Question: What are the ethical underpinnings of teachers creating curricula for schools for free? #EDU6101
“The information society is like a tree that has been growing its far-reaching branches much more widely, hastily, and chaotically than its conceptual, ethical, and cultural roots. The lack of balance is obvious and a matter of daily experience in the life of millions of citizens.”
Floridi, Luciano. Information : A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, 2010.
When I think about the vast swath of the internet, the image of our ever-expanding universe comes into mind. From there, it is not a difficult leap to think about how we are creating a space in which we can ‘play God.’ The Information Revolution is moving at a faster pace that I can comprehend, and it has pushed education forward at a pace that funding is not keeping up with. What is true for schools around the nation is that their teachers are underpaid and overworked, and with the added layer of technology surpassing pedagogy in the classroom, there needs to be a greater focus on how we are going to deal with Floridi’s “4th revolution” in our society.
For an educator who has had time to grow into project-based learning, or make the slow change from sage-on-the-stage to guide-on-the-side, the shifts have been manageable because there was a grace period. With the speed at which education needs to change to keep up with the technology that will govern our students lives, it is no wonder that teachers are figuring out how to ease the transition by buying the already-created lessons from other, more established educators instead of waiting for textbooks to catch up. I believe it is ethically sound for teachers to share their well-built curricula with others. With that said, how can educators go about that sharing in ways that serve both themselves and their society in economically positive and balanced ways?
There are a lot of articles that look at the nuance of intellectual property and what a teacher’s rights are to their work. Open Educational Resources, or OERs, are popular because they are created by teachers, for teachers, and are free for anyone to use. They must be free, digitized, and editable in order to be put up on OER sites, which makes them appealing on the surface level. David Usinski, a SUNY Math professor, believes that OERs are the new “renaissance for teaching”(Watkins,2018). There is a lot of truth to that for a lot of educators. Unfortunately, the internet is so forthcoming with learning materials, simply having lessons or units is no longer the stopgap for our underfunded, low-socioeconomic students. What we teachers need more of is time and money. If schools do not have the support or funding to provide either, then if someone wants to stay solvent as a teacher in the United States, they have to broaden their scope. They often turn to sites like Teachers Pay Teachers to help supplement their low salaries. In the report by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, they found that educators with 15 years of experience were paid 60% less than their counterparts in positions that required similar schooling. It is no wonder they are turning to alternative sources for income.
Within the ISTE framework, I believe my question best aligns with 1B : Design authentic learning activities that align with content area standards and use digital tools and resources to maximize active, deep learning.
This standard most closely aligns because for an educator to create exceptional learning experiences where they can maximize the active, deep learning, they often turn to digital platforms and resources for guidance. They seek out educators who have already created the lesson or unit they are looking to teach so they do not have to spend the requisite hours building from scratch. The teachers who are creating and posting these lessons online use digital platforms to share lesson plans, units, and sometimes entire curricula. The hours, pedagogical skill and talents that go into these are remarkable, but at the end of it, they are often rewarded with monetary compensation. That is not usually true for their job in education. Oftentimes, the more hours you put in, the more hours get added because then it is perceived you are a hard worker who will say ‘yes’ to a myriad of endless requests out of your work ethic, a sense of obligation, or the goodness of your heart. This leads educators to burn out. A study published in May 2019 on Swedish teachers – not a country often associated with treating their teachers badly – resulted in the conclusion that teachers were at a high-risk of stress-related disorders (Arvidsson, 2019). Once a teacher reaches a point where they feel their curriculum would be beneficial to others, there should be a clear path forward to make the lives of the struggling educator more balanced. We speak often of “thriving”, but we must ask ourselves if we are open to putting structures in place to ensure that those who carry the weight of future generation’s success are able to meet their personal and professional goals without losing their health and well-being.
How some teachers have used digital platforms to make a living.
There are a lot of concerns about teachers selling their work, and we can argue all I feel as though I’m skimming the surface of the larger conversation about whether or not teachers are being seen as professionals in their field. As someone who has used Teachers Pay Teachers, especially in her early career as an educator in the U.S., I can tell you it saved me time, energy, and sanity. With 140 middle school students in a Title I school, you learn quickly that you have to learn how to spread the workload out, minimize distractions outside of your job, get there early and stay late. You do it for the students, for your colleagues, for the betterment of society, but you begin to lose yourself from day one.
