Teachers feel underpaid. Instead of getting upset about it I hope this article (and this site) guides to you giving yourself at least one option for increasing your income. One way for teachers who wish to increase their income is selling their lesson plans online at sites like TeachersPayTeachers.
Teachers wanting to earn a bit more for their skills and knowledge will have to find time and put aside the “I shouldn’t” or “I can’t” mindset that many educators have about having a side hustle. For inspiration and direction below is the story of Dale Duncan, a teacher who found the time and the process for earning quite a bit of extra money on TpT.
Dale Duncan is a very successful teacher and seller on TeachersPayTeachers.com. Dale is someone I found out about 3 or 4 months ago and the more I’ve read about him and gotten to know him the more impressed I’ve become. Dale gets 3-4 times more done with his time than most people you or I know (Should we test him for PED’s? Just kidding Dale).
He is a music teacher who also judges, and formerly competed in, aerobic gymnastics. Dale writes and puts his music lessons online for students and teachers. Dale was kind enough to share how much he earns from his music lessons at TeachersPayTeachers.com (most teachers will be impressed), how he finds time to do this in addition to teaching, how many products he thinks you need to be successful selling lesson on sites like TeachersPayTeachers, how he recommends you get your products noticed, how long it took him to get started much more. Dale really shared some valuable knowledge here for teachers so if you get a chance to thank him at his site please do.
Dale, when did you first start considering having an impact beyond just teaching during the set hours of a school day?
(Dale’s replies are below the bolded headings) I’ve taught public school for over 20 years, and I struggled so much at the beginning of my career that I made a vow to myself within the first year: If I ever figure this middle school choral music teaching gig out, I have got to help other teachers. That was in 1990. In 2009, I started writing a book about my sight singing techniques. I submitted the manuscript to a couple of folks, but my work simply didn’t translate into books.
In 2012, I found TeachersPayTeachers, and I started sharing my S-Cubed Middle School Sight Singing program there in the fall of 2013 one lesson at a time. The program began to get some traction in June of 2014. I created Level TWO of S-Cubed during the fall of 2015.
I spent the first half of my career figuring out how to effectively teach choir to beginners in this age group, and I’m spending the second half of my career sharing it with others using 21st century technology by blogging and posting on my YouTube Channel. I have to say that it is just as rewarding to help middle school choral teachers as it is to help my middle school students. Teachers don’t get enough help. They are placed into a classroom and told to “go”. I am so grateful that we have so many free resources available by doing a simple “google search”.
What do you teach?
I teach Choral Music and Musical Theater to 340+ un-auditioned students in grades 6 through 8.
How long have you been teaching?
I just completed my 24th year teaching public school.
Where do you teach now?
I teach at Henderson Middle School in Atlanta, GA.
What are you doing in addition to teaching?
In addition to teaching and sharing my online resources, I am an Internationally Level 3 breveted judge through the Federation Internationale Gymnastique for the sport of Aerobic Gymnastics. So far in 2016, I have judged in Japan and Canada, and I am about to fly to Korea later this month to judge the World Aerobic Gymnastics Championships being held in Incheon. I call it my “hobby on steroids”. It doesn’t pay, but I absolutely love contributing to the sport.
I am a former USA National Aerobic Champion in the sport, and I coached and choreographed for athletes for many years. Google “Dale Duncan Aerobics” and you’ll see my old ESPN aerobic videos! Big hair! I’ve dreamed of being a part of the Olympics all my life. Our sport is on the pathway toward that goal, and I want to be there to judge it…and if I’m 80 when it happens, hopefully my hands, eyes and ears will work well enough to be on the judges panel!
Also, I am a judge for the Shuler Hensley Georgia High School Musical Theater Awards each year.
I absolutely love taking care of my three pets (dog, cat and 26 year old bird), and I thoroughly enjoy taking care of plants.
What is your experience in a non-education setting and what role do you think it has played in your success?
