From the Magazine

How One “Hunger Games” Search Became a Full-time Career

Unfortunately, though, there wasn’t much — just one resource on a site called Teachers Pay Teachers (TpT), which had launched a few years prior. Excited to bring the popular novel into her classroom, she joined the site, downloaded the resource, and realized that it would not work. It was clear that Orman would have to develop a “Hunger Games” unit herself if she wanted to teach it.

“I started to panic a little when I couldn’t find anything to help me teach the novel, knowing I would have to create the resources myself,” Orman explains. “I didn’t mind doing the work, but I was hoping to start the novel as soon as possible. Instead, it took me at least a week to create activities and assessments in my spare time just for the first few chapters of the novel.”

But that extra work wouldn’t go for naught. Since she had created an account on Teachers Pay Teachers to check out the one resource she could find, she figured she might as well post and share the resources that she made for the unit, in case other teachers, like her, were searching for it. And, somewhat to her surprise, they were. It was then that Orman set out on a new trajectory,
from teacher … to teacher-preneur. At Empowered, we call this the “Entrepreneurial Mindset.” Tracee saw a market gap, had a vision for how to provide value to her fellow teachers, and took action where she saw opportunity. It’s exactly what we hope our students will learn to do in life.

Within a year, Orman became one of the top sellers on Teachers Pay Teachers and became a featured seller on the site. She was opportunity-obsessed, seeing tens of thousands of fellow teachers getting use out of her great ideas. With one small decision, one moment of risk, she had provided value to her whole community of teachers … and started to see herself in a whole new light.

“The first time I saw my ‘Hunger Games’ unit on the top 10 list, I was so shocked but extremely excited and grateful to actually get recognition for all those late nights I spent writing. It was pretty surreal,” Orman says.

As the book series continued to top the charts, “The Hunger Games” franchise skyrocketed in popularity … and so did Orman’s lessons. But it wasn’t just a popular movie franchise that gave her success, it was her ability to connect students to their passions and give them the opportunity to create value in their classrooms. These weren’t your typical worksheets. Within a few months, Orman herself was on the top 10 seller list on Teachers Pay Teachers. Her resources for “The Hunger Games” were tremendously popular and teachers across the country were using them in their classroom, with great success.

“I have had teachers tell me that it saved them so many hours of work, that their students absolutely loved it and were engaged in the entire unit, and that it made students who hated reading actually want to read and participate,” Orman shares. That’s the power of connecting your subject with a student’s passion.

“The first time I saw my ‘Hunger Games’ unit on the top 10 list, I was so shocked but extremely excited and grateful to actually get recognition for all those late nights I spent writing. It was pretty surreal,”

Tracee Orman

In addition to her Teachers Pay Teachers store, Orman created her own website to house the materials built around the franchise. While TpT gives her and thousands of other teacherpreneurs access to a huge audience, she’s able to use her custom site to offer more nuance. There, she houses everything from why teachers should teach this series to lesson ideas to free downloads, and much more.

As the books were augmented with the announcement of a Jennifer Lawrence Hollywood blockbuster, Lionsgate even partnered with Orman to promote the films, offering her materials to post to her site and share with teachers. The site helped many teachers, who, like Orman, were trying to find materials to teach the novel, while also driving even more traffic to her Teachers Pay Teachers store, leading to increased sales and success for Orman. The site, the materials, and Orman’s profile went atmospheric.

Of course, Orman’s Teachers Pay Teachers store features so much more than “The Hunger Games.” Nowadays, Orman’s store has nearly 700 unique resources, some of which are free, and all of which are worth a look, especially for secondary ELA and journalism teachers.

Orman’s hope, initially, was to make about $50 per year on the site and to help other teachers in the process. She was able to accomplish both of these goals, even in year one. As you might imagine, she eclipsed that $50 goal by adding a few zeros to it.

“[It felt] unbelievable. I never thought it would be possible. This allowed us to pay off debt, help family, donate more to our community, and save for our son to go to college. It is an amazing feeling to have that extra income and not have to worry about bills or unexpected things that always come up,” Orman states.