“CEOs of companies are praised for writing best-selling books based on their management skills and business strategies. Advertisers establish their influence by hosting courses and blogging away from their nine to five jobs. College professors are lauded by their university for writing their own books — books they often require students to buy for their class. No one seems to have much of a problem with that.”
– Lauralee Moss, 2018 (Educator, PBS Correspondent)
There is an economic downside to the teacher turnover rate as well. The funding that goes to training new teachers, only to lose them later, is not recouped. The Economic Policy Institute has a series called “The Perfect Storm in the Teacher Labor Market” that concluded the following:
“A shortage of teachers harms students, teachers, and the public education system as a whole. Lack of sufficient, qualified teachers and staff instability threaten students’ ability to learn and reduce teachers’ effectiveness, and high teacher turnover consumes economic resources that could be better deployed elsewhere. The teacher shortage makes it more difficult to build a solid reputation for teaching and to professionalize it, which further contributes to perpetuating the shortage. In addition, the fact that the shortage is distributed so unevenly among students of different socioeconomic backgrounds challenges the U.S. education system’s goal of providing a sound education equitably to all children.”
Emma Garcia & Elaine Weiss, 2019
How do we make the change?
There are solutions to the issue of technology reorienting the teaching profession more quickly than in the past, but those take money and time. These are two things society does not like to give, especially when it is in crisis. The Arvidsson study points to the individual, the organization, and society to provide the changes that need to happen. The individual is often on an island, so that change will come, but it will come slowly and in pockets. The organization stands a greater chance of making the most immediate change with the greatest effect. Society in the U.S. is broad, with her most recent history one of removing societal supports for government workers, so I believe those changes might take a while to come into effect. With the low pay, challenging work environment, weak professional development and low recognition rates Garcia and Weiss pointed towards as reasons for losing our teachers, these are issues that districts and schools can work on. We don’t have to wait for the national sentiment to change, districts can make clear and specific changes to incentivize educators.
“The term “creative destruction” was first presented in 1942 by Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter to describe how new innovations or companies compete with the established technologies or companies, and the success of the new means the disappearance of the established.”
– Alexandra Zrenner, Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University
For educators and young professionals to move ahead in the technology era, they need to have a clear understanding that technology will reshape how our economy works. It already has! They must embrace the changes and work to be a part of the solution or continue to live in problems. It is easier for younger generations who have never known a world without tech. It is up to us to help the entrenched schools and districts to make the change, and here are a few suggestions to get them started.
Step 1 – Professional Development
Technology has revolutionized how we do business, how we interact, and how we view the world. Our students have never known a world without it, and as Floridi stated, “Once digital immigrants are replaced by digital natives, they will be a fish out of water without tech.” Whether or not that is good or bad, it is inevitable. Therefore the first step we need to take for our educators is professional development. We need to train our teachers in how to use the technology they have to make their lives easier. Technology integration into the classroom, or the 1:1 ratio you want as a teacher, and are now forced to support due to a pandemic, is not as effective or efficient in a lecture-style hall. It is much more engaging in a project-based learning, collaborative environment. PBL utilizes the Triple E program by creating a bridge between the school learning and every-day life experiences and builds the necessary skills to succeed in the workplace.
What digital platforms in a project-based environment do for educators is provide a place where their students are in charge of the results of their learning. Once that occurs, it frees the teacher during class to be a facilitator of learning, rather than a reactionary lecturer. I know this to be true, because I experienced it. When I was able to hand the reins for learning to the student, provide frameworks, structures, and support instead of lectures, I was given more time during the day to give feedback, formative assessments, connect with my students as people, troubleshoot, and put myself into the learner’s chair. It made my days much more interesting, my students more engaged, and the learning more authentic.