My work as a singer/dancer on cruise ships and theme parks before I began teaching was incredibly helpful. I grew as a performer enormously during that time. I enjoyed watching other performers, and I went to see as many shows as I could during that time.
My work as a competitive athlete in the sport of aerobic gymnastics taught me how to set goals and make them happen. I had no money when I began competing, so I went out and found sponsors. That was very challenging because our sport is so young, but I made it happen because I wanted it so badly. I learned to be methodical and tenacious as I shared my passion about the sport, and I think that is why I was successful.
(Note – this might make sense as a logical transfer of skills in hindsight but Dale must have really believe in himself to make those skills transfer over. What skills do YOU have collecting dust that could be coupled with your content and/or instruction knowledge? Write this down somewhere NOW – if you want to email it to me go for it but you need to take stock of what other skills you have. – Thinking back I have experience managing a store, writing, networking, podcasting, coaching, and understanding how teachers can take advantage of the same great investing options that the rich and famous do.)
Dealing with Day to Day Teacher Challenges
Many teachers are currently struggling with the stress of a normal school day, what tips do you have for them on not only getting through a normal day but getting ahead and extending their impact/doing more?
You are never going to get everything done. Face it and accept it.
Focus your energies on the things you absolutely love to do and can’t wait to teach.
(Note from Mark: What do YOU love to do? Don’t just think about this. Write it down!)
In general, teachers want to please others They are rule followers, and they don’t like change. In an effort to balance our lives and enjoy our work, we have to accept that each year, things will change. Every single year, there will be new initiatives, new ways of testing, new grade book systems to learn and new email systems to deal with. Most of those things are created by people who have never been in a classroom or who haven’t been there for a long time, so it is up to us to decide how to thrive.
You are on the front lines and the most important thing is the students sitting in your class.
At the beginning of each day, ask yourself “What are the most important things I have to do in this day to help my students and enjoy the process of teaching them?” Don’t focus on the newest evaluation system or the things you have to do for people who aren’t inside the classroom. If you do, you will burn out.
Your classroom is your oasis. Make it one that you love going to and being a part of and let the other stuff drop to the bottom of your list.
What challenges have you faced along the way both in the classroom and as a teacherpreneur?
The similar challenge (classroom/teacherpreneur) is that I want to make everyone happy. My students are in my class to learn, and I want to knock it out of the park every day. That doesn’t always happen, but I give it my best shot.
As a teacherpreneur, I know that teachers are often spending their own hard-earned money to purchase my work, and I want it to be as useful for them as possible. I know how hard they work for their money because I am a teacher. I hope that as time passes, more school districts will purchase using sites with digital lesson plans. It isn’t the future. It is now. Books are over. (Mark’s note: Very interesting! There are teachers making and selling their own digital textbooks they’ve created and I’ll be discussing this in future posts.)
How do you find time to be doing all of what you are doing?
I have no idea. I keep praying that we can make the days 36 hours long. 🙂 Wish me luck.
The thing that motivates me the most is my passion. I have a deep passion for everything I work on. When the passion goes away for a particular activity or job, it’s time to stop. Mine keeps revving back up year after year thank goodness. However, I have stopped doing certain things in the past because the passion simply left me, and I will do the same with teaching and sharing my materials if/when that times comes. (Mark’s note: Thank you for the “Why I got into teaching” emails!)
Amazing. Both companies have changed my life. I am so grateful for these companies that give us the opportunity to make our own way and share our work in the way we see best. I have 100% editorial control. If I were selling a book, I would make, at most, 12% of each book sold. With these companies, I make between 60% and 100% of each sale, and usually I make about 85%. The markets are growing tremendously. There is no specific formula to follow as you create and share your work. You have to create a vision and go.
(Mark’s note: Start TODAY. The fact that they are growing is like getting in early or in the middle of a gold rush. If you are in the U.S. and on a break it’s a perfect time to set up an account on TeachersPayTeachers and TES and get started. Stop waiting.)
How are TpT and TES the same?
