Monday, February 4, 2013

Intellectual Property & Teachers

This Sunday the Washington Post ran a story about the copyright policy Prince George's County School's is considering. From my understanding it seems that anything created by teachers or students- in or outside of school- would become the property of the school system.

In regards to student work this seems absurd. I don't quite understand what they are thinking. To say that the school would own a student's work- a student who is legally required to attend the school (unless they have the resources to go elsewhere) seems absolutely constitutionally wrong. I can't imagine this policy lasting very long.

From the teacher angle though it brings up interesting intellectual property questions. Who owns the lessons and materials we create as teachers? PG County's policy seems to be a response to Teachers Pay Teachers and other sites where teachers are selling their work. PG seems to want to be the recipient of any funds teachers would earn from selling their lessons. I don't feel like this will actually generate any revenue for PG County- I think the teachers will either turn to sharing for free OR will just stop sharing on-line all together- the incentive to sell lesson plans for money will be gone.

As teachers who owns all the hard work we do outside of school hours? I've been adapting children's picture books for my students. I've bought the books myself, used my own resources and craft supplies to turn the books into touch and feel activities, and have done all of this in my own time (For the sake of argument I'm ignoring the fact that I used Donors Choose. That brings up a whole other layer to the debate). Just because I bring these books into school to use with my students, would that  make them the property of the school system? If I did it as a hobby and did not plan on using them to teach, I would assume they would then belong to me.

I have a love/hate relationship with the site teachers pay teachers. I personally refuse to buy anything off of there because I spend enough of my own money on my students- I'm drawing the line on buying lesson plans and worksheets. It's a dangerous slope to fall into- buying worksheets and games for a few dollars here and there...  I worry how much I'd end up spending.

I like that teachers pay teachers empowers teachers over text book companies. It's a good move- to give actual teachers the ability to sell what works to other teachers. It's what we should be doing- not depending on text book companies who are not in the classroom. Anything to give the textbook companies competition seems good to me.
On the other hand- is Teachers Pay Teachers actually competition if the school systems are still paying for the text books and teachers are just spending their own money on the additional resources?

Another thing that bothers me about Teachers Pay Teachers is that it puts a significant emphasis on how things look. Of course they have to look good in order to sell- and we all love cute activities and worksheets. But it tends to get into just cute looking worksheets and in the end, a worksheet is a worksheet is a worksheet.

Regardless of my own feelings about the site itself- I am curious to see what happens with teachers and intellectual property. I am willing to bet that teachers are not making things to put on teachers pay teachers during school hours- when would they have the time? Is what we do outside of school hours property of the school system?

Does it come down to what we were hired to do? If we were hired to create a curriculum we could not turn around and sell that curriculum for our own personal gain. But we were hired to teach- to deliver information to students, monitor their progress and modify instruction so that by the end of our time with them they will know more than they knew before. We aren't officially in charge of curriculum. We do it, of course, because we have to in order to survive- but we (sadly) are rarely hired for our creativity and problem solving. In which case, if we develop lesson ideas outside of school hours that we use to enhance our jobs- are those enhancements our property, or the school system's?

Part of me is scared to get the answer to this- what more can they take away from us as teachers? The other part of me is just fascinated to see where this will lead.


Jessica Meacham said...

Great post. Very thought-provoking. I prefer the share and share-alike approach to what I create and encourage others to consider it as well. I, too, will be following this, as I'm interested in where it might go.

Denise said...

Interesting questions to a thorny problem. If indeed a school district also owns my time outside of the school day, then it's time to ante up and increase our pay to respectable wages. In states like IL in which property taxes determine a chunk of the operating budget, it makes a HUGE difference in pay depending on what community your school is in. In an environment that is already inequitable (top pay for MS +36 and 20 years experience can be in the low $50K or above $130K)for the exact same job, this is going to be a nightmare. I believe districts are completely over-reaching if they want to snag away the money teachers make on their lesson plans on TPT, etc.

Unknown said...

You raise some interesting points on intellectual property.

I am personally thrilled to see the success of teachers on TpT and think it goes to show that we can do more than read from a script and told what lesson to teach on each particular day (like some teachers are forced to do).

Teachers can be innovative and creative. While I believe worksheets have their place in the classroom, the best TpT resources are activities, which there are tons of!

