Sales is the opposite of teaching

Recently I’ve been trying to organise to get some school children into BETT – the biggest UK education technology trade show. The complexity of the process has set me reflecting on one of my ‘pub theories’ that I’ve believed for many years: Sales is the opposite of teaching.

My first argument is that in the job that I had before I became a teacher I had two roles: selling computers and training people to use them. I was brilliant at the training bit, especially with the children, but I didn’t sell a single computer. The former convinced me to go into teaching, as I loved and it and seemed to be good at it. However the latter, convinced that I would never be a salesman. Hence sales is the opposite of the teaching.

Then, having taken on the maths co-ordinator job at a school I spoke to salesman (who happens to now work for Scholastic) about some products he had. The products seemed nice, but I was new to the role and unsure what to do to get them purchased, or even the process of how I should decide whether to purchase them or not. I went away from the meeting thinking I had put it on the back burner, but was most bemused when the products turned up the next week – apparently I had agreed to purchase them. The headteacher was tremendously put out at having to fork out the money for these items and told me so in no uncertain terms. I had not understood the language of sales. Therefore sales is the opposite of teaching.

And then there’s BETT. The British Education Training and Technology Show.

On its website it declares quite firmly that it is a trade show, and therefore not open to under 18s. Presumably this means it is for sales people and grown ups who work in schools.

I have found it inordinately hard to get a small group of children into BETT to speak for just 20 minutes on a stand. 6 children require 66 sheets of paper, 14 days notice, 12 passports photos, 6 birth certificates, not to mention the additional paper work that is required for a normal school visit. Seriously it easier to organise a class visit to Paraguay.

But then, I’m a teacher, I don’t understand how these trade shows and sales people work. I guess the idea is that the tax payer pays money to schools; the schools pay money to sales people; and the sales people get rich. Whereas the way teaching works is: the tax payer pays money to schools; the schools pay money to teachers; and the teachers give of their own abilities and resources to teach children so that they can improve themselves and society.

Maybe it’s just me, but at BETT I sometimes feel like I’m the prey for a vast wake of circling buzzards, all waiting for me to give up my free will and give in to their crowing. And having bumped into (sometimes) slightly inebriated salespeople after BETT, there’s a kind of predatory, triumphal air about them. Maybe they know too that sales is the opposite of teaching.

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