This article supports my own experience, but it also provides the data that could help an educator explain the importance of converting to PBL, if their district has not already made the switch. With technology, a lecturing educator may find it far more frustrating when they are blatantly ignored. As much as they may know about their subject, we are working with a generation who has looked everything up online and feel that an ‘expert’ who is in front of them might not be as much of an ‘expert’ as someone online. Working with teachers and professors who struggle to make the shift is something we are uniquely qualified for and I hope we feel that we can take on that responsibility if it occurs.
Step 2 – Provide Funding
Whether through levys, bonds, trusts, grants, or a rearranging of the budget, schools need to start focusing on technology as a major part of their teacher’s everyday lives. The professional development must be present, but so must the devices. No school, especially high-poverty ones, should be without a 1:1 experience in their school day. Having access to a school laptop is a matter of equity and access. That cannot be the ‘catch phrase’ of 2019 and 2020, it must be a reality. This means leveling the playing field and there is no greater leveler than online access.
To prepared teachers for this new age in technology, we must start at the district level with a reprioritizing of how we use teacher in-service time. Too often, educators are sitting in a development that is meant for a minority of the staff. Often it does not even apply to their classroom. The district office is far removed from the day-to-day work of the classroom and should not be in charge of requesting specific PDs. Instead, it should be the teachers who are able to put in requests for professional development based on need. In a school I previously worked at, there was a spreadsheet for each department, as well as each grade level, where the teachers found, then provided reasoning for why they should receive trainings. These developments were approved or disapproved by the administration and school boards.
There are also many free opportunities for educators, but they are sometimes over the school year and not in the summer when teachers have more flexibility with their time. The exceptional ones are costly, but there is sometimes not enough in the budget to allot for educators to attend. As school leaders, we need to do more for our teachers. They are not complacent, and if it is our role to provide for an exceptional education for our students, then it should be the role of districts and administrators to support their learning and growth. That is the ethical, and responsible, retaliation against a system that seems set up to fail.
Step 3 – Schedule in Time for Planning & Prep
With the renewed focus on professional development, teachers need at work time to complete the task of preparing lessons. Teaching is time-consuming, but that is nothing compared to Lesson Planning. Teaching today looks very different from teaching a few decades ago. I could go into detail, but every educator knows what I’m talking about. The amount of students in your classroom has tripled. The funding is shrinking along with the national sentiment of the teacher respected as a professional. You are building new curriculum daily due to the technological and pedagogical shift. Your parents are increasingly disrespectful. It’s beginning to look like you’re alone out there, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. We just need to make sure you have time built into your day to collaborate with your colleagues.
The time-consuming work of building excellence in teaching and learning is not done alone, and the first thing to get cut when administrators look at the schedule is often the Professional Learning Community time. With the influx of ARD and IEP meetings, it is the only time you are ‘free.’ That mindset has to change, as does the way schedules are written. A teacher’s lesson planning time is there to allow for them to attempt to complete mountains of work before they go home to their families and personal time. To create a balance for well-being, educators need to be able to leave work at work, but the profession increasingly makes this an insurmountable task. With the teacher shortage comes a shortage of substitutes. Teachers are often pulled to fill in when a suitable substitute cannot be found. I worked at a school where a teacher was consistently sick, therefore, my planning period was consistently absent. This was frustrating, and led to my never being comfortable with thinking of that time as reliable. It create a thrum of underlying anxiety. The ethical thing to do would be to remove some of the barriers to success by limiting how often teachers are pulled out of their planning period during the day.
With the scheduled planning and prep time, there should be time for teachers to meet regularly with their PLC. It doesn’t have to be a lot, but once a month, instead of a staff meeting, would be preferable. I have worked at a few schools that have built this into the schedule. It made for a much more productive planning session, we were able to collaborate on a regular basis, and you felt as though you were a part of the team. With the coronavirus separating our teachers and PLCs, these are becoming increasingly instrumental to a teacher’s sense of satisfaction.
“Teachers also cited improved practices and enhanced collegial relationships as additional sources of increased job satisfaction.”
Donna Ackerman, 2011
The PLC time could also offer school districts the opportunity to incentivize their teachers to collaborate on a team level to build curriculum. This happens in schools across the nation, but it is not always common practice in larger districts. When I worked at a charter school, myself and the art teacher at my school worked to build the arts curriculum for the district, and we were paid for our time. It was a joy to work with the other music teachers to create sharable units and lessons that we could provide as living guideposts to new and seasoned teachers. It was also satisfying to have a say in the direction of my student’s learning. I was considered the expert in my field, was compensated fairly for it, and it felt good. It is also an ethically sound practice as you are using in-house talent to design in-house products.