I personally sell and buy on TpT and I can't think of anything better to do with my time away from my students!

Anonymous said...

WORKSHEETS? I just am having a hard time understanding how you think the majority of the products on TPT are WORKSHEETS? I have purchased a tremendous amount of products from TPT and I would not classify ONE of them as a worksheet. I have been able to help my students learn how to be data trackers and take ownership in their learning through a tremendous product from Kristine ( I have grown as a reading teacher and helped my kids go deep in their reading and understanding from products by Lindsay ( and Nicole ( I have learned how to be a wonderful writing teacher from Jodi ( And I could keep on listing the amazing impact TPT has had on me and my students. Yes, I have spent a lot of money on TPT resources, but my school has given us purchase order money to use as well as through our PTO. I think schools are seeing the WIN-WIN TPT is for their teachers. We are NOT adopting any new textbooks this next year in the elementary grades and a big reason is because of the QUALITY of resources that can be found on TPT.

Classroom Confections said...

Hi - I acutally read this article yesterday and found it to be very interesting. With my husband and I both being educators, we acutally had a discussion about it. With him being a high school teacher, they always seem to have a different way of thinking about things. His response was, "Well, that's one way to get teachers to stop creating stuff." Or, they will keep creating it and not use it in the classroom. Here is the deal. I have always made things for my classroom. That is why TpT and I are such a perfect fit. BUT, with TpT being a means of making a bit of money, I spend my own money on the graphics and I spend hours outside of class to make the items. There are so many angles to this topic. What about teachers that write for textbook companies? What about teachers that tutor for pay? What about teachers that write children's books? What about principals that write books? Where do we draw the line. If I used the school's computer and made things on school time, then yes, I don't own the item. But, I type up lessons from my home computer at night after school hours. My students benefit from the EXTRA time I put in. Many teachers leave at 4 and do NOTHING after work. They make the same salary I do. You don't like to spend your money, but there are many teachers that do. A third grade teacher at my school just today was talking about how she bought stuff (loaded up) at the sale yesterday and she so appreciated our time because it saved her time. She got great material that she didn't have to create. Plus, get this.......she said we don't charge enough!!! It is nice to be appreciated. AND, she bought something from me when I work 2 doors down from her and she knew I would gladly give it to her if she asked. I always offer. Point being.... take my rights away and you take the pleasure of teaching away. I love to teach, but my rights, pride, respect for myself, are far more than someone owning me and my ideas. I heart TpT, I heart teaching, but I don't heart someone owning me. On and ending note.... great topic to get some responses. It is something that will definitely be followed by many teachers. :-) Thanks. ~Molly

The Science Goddess said...

Rules vary by contract. One important thing to remember is that public funds are used to pay salaries---and therefore, the public may own the works created using these funds. In my state, this has long been the case. Even districts are not supposed to sell curriculum to other districts. As a state worker in education, I belong to the state. If I sell anything that I create (even in my time off), then I am in violation of ethics laws. I can, however, get permission to do---but there are lots of hoops involved.

I know that for all the hours we put in, we feel a sense of personal ownership. But the bottom line---at least in this state---is that if you are doing work in accordance for what you are being paid for, then it's not "yours."

organized chaos said...

Eek- I did not mean to insult TPT or those who use it, and I didn't mean to insinuate that it is all about worksheets. I'm very jealous of those of you whose schools allow for a purchase order, and that you get tons of activities off of TPT.
Science Goddess brings up what I fear is going to be what we all learn from all of this, legally speaking. I think it may come down to what school districts are willing to pursue. Are they going to overlook our creativity and the intellectual property issue, or are they going to follow in PG county's footsteps (which I believe would be a first...) If they were to follow PG county I think they'd simply kill TPT- it wouldn't actually generate any additional revenue.
I can't help but hope that this stops with PG county and we never hear about the story again...

classroom confections said...

I wasn't really insulted. It is just so stinkin frustrating that a system would even think they could OWN something I make on my own time. Honestly, my frutration is not with you at all. :-) It is about the topic itself. I think you are right that it would kill places like TpT because a working teacher is not going to spend 40 hours a week outside of the classroom making stuff just to give it to those that don't do the extra work. It would come back to bite them in the butt, so to speak. Money hungry will leave their stomach empty in the end.... and their piggy bank too!! great topic to blog about... not so great to think about. ha ~Molly