Teachers are often told the value of borrowing (or “stealing”) lessons and ideas from other teachers. With the growing popularity of Pinterest, Teachers Pay Teachers, and teacher affinity groups on Facebook, it is easier than ever to share and find materials for your classroom. There is so much to choose from on the internet, you could teach your whole year without ever making anything from scratch.
MOST OF IT IS GOOD! But…
One big danger with this is that there is zero quality control. You probably aren’t as bothered as I am about the tacky cartoon kid clipart that seems to be on 90% of elementary school materials on Teachers Pay Teachers. But that’s the least of the damage being done. I use TPT quite a bit, but I have definitely found a lot of really low quality teaching materials that were just dressed up with cute graphics and fonts.
But much worse than that is the number of lesson plan ideas or clipart that inadvertently contained messages of racism, sexism, ableism, etc. Worse yet, many of these were even marketed as “multicultural” or “social justice” or “inclusive”, but instead contained stereotypes and/or tokenism. (Have a quick look for Thanksgiving lessons, and tally the number that have a white, buckle-shoed Pilgrim child and a brown child, wearing all brown, with a feather sticking straight out of his hair.)
Our students learn a lot from the materials we put in front of them: the language, the illustrations, the things we put on a pedestal, and who goes unseen. To reference the snapshots I included below, there are a number of clear teachings. I’ve already mentioned the contrast between the white Pilgrims and the brown, feather-headbanded Natives. We can also see that the great authors of our world are 100% white. The composers that are worth studying are all white MEN. And Muslim children all have the same color of brown skin.
Another problem is similar to a problem I often see with technology: We can get so caught up in the novelty or aesthetic of something that we forget our purpose. None of us would say we have more time than we need to teach everything we want to teach. Every moment counts in the classroom. If we’re using something because it’s cute, or new, or something we saw in a great TikTok video, we might not be using it for the right reason. Does it really serve the purpose of the learning? Does it support our learning objective? Is it at the right level for the students?
Use it, but look deeper
I’m definitely not saying that we shouldn’t use Teachers Pay Teachers. There are some really amazing lesson ideas there. I’ve found some real gems on there. And to be fair, since I originally thought about writing this post, a lot of problematic stuff seems to have disappeared. I hope that means that: 1. creators are more aware of themselves and their materials, and 2. TPT is removing these harmful materials from their platform. (According to this article, they are in fact working on that.)
But we must be careful and critical when choosing what we use from teachers in other contexts—teachers who see the world through a different lens. Here are a few considerations for being a successful curator of borrowed teaching materials.
- Are the language, illustrations, and examples accurate, current, and representative of the real world?
- Does it help my students understand their world better? (Think windows and mirrors.)
- Will this resource support the learning goals we are working on? Does it do it efficiently, or does it require more time than it might be worth?
- Will it require my students to wonder, and to think critically?
- Does the creator offer something I am not already offering my students?
- Will this be accessible but also challenge my students’ thinking?
- Have I examined this resource thoroughly for potential harm (through stereotypes, tokenism, exoticizing, etc.), particularly to students who are already marginalized? Do I understand the content and the subject matter well enough to make that judgement?
Once you’ve dug a little deeper, you’ll be much happier with the resources you buy from TPT! When used well, TeachersPayTeachers can be an incredible source of creative, fun, thought-provoking lessons for your classroom.