If you are a new or in the middle of your career, writing your own textbook may soon become your reality. Those at the end of their career may be just hoping to hold on and make sure that water doesn’t get into their boat. Whether your sails are up or if you are patching holes in your boat to just stay afloat, writing your own textbook seems to be in everyone’s boat cargo.
My department just had a discussion at the end of the day. Why pay for books if we can do a better job? If everything is already on the internet, why do we need to continue to purchase $100.00 textbooks? We know a lot about the topics that we teach about, but do we REALLY know ALL about the topics that we teach? Will a school board member, parent, or taxpayer question what we write? Some subjects in the humanities might be a bit more difficult as different interpretations of a topic can easily be turned into an unwanted bias. For some departments, writing your own text might be an easier task. I would think that a subject like Math is very doable, World Geography, foods, maybe even Chemistry (until some new element is discovered).
But the giant elephant in the room was still not being discussed. No one wants to be the first to ask, “Will someone pay me for all of this work?” Especially if you are in our profession. You know how it is; we are held to higher standards. We should not be expected to get paid for wanting to improve our classroom experience, and some are even made to feel guilty when they dare ask the money question.
But why? If school districts are so keen on saving money by not buying textbooks and want their expert teachers to start writing them to help save the expense, shouldn’t the teachers be compensated for their work? If we are lucky, some of us might be able to take advantage of time grants that might legitimize one day’s worth of work, but I think we can all know better. I think we all know how much time can go into writing our own textbooks. For some, this may be a process that takes to the end of their career to perfect. I know those last few lines sounded like someone parading for union rights, but the truth of the matter is, you are asking your full time teachers to write a textbook on their own time, now as part of their prep. Of course there are the cynics who will say, “But you have all summer to do that,” or, “You make too much anyway.” But for the one who is crafting their masterpiece for their course and investing personal time into its creation, it is hard to wonder if it is really worth our time and effort.
I have great ideas for the course that I teach. I am creative and I want to put a lot of time and effort into it. But I also think that I should not feel guilty for wanting to own the rights to it and sell my original work if it worked out that way. It is hard because a teachers are known for sacrificing their time for the sake of their students and left’s face it, there is a negative stigma out there when teachers try to make money off of it in this way. But how am I different than the college professor that sells his/her textbooks to their students? Some of them are public workers. Is the difference in the PhD? Is the difference that I teach teenagers?
A couple of Physics teachers in our school created their own company and now produce physics apps to help their students throughout the year. The caveat is that we have to be careful to never use the district’s time or computers for any of this work if we plan on holding rights to any of it (and I actually completely agree with that). So when I started working on my text eight months ago, I made sure that I kept a log of the time that I spent working on my project and to do it on my home computer only. Apparently, we once had an employee that wanted to sell his materials for profit, but the district tried to claim intellectual property of it and take the commissions that were earned. While I don’t know the entire story, what I do know is that I have to go about this carefully if I want to sell my geography guidebook. I plan on giving it to our students for free and charging anyone who may be interested on the outside.
I consider this an experiment, and a necessary one since this is a relatively new issue that I see growing in the near future.