I also built social studies curriculum with a teacher at another school, and it was those collaborative efforts that I believe both solidifies teacher connections and creates solid foundations in our teaching. We do not teach in a vacuum, but it is not often that we get feedback from our peers. Providing substitutes so that teachers can observe others is something I have had access to in the past, but have not always felt comfortable enough in my lesson planning to take advantage. It is a practice I highly recommend and hope that more schools embed it in their professional development. Not only is it free, but some of my best classroom management, reminders of pedagogical knowledge I have led lapse, and opportunities to learn have come from those experiences. It is a joy to be in someone else’s classroom, to be in the learner’s chair once more.
A resource that was shared with me by Nick was the ERS: Strategic Design of Teacher Compensation. It was sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and it outlines why “the step-and-lane salary structure may have been adequate to meet recruitment and retention goals in the past, it is woefully insufficient to attract and retain teachers with the skill and knowledge required to reach current student achievement goals.” Below is an overview of it’s plan, and if districts follow it, I believe it a fundamental shift that will allow for the technology revolution to not only take place in the real world, but in our schools as well.
There is not, and should not, be a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution here. What happens in classrooms in the southwest can, and should, look different than what we see in the northeast. The U.S. is a large country, and although there should be foundational standards that every student is expected to learn, without adequate funding and support across the nation, as well as a focus on our educators as the professionals that they are, our students will fall behind. This is economically destructive, and ethically where we have to draw the line. Without 1:1 technology, teachers who have the PD to support its implementation, proper funding and community support, and a solid understanding of 21st century pedagogy – including project-based learning, we will continue to lose our teachers to other professions and our students to the compelling trends outside of the classroom. We must keep this conversation going.
Although not an exhaustive list, here are some sites that provides funding sources for educator professional development.
Edutopia has put together a PBL guide for this year. Please take a look.
Ackerman, D. (2011). The impact of teacher collaboration in a professional learning community.[Doctoral dissertation, Walden University]. http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.879.1337&rep=rep1&type=pdf
Arvidsson, I., Leo, U., Larsson, A. et al. Burnout among school teachers: quantitative and qualitative results from a follow-up study in southern Sweden. BMC Public Health 19, 655 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-019-6972-1
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. (2012). Strategic design of teacher compensation. Education Resource Strategies. https://www.erstrategies.org/cms/files/1900-strategic-design-of-teacher-compensation.pdf
Floridi, Luciano. Information : A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press. (2010). ProQuest Ebook Central. http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/spu/detail.action?docID=737413
Garcia, E. & Weiss, E. (2019). The teacher shortage is real, large and growing, and worse than we thought : The first report in ‘The Perfect Storm in the Teacher Labor Market’ series. Economic Policy Institute. https://www.epi.org/publication/the-teacher-shortage-is-real-large-and-growing-and-worse-than-we-thought-the-first-report-in-the-perfect-storm-in-the-teacher-labor-market-series/
Garcia, E. & Weiss, E. (2019). U.S. schools struggle to hire and retain teachers : The second report in ‘The Perfect Storm in the Teacher Labor Market’ series. Economic Policy Institute. https://www.epi.org/publication/u-s-schools-struggle-to-hire-and-retain-teachers-the-second-report-in-the-perfect-storm-in-the-teacher-labor-market-series/
Moss, L. (2018). Opinion : The teacher’s sharing economy gave me work-life balance. PBS News Hour. https://www.pbs.org/newshour/education/teachers-turn-to-the-sharing-economy-for-some-work-life-balance
Walthausen, A. (2016, October 26). How the Internet is Complicating the Art of Teaching. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/10/how-the-internet-is-complicating-the-art-of-teaching/505370/
Zrenner, A. (n.d.). The Ethics of regulating a shared economy. The Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University. https://kenan.ethics.duke.edu/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Sharing-Economy-2015.pdf