Education

Sacramento area teachers make extra money selling lesson plans, curriculum online

Teacher Chery Akaba-McCumber in her home office in Elk Grove on Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015. Akaba-McCumber is a teacher for Sacramento City Unified who makes games that help kids learn. She uses them in her classroom and sells them to other teachers on the website Teachers Paying Teachers.
Teacher Chery Akaba-McCumber in her home office in Elk Grove on Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015. Akaba-McCumber is a teacher for Sacramento City Unified who makes games that help kids learn. She uses them in her classroom and sells them to other teachers on the website Teachers Paying Teachers. rbenton@sacbee.com

Chery Akaba-McCumber has created educational games for her students ever since she started teaching 32 years ago, but now she gets paid to share them.

The first-grade teacher at John Still K-8 School in south Sacramento has joined a growing number of teachers who sell lesson plans and classroom materials through curriculum marketplaces online.

While the Internet made it easier to sell materials to colleagues thousands of miles away, the cottage industry really took off starting in 2010 when national Common Core State Standards were first published. The challenging standards, which emphasize problem-solving skills over memorization, sent many teachers scrambling to find ideas proven to work in the classroom.

Teachers Pay Teachers is the largest online marketplace for educators, with 1.8 million resources available on the site, said Adam Freed, the company’s chief executive officer. About 3.7 million people have downloaded a product from the site in the last year, he said.

Products generally cost between $2 and $12, with some resources offered for free. The stores have names like “A Cupcake for the Teacher,” “The Inspired Apple” and “Teaching in Room 6.”

The company earned $78 million in 2014. It has paid over $175 million to teachers, who get 85 percent of the proceeds of each sale, since it started in 2006, Freed said. The site has been lucrative for some teachers; 16 have made $1 million or more, according to Teachers Pay Teachers.

“Our big challenge is keeping up with the growth,” Freed said.

Akaba-McCumber said teachers are searching on their own because Common Core lesson plans suitable for their classrooms aren’t always available locally.

“They say teach the Common Core, but they don’t give you the material,” Akaba-McCumber said. “Teachers are now providing Common Core curriculum online. It’s like this underground movement. When you figure out something good you share it with your friends.”

Retired kindergarten teacher Jackie Albright said websites like Teachers Pay Teachers also have grown popular because brick and mortar stores selling classroom materials have all but vanished.

“Teachers know what students need,” said Albright, who taught at Dan O. Root Elementary in Suisun City until recently. “Teachers trust other teachers. Teachers always have shared between classrooms and now we are sharing internationally.”

Although teachers are generally given a small annual allowance of about $150 to $200 for their classrooms, the money usually goes toward basic supplies, not curriculum, Akaba-McCumber said. She spent half that amount just buying colored pencils for her class, she said.

Akaba-McCumber says she was sharing the classroom materials she created with other teachers at her school long before online marketplaces like Teachers Pay Teachers came along. “People think I’m very strange,” she said. “This is what I do for a hobby.”

She estimated that she spends about 25 hours a month sequestered in a workroom in her Elk Grove home surrounded by bookshelves filled with resource books and tables topped with laminating, binding and copy machines.

Akaba-McCumber is particularly fond of creating games, especially those that teach first-graders the 135 sight words they must learn before they enter second grade. “These kids won’t practice, but they will play,” she said. “They love it.”

One game at her store Easy Peasy Primary Resources is called “Smack-A-Bug Sight Word Game.” One student calls out sight words while two other children compete to be the first one to “smack” the paper bug with that word written on its back. The children collect bugs while learning the words.

Teachers usually only have to print it out, laminate it and cut it, she said.

On a recent morning, Akaba-McCumber was attaching spinners to a laminated Santa Claus surrounded by numbers. She bought this game from another teacher online and planned to add it to the clear plastic envelopes she sends home with her students each Friday.

Akaba-McCumber usually sends home two games each week that help students improve their reading skills and one that sharpens math skills. The veteran teacher has found that sending home games instead of homework has proved effective with the high-poverty population she teaches. “Often their parents can’t help with homework,” she said.

Albright and Kylene Turner are business partners in JK Curriculum Connection. The retired teachers have a blog, as well as a store on Teachers Pay Teachers that focuses on pre-kindergarten to second-grade curriculum.

The women met while working for the Fairfield-Suisun Unified School District. They soon were making presentations about literacy at conferences. “We started developing curriculum and started selling it,” Turner said. “Before Teachers Pay Teachers, our publisher was Kinkos and we were just selling things at conferences.”

The women each work about 30 hours a week, Turner at her home and in her barn loft in Woodland and Albright from her Vacaville home. “It’s like a job,” Turner said. “We say we have to work today.”

The team produces numerous products, including “Singables,” a favorite in their store. “Singables” help students to remember key details of stories, engage in group reading and recognize sight words, according to website.

One of their store’s bestselling “Singables” is “Five Little Turkeys,” on sale for $4. The product includes directions, a shared reading book and a mini-movie in which pages of the book turn as Turner and Albright sing the words. The book, sung to “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” also includes five stick puppets and a word game called Tricky Turkey.

“It gets five kids up in front of the classroom and they get involved with oral expression, Turner said.

The women wouldn’t disclose how much they make annually on Teachers Pay Teachers.

Akaba-McCumber said she just breaks even every month, spending her earnings on Teachers Pay Teachers classroom products and paying for the equipment and materials she uses in her workshop.

“I make nothing,” she said. “It’s about community. It’s not the money.”

The Sacramento City Unified teacher said her most popular item, a page that asks students to write a word repeatedly with different writing tools, has sold 1,781 times for $2.25, earning her $2,500.

“As you can see, it really adds up, even for such a relatively inexpensive item,” Akaba-McCumber said.

She is hoping to make a little extra money after she retires. “Ideally, it would be nice to get money,” she said.

Diana Lambert: 916-321-1090, @dianalambert

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