Teaching is a strange job. Much of it is solitary work: after-hours planning and late night marking. And yet, of course it is public. So very public. The act itself requires another person, and in our education system that usually means more than thirty of them. Our work is primarily self-directed. We have a curriculum to follow, and we must fit into the rhythm of school life and the assessment and reporting calendar, but we call the shots most of the time for most of our day. Combine this autonomy with high levels of personal accountability, a huge workload, and the rigorous treadmill of school life, and it is easy to forget that, actually, we are not alone. We are part of a wider body of colleagues: both in our school and throughout the country. And, with wonderful tools like twitter at our disposal, we have the potential to communicate with each other, help each other, and to influence classrooms we will never see.
To illustrate this point, allow me to tell you a personal anecdote. I am in my first year at a new school, and have taken on a year 11 class studying a course I haven’t taught before. This is not an unusual situation (indeed it is the third time I’ve been in it) but this is the first time I’ve been able to borrow the work of other colleagues so extensively. I’m not sure how I found it, or when exactly I found it, but the hashtag #TeamEnglish has been a revelation. I could not quantify the amount of time it has saved me. Knowledge organisers, poetry anthologies, past papers, high quality schemes of learning: I’ve downloaded them all. I gratefully hit the ‘Print’ button, and watch as the work of a dedicated teacher, whom I don’t know and will not be able to adequately thank, is stapled together in neat little bundles.
With all the time this has saved me, I have been able to ruminate on the ethics of this transaction. Does it constitute simply a (wonderful) act of collegiate kindness? Is it an act of financial stupidity? Or is it something more: a meaningful step in re-imaging our professional obligations?
The simple truth is: people will pay for good resources. A brilliant article in the Telegraph from 2009 speaks of Richard Parsons, a man whose name may be oddly familiar to you. He was the fifth best-selling author of the past decade. Look at these mind-boggling statistics:
“Since 2000 he has sold a total of 9,363,795 books, amassing sales of £48,293,826. That may be dwarfed by Rowling’s sales of 27.5 million books, at a value of £215.8 million, but it ranks happily alongside Bill Bryson’s sales of 5.9 million, with a value of £50 million. Indeed he has outsold Jamie Oliver, who has only managed to shift a paltry 7 million of his cookbooks, and Ian Rankin and Patricia Cornwell, who sold 6.4 million and 6.1 million of their crime novels respectively.”
He is familiar because her is Mr CGP. Those corny, comic-book style revision guides are so widely used he had amassed sales of nearly £50m eight years ago. What he must have made by now is anyone’s guess. No wonder he is seen “sometimes wearing T-shirts emblazoned with ‘The Boss’ on the front.”
I don’t begrudge him his success. His books are affordable and useful. But some of the material I’ve downloaded for free using #TeamEnglish has been better. Surely the teachers, busy professionals, who produced these resources deserve a few quid? If they earn enough to go on holiday at the end of the year, wouldn’t that be great?
TES Paid Resources
In theory, that is what the TES shop should allow to happen. Teachers sell their handiwork at a nominal sum and are duly paid for their time and effort. Over the course of time, reliable purveyors of high quality resources will be identified by the market place and these diligent practitioners will be supplementing their income whilst simultaneously saving other teachers the task of producing resources. We all benefit.
And yet there is something… uncomfortable about this part of the TES website. I’m not alone in thinking this:
Have you ever bought/paid for a resources on TES made by another teacher?
— Miss B (@_MissieBee) January 31, 2017
My own survey produced similar results:
— Labour Teachers (@labourteachers) February 26, 2017
(Incidentally, the ‘2% Yes – at a price’ was the result of an accidental button-pressing!)
In addition to boycotting the service, others expressed a disappointment that it even existed:
— Ms. Flynn (@MsFlynnGeog) October 2, 2016
Mini-rant… It's so frustrating that so many people are *selling* resources on TES now. Want a w/sheet for functions, 300 paid for ones!
— Miss B Lilley (@MissBLilley) November 6, 2016
Contrasting this experience with my own use of #TeamEnglish, it is difficult not to share @MissBLilley’s disappointment.
If there is money to be had, why not cash in? Why share? It makes sense at this point to pass over to the heroes of the piece and allow them to explain their own motives:
@labourteachers I part run this account because collaboration and sharing is the best CPD and fantastic support at a time of immense change.
— Team English (@Team_English1) March 7, 2017
— Evans (@Eng_Lysh) March 7, 2017
— Susan Strachan (@SusanSEnglish) March 7, 2017
A New Vision of Collegiality
Those teachers that choose to share their work online are operating within the noble traditions of the profession. As @Eng_Lysh puts it, ‘teaching is all about sharing and not just with the students.’
Informal collaboratives like this operate as CPD, improve the experience children get in the classroom, and connect us to each other. By helping to relieve the burden of excessive workload they also reinforce our professional kinship. We use other people’s materials and we are moved to share as well.
Whilst TES’ paid resources may prove to be a huge commercial success, I do hope that is not the case. I entirely empathise with any teacher who seeks to make a very modest return on hours of their own labour. But there is something so brilliantly noble, so heartwarming, so exciting, and so empowering about #TeamEnglish that a few quid could never replace. It is a virtuous circle that helps us to see more clearly our professional obligations to each other. At a time of great upheaval and specimen change, it is right and proper that we band together and share the workload. It is better for all of us, and for young people, that we do this for free.
Not least because, even though it may feel like it at times, in this profession we are never really on our own.