supplement what the curriculum says they should do.”
By selling lesson plans, teachers are able to supplement historically low salaries.
In the 2016-2017 school year, the average salary of a U.S. teacher was $58,950. When adjusted for inflation, that’s slightly less than what the average teacher earned almost two decades ago a recent A USA TODAY analysis found. Still, compensation prospects get better as teachers enter their mid-career phase.
For Regan, success didn’t happen overnight.
“At the beginning, I was just putting up things that I was using in my own classroom,” Regan said. “When I started to work on more things from home I could really expand and give a lot more time to the resources I was creating. I went from selling things for $1.50” to offering an entire year’s worth of writing materials for $50, “that teachers can use year after year.”
Leaving the classroom also gave her an opportunity to spend more time with her newborn – a luxury since the United States does not mandate paid parental leave. The K-12 education sector is no exception despite being increasingly dominated by women, according to a 2018 study, many of whom are in their childbearing years.
Only a handful of states, some cities and select school districts offer paid parental leave benefits to teachers.
Spending time with a growing family convinced 35-year-old Julie Bochese to trade in teaching at an elementary for advertising lesson plans on Pinterest and selling them on Teachers Pay Teachers. She now makes 4-times the salary she made as a second-grade teacher.
“I loved teaching and I was passionate about it. I never wanted to leave teaching but I became pregnant with my daughter at that point my Teachers Pay Teachers income matched what I was making teaching,” Bochese said.
When the Ponte Vedra, Florida-based teacher became pregnant with her daughter during the summer of 2015, she decided not to go back to teaching in the fall. When she became pregnant again the following year, she kept the business going, profiting off of Common Core-based lesson plans.
Common Core State Standards is an educational initiative from 2010 that details what K–12 students throughout the United States should know.
“I found passion doing this. I’ve reached more than a million students this way, its very rewarding in a different way than being in the classroom,”
‘Not a get-rich-quick scheme’
Outsourcing materials for the classroom is a widespread phenomenon.
A 2016 RAND report found that virtually every teacher in America—99% of elementary teachers and 96% of secondary school— utilize materials developed and/or selected online when teaching English language arts. Ninety-four percent of teachers got lesson plans from Google, the report found 87% used Pinterest.
However, the process of making these materials from scratch and having them looked over by professionals before uploading them online is tedious.
“I work more hours than my husband does as an attorney,” Bochese said. “It does take a ton of time. I probably put in 40 to 50 hours each week, more time than I did teaching at this point. It’s not a get rich quick scheme. It takes a lot of work to make it successful.”
Arizona-based April Smith, who started selling lesson plans four years ago, says a single online resource for teachers takes her three to four weeks to complete. She hires a professional photographer to take photos of the materials she creates, an editor to proofread written work, and a part-time social media team who occasionally helps with emails.
Smith began using Teachers Pay Teachers and Pinterest as a side hustle to pay off student loan debt, turning it into a six-figure business by selling escape room packages that are modified for the classroom.
Students work in groups to complete reading and math skill challenges and “the first group to solve each of the challenges wins and escapes. It’s so much fun,” Smith says.
“I’m putting time and effort into making activities that are well beyond what (teachers and students) would normally do in the classroom,” Smith added.
“It’s more high quality than people who don’t shop online realize. It’s similar to when the large textbook companies put out a product. We put a lot of time, money and research into it.”
Tips for teachers looking to cash-in on lesson plans:
1. Start by joining websites like TeachersPayTeachers or TeachersNotebook where you can create your own free or premium shop.
2. Post materials that you have had success with in your classroom.
3. Become a “Teachergrammer.” Upload photos on Instagram and Pinterest of eye-catching classroom exercises that you’ve created.
4. Use hashtags like #lessonplans #teacherlife and #classroom to increase your discoverability.
5. Start a blog to house additional information about your life, your creative process, and your useful classroom materials.
Follow Dalvin Brown on Twitter: @Dalvin_Brown.