Having met many grateful teachers at conferences over the years, Orman is always humbled by the many words of praise from other educators about her lessons. By sharing her lessons with teachers everywhere, the impact Orman has made by sharing her curriculum on TpT has allowed her to far exceed the impact she could have ever had in the classroom alone.

“I’ve met some of these teachers in real life at conferences and it always brings me to tears. I just never imagined that something I created could have that big of an impact,” Orman says.

By 2014, Orman’s Teachers Pay Teachers income surpassed that of her full time teaching job, even with her retirement and other benefits factored in.

“I started to think that maybe I could step away and actually write full-time. It was a difficult decision to make, especially giving up my benefits, but it was the right thing to do for my own well-being,” Orman shares.

In 2017, Orman decided to step out of the classroom to make more time for writing curriculum for Teachers Pay Teachers.

The transition was difficult at first, especially when her husband, who also works in education, returned to work and she didn’t. It took a while for her to establish a routine that worked. She also struggled with not getting to see her school community.

“I missed it. Being a teacher was so much of who I was as a person, I really missed the students and my colleagues. I think not having those interactions was the hardest thing to adjust to,” Orman says.

Since adjusting to stepping out of the classroom, Orman has thrived in her Teachers Pay Teachers story and has been able to take on a new project as well. She has joined several other top Teachers Pay Teachers sellers on The Secondary English Coffee Shop. Through this, Orman is able to collaborate with sellers Addie Williams, Room 213, Presto Plans, The Classroom Sparrow, Nouvelle ELA, The Daring English Teacher, Secondary Sara, and The Superhero Teacher to help deliver high quality resources and fresh ideas to educators, with the added bonus of pushing more traffic to their respective Teachers Pay Teachers stores.

Much like teachers and curriculum developers everywhere, Orman has spent much of her time during the pandemic flexing her entrepreneurial muscle once again. She reimagined her resources for use in the digital teaching space. Most of the materials in her store are now ready for any type of educational setting, including online learning.

“Thankfully, many of my resources already had editable components (usually a Word doc or a PowerPoint file), so converting them to Google Docs and Slides wasn’t too hard. But trying to convert my PDFs as quickly as possible that spring was a challenge,” Orman explains.

It was an adjustment having her husband and son at home doing their virtual classes. Also, she had a lot more inquiries on how to use resources in a virtual setting.

“I felt like I spent a lot of time helping teachers troubleshoot using my resources electronically. Most of them had never taught virtually and many had never shared things digitally with their students. I was grateful that I had experience with many platforms since I taught at a 1:1 school for so many years and could help them,” Orman notes.

Orman continues to make it a priority to share materials that are fresh and relevant.

“I try to keep my materials as relevant as possible by using pop culture to try to relate to students. Of course, this gets harder with age, but I do my best to keep it relevant and fresh,” Orman says.

With the digitalization of her resources mostly out of the way, Orman looks to the future. She hopes to keep writing curriculum in an effort to help other teachers. With a background in writing, having majored in English and Journalism, as well as classroom experience in a variety of classroom settings, Orman is positioned well to be able to deliver high quality resources to teachers.

“Writing curriculum is so hard for so many teachers. I was lucky in the sense that I have a background in writing, which is kind of unique. It’s very satisfying for me when I meet teachers who say that the resources I have created have helped them out or that their students loved the lesson,” Orman shares.

Orman’s story isn’t nearly as rare as you’d think. The teaching community is packed with entrepreneurs and innovators like her, looking to keep materials, methods, and experiences relevant to the real world. The TpT platform democratizes curriculum development and creates a market where one didn’t exist just a decade ago. Teachers now get to flex their entrepreneurial muscles in new and different ways as they build a changing landscape of education from the bottom up. But, if you’re looking to bring some dystopian edge to your high school class, or spice up your content a bit, look no further than Tracee Orman’s excellent resources.

Suzanne Williams is a high school teacher and publications director in Indiana. When she’s not teaching her students Journalism or Japanese, she’s reporting on education-related topics, crafting, longboarding or playing with her corgi.