Supplementary materials as pension plan

Some years ago, I had the opportunity to work for Cat Stevens (now known as Yusuf Islam – see a website about Yusuf – www.yusufislam.com  ), a well-known pop-star from the late 60’s and early 70’s.

In case you’re wondering, I was certainly not teaching English, and neither did he have an English Institute. So what does this have to do with TESOL and teaching?

Okay, let’s take a step back, and think about ourselves as teaching professionals. First, how many years have you been teaching? Second, how many subjects have you taught; third, how much are you earning compared to other professionals?

Let’s assume the answers to the first two questions are “quite a few”, and for the third, the answer is “pretty average”. Having said this, if money was a primary motivator for you, then you would probably have gone into another profession.

Question: How many supplementary materials do you produce per lesson, per day and per week? Now, calculate the number of supplementary materials you produce per year, and then multiply this into the number of years you’ve taught.

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Here’s an example:

Subjects taught a week                                                                    =4

1 supplementary sheet (S.S) per week created for each subject   =4 (S.S) per week

The teacher works 50 weeks a year                                      =4 (S.S) x 50 = 200 (S.S)/Year

The teacher works 10 years                                                  =200 (S.S) x10 = 2,000 (S.S)

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Now, how many TESOL teachers are there out there? Let’s assume 20,000.

Taking the figures above, this means that 40 million supplementary sheets are produced for each generation of teachers.

What happens to supplementary sheets? Well, they’re stuffed in envelopes or filed away to gather dust. Who knows, they may be re-used but ultimately, this vast knowledge is being thrown away. How much knowledge have we lost in the last 100 years or more? How could this knowledge have helped us in our teaching and research today?

Each one of us is a container (or silo) of knowledge. Where is that knowledge going? It’s going in the bin of history. There is no library out there of supplementary materials, and so that knowledge is going to waste.

Now back to Cat Stevens (Yusuf). Musicians write songs, and some even produce the music. Long after Yusuf had left being an active musician, he was still receiving money for the work he had previously done. Wherever and whenever a song was played, be it on the radio, be it in an advert, a royalty would be earned. So despite the fact he had written the songs 20 years earlier, he was still making a living on the work he had previously done. The musicians who had collaborated with him in the past also got a part of the royalty. This is standard practice across the industry.

Now, some of you may have worked out what I’m trying to suggest here, which is that the supplementary materials we produce is a valuable resource of knowledge, something that each one of us produces without even a second thought. It’s part of our job. But what happens afterwards?

Ladies and Gentlemen, you are repositories of knowledge, the work you produce is invaluable, and in reality all of that knowledge is going to waste.

Why can’t we have a library of supplementary materials in e.g. cyberspace, let’s say something like Amazon.com, where teachers, students, materials seekers, curriculum writers and even policy makers, can go to and download a copy of one of the masterpieces you have produced. Every time they download your work, you get paid a modest amount, a ‘supplementary materials royalty’.

In a world where iPhones, iPads and various digital tablets exist, in a world where everything and everyone is connected via the net, and in a world where for our students this is the norm, why don’t we take the next step? Imagine you are teaching and then you ask all your students to download materials from cyberspace. Who knows, there may be enough relevant materials out there that you may not even need a textbook. Every time a download occurs, someone somewhere will receive a small royalty.

In this world of transmedia, where publishers are making a killing with their books, CDs, DVDs and online resources, why don’t the rest of us also make use of this opportunity? No one is saying that you are going to make a ‘ton of money’ but at least you can get back something for the work that you produced with your own creativity, your own passion, with your concern for your students, without even a thought that you should get a monetary return. Who knows, with a ‘supplementary materials royalty’ we may survive the unpredictable financial world we currently live in.

So now that I’ve provided the idea, are there any takers out there who can make this a reality?

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