Last fall, Deanna Jump made headlines when it was announced she’d brought in a million dollars selling her lesson plans online. Despite the windfall, Jump, a longtime teacher at Central Fellowship Christian Academy in Macon, Georgia, has no plans to quit the work she considers her calling. She spoke with us about her secrets for creating units that kids—and fellow teachers—can’t resist.
How did you get the idea of selling your work online?
Deanna Jump: I’ve always created my own activities and units, and I’ve always shared them with my fellow teachers. A few years ago, we were in our weekly team meeting, and one of my team members said, “Your stuff is so good. You’ve got to put it on Teachers Pay Teachers.” I’d never heard of it before. She gave me the link, and I got started. That was 2009. The first year, my sales were really slow. I made about $300. At the time I thought that was great. I thought, Oh, wow, I made $300.
How has the windfall changed your life?
DJ: Teachers in America, we don’t make a whole lot of money, so I really consider it a blessing. I have a brother who’s a quadriplegic. For about 13 years, he was stuck at home unless he had a doctor’s appointment. With my first big check, we bought him a van so our mother can take him to the movies, take him to the park. Just to see the look on his face that first time he was able to go in the van and know he was not going to the doctor’s was priceless.
I try to be careful with the money. I give some to my community. We have no car payments, no credit-card or mortgage payments. I still have student loans—the next check, they’ll be paid off. But I still drive a Kia. I still live in the same house.
What’s the secret to creating a unit that works in the classroom?
DJ: I start with the Common Core standards. What is it that kids need to learn? One of the most important things for me is making sure the learning is hands-on and engaging. I integrate a lot—just about everything I do will have a science activity, then we’re writing about it, we’re doing math with it, reading about it, bringing in all different subject areas.
What advice would you give fellow teachers who might want to sell their lessons?
DJ: Stay true to yourself. You can’t fool anybody. My teaching style is reflected in my units. I don’t try to say, “Okay, how would this teacher over here do it?” and try to create something for her.
Also, be a teacher first, and a seller second. Be careful to make sure that you don’t say, “Oh, my goodness, I haven’t put anything out for two months. I need to get something out.” I never think like that. But so many people do. That was one thing that made me successful—I create things with my students and the Common Core standards in mind. Then, if it’s successful in my classroom, I share it with the rest of the world.
And third, make sure once you’ve put something out there for other teachers to buy, that that’s not the end of it. Don’t let it just be, “Oh, they spent $8. I don’t have to mess with them again.” Make sure there’s service after the sale, because there are going to be questions. That’s probably the most time-consuming thing—answering questions. Sometimes they have nothing to do with what they bought from me. It may be, “How do I organize my classroom library?” or, “I have this child who has this type of behavioral problem. What can I do to help them?”
If you’re going to put yourself out there as a mentor to other teachers, you have to mentor them regardless of whether there’s a price tag attached. My goal is, I truly want to help other teachers. I know what it’s like. When you start out, they throw you in there and it’s sink or swim. I just want to help other teachers swim.
Could you see yourself embracing the mentor role even more in the years to come?
DJ: I would love to do that one day—and maybe full time. People keep asking, “Why do you still teach?” I absolutely love to teach. That’s where I find my joy. If an artist paints a canvas and sells it for a few dollars, are they going to stop painting? No. Because that’s probably their love. It’s the same for me. Teaching is my love.