TeachersPayTeachers has a larger base here in the USA. The company is so large that sometimes I feel like a small fish in a big pond. However, it has been lucrative because of its large market. There are so many teachers in the forums to help you and with whom you can collaborate. TPT is where I got my start, and I am so thankful.
TES is just getting started here in the USA, but it’s market in Europe is huge. They are about to join the USA and Europe platforms, and I think that is going to make a huge difference in the available marketplace for teachers who sell on their site. They have been incredibly warm and welcoming to me one-on-one. They show how much they value my contribution with individual attention. I believe they are going to be very successful in the long-term because I’ve seen how they operate. They have 100% integrity with every action. I am so grateful to be a part of their journey.
Where can teachers find out more about you?
Two spots-These are my two little corners of the world that are all mine!
Could I get a quote you’d give for other teachers that want to find a way to do more beyond the normal day of teaching?
Passion drives us to reach the highest peaks. Figure out what you are driven to share with your students and your peers, and you will find the way to go the extra mile.
Dale, do you mean finding the time and energy to start selling on TpT or doing something else?
I can only speak for myself. I had always wanted to share my sight singing techniques with other teachers. Therefore, I not only wanted to share it, but I wanted to be compensated for the time and energy it took to create what I’ve learned in the classroom. When I found that I could make 85% of every sale on TPT, I knew I had found what would work for me. It was the perfect blend of the sharing of my work with getting compensated for it, and I got to drive my own bus. If I got good reviews and created something awesome, it would work. If I didn’t, it would fail. For me, that was the right place and the right approach.
How much earning potential is there on TpT?
I’ve made $135,000 selling my program since 2013 ($75,000 of it last year alone and will surpass that this year), and I am not even in the top 100 all-time sellers. I was a slow starter. (Note from Mark: So was Deanna Jump, the first teacher to surpass one million dollars of sales on TeachersPayTeachers).
I am listed as the #42 highest all time middle school seller. The highest earners are mostly elementary sellers, but the markets in middle and high school are growing. (Gold rush?)
If one has a good idea to share and has the creativity and tenacity to put it out there, the potential is enormous.
By tenacity do you mean the number of products?
The number of products doesn’t matter. I am one of the folks with the fewest products.
What matters, in my opinion, is how you work to collaborate with others…how smart you are in the choices you make about how your promote using social media.
The greatest lessons I learned were from Charity Preston’s Teaching Blog Traffic School. I knew nothing about how to use social media, and her lessons helped me turn the curve.
(Note from Mark: I’ve heard positive things about Charity’s school before. You can find more information on it here.)
By tenacious, I mean…having a vision of what you want to present and having the determination to figure out how to use this platform to the greatest possible potential. It takes time, determination and singular focus.
How do you recommend teachers get started on TpT?
Download free products and see what the top sellers in your subject area are sharing.
(Note from Mark: I did this and immediately noticed high quality graphics and very well thought out plans. Do NOT rush this. I’d also recommend making sure you have a high quality free product available for people to download. Teachers can use these and then follow you – however I am not a TpT expert.)
Buy Charity Preston’s Teaching Blog Traffic School and doing everything she says. It’s a lot…so let me correct…do what you can handle.
(Note from Mark: One thing at a time is something I’ve learned putting up this site, do NOT try and do a million things at once. Just do one thing. Finish it. Move to the next.)
Network on the Seller’s Forums. (Note – there are some on Facebook as well as inside TeachersPayTeachers) and find giveaways created by people who sell in your grade level and subject area. Also, ask to join their pinterest boards and start pinning.
(If you have Pinterest and can pin this article in Pinterest I’d really appreciate it!)
Create this 3 to 4 or 3 to 5 ratio of free offerings vs. paid as you figure out how to market. So, including your website, social media, etc. you want to give you 3-5 free things to get people’s attention and trust. Teachers deserve it!
How are you networking to get traffic and attention to your products on TpT? Through your website? Social media?
All of the above.
However, this took tremendous work. It took off once I did Charity’s course.
Thank you so much Dale!
Finally, here is: