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Teachers Publish Their Own Textbooks

Lower publishing costs allow teachers to write their own textbooks.

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When David Rockwood, a teacher at Payson High School in Utah, decided to combine two of his areas of expertise—athletics and psychology—into a new course, he ran into one major roadblock: There were no sports psychology textbooks targeted to a high school audience. So, he decided to write one himself.

Rockwood is reportedly one of a handful of high school teachers nationwide who have written textbooks for their classrooms. There are many reasons a teacher might write a textbook: for niche courses, such as sports psychology, for which a suitable book doesn't exist; to self-publish supplementary material for a class; or because sudden curriculum changes can put widely used textbooks out of date.

In Marietta, Ga., for instance, Laura Speer wrote a textbook that aligned with new math standards the state implemented that combined algebra, geometry, and statistics topics into one course. Textbook manufacturers decided it was too expensive to produce books specifically for schools in the state, so she took matters into her own hands.

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Self-publishing firms such as Lulu and Blurb have made it easy for anyone with a PDF or text document to create and order a relatively small number of books, which works well for teachers who only need enough books for their students.

But teachers-turned-authors sometimes find an audience outside of their classroom, too. Rockwood's sports psychology book is now used in about 40 high schools nationwide, he says. He makes a $10 profit per book sold, so it has even turned into a small, secondary revenue stream.

Sarah Gilbert, director of Lulu, says many of the site's most popular books are from teachers and college professors, because they have a built-in audience: their students.

"People have the most success selling directly to customers," rather than being found through a Google search, she says. Rockwood says his book's popularity has come mostly through word of mouth and his website promoting the book.

Getting a textbook approved for use in an entire district can be a daunting and perhaps impossible process, but using one as supplemental material; in private schools (which have more autonomy than public schools); or for a niche, elective course such as Rockwood's, is much easier.

Some teachers say they took different routes to textbook authorship. André Cossette, for instance, who teaches debate at Gonzaga Preparatory School in Spokane, Wash., developed his book, The Art of Debate, from handouts he had been giving to students. At first, he had the worksheets bound at Costco to keep them organized. Other teachers heard about his rudimentary book and became interested, he says, prompting him to make something more professional.

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Self-publishing also allows teachers to keep ownership of their work and make changes when necessary. The Art of Debate is now in its 12th edition because Cossette often tweaks the work—and his students are always improving it by catching errors while reading. "They're very good at proofreading it for me," he says.

The books also give teachers authority with their students, says Rockwood, who teaches at Payson. "They think it's really cool; sometimes they call me 'the professor' as a joke," he says.

But self-published textbooks might have one major drawback. While using their own textbook streamlines their classes and makes lesson planning easier, teachers lose the secondary voice a textbook usually provides, says Cossette.

"I put all my best stuff in the book," he says. "If I have stories or jokes to tell, I end up repeating myself. And the new ones I come up with—if they were good, I would have put it in the book."

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