Resourceful teachers turn online for new aids, revenue streams

SEATTLE -- Kristine Nannini spent her summer creating wall charts and student data sheets for her fifth grade class -- and making $24,000 online by selling those same materials to other teachers.

Teachers like Nannini are making money providing materials to cash-strapped and time-limited colleagues on curriculum sharing sites like teacherspayteachers.com, providing an alternative to more traditional -- and generally more expensive -- school supply stores.

Many districts, teachers and parents say these sites are saving teachers time and money, and providing educators a quick way to make extra income.

And there is a lot of money to be made.

Deanna Jump, a first-grade teacher at Central Fellowship Christian Academy in Macon, Ga., is the website's top seller, earning about $1 million in sales during the past two years. She believes the site has been successful because educators are looking for new ways to engage their students, and the materials are relatively inexpensive and move beyond textbooks

"I want children to be so excited about what they're learning that they can't wait to tell mom and dad," she says.

Dozens of Internet forums have been created to help teachers distribute their material and pick up ideas from other educators; teacherspayteachers.com is one of the biggest. It was started by a former teacher in New York in 2006 and quickly grew. Others followed, like the sharemylesson.com run by the American Federation of Teachers, the nation's second largest teachers union, where free curriculum ideas and materials are offered.

While many characterize these sites as an inexpensive way for teachers to supplement textbook materials, some teachers get pushback from administrators for their entrepreneurial efforts.

Seattle Public Schools' recently revised its ethics policy, with the new policy prohibiting teachers from selling anything they developed on district time, said district spokeswoman Teresa Wippel.

"Anything created on their own time could also cross a gray line, depending on the item and how closely tied it is to classroom work," she said.

Teacherspayteachers.com currently has about 300,000 items for sale plus more than 50,000 free items.

More than 1 million teachers have bought or sold items on the website since its inception. It had $5 million in sales during August and September, said site founder Paul Edelman.

After paying the site fees, teachers have collectively earned more than $14 million on the site since it was founded.

Teachers often spend their own money on classroom supplies, despite receiving a few hundred dollars a year for that purpose from their districts.

"I guess I've created something that everyone really needs," said Nannini, a Grand Blanc, Mich., teacher who just started her fourth year in the classroom.

Kathy Smith, a Seattle parent with two daughters in public school, says she knows teachers get materials from a variety of sources and she trusts them to make good decisions about what they choose to share with their students.

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