Sunday, June 28, 2015

Teachers vs. Publishers' Reps

If there is one area where educators consistently fail to flex their muscles and stand up for themselves and their students, it is in dealing with publisher's reps.

Making the deal

I don't know if this is part of the general tendency of teachers to be good team players who don't want to be mean or unpleasant to anybody, but many publisher's reps must feel as if they've slipped through a portal into salesman's heaven. It's a dimension where used car salesmen say, "Well, the price on the sticker is probably as good as it gets, and you'd better snap this up right now," and the customer just says, "Oh, all right, then."

I have a teaching colleague who, for a decade before she returned to the classroom, ran the sales department of a newspaper in the New York Times Giant Chain O'Papers. When she gets done with a textbook salesperson, he doesn't know what hit him. "You'll need to grab these up right now," goes the pitch. "I can only make this price available for the next few weeks, so you have to go for it. Sign here."

"Here's how it's going to go," she replies. "We'll be deciding in a few months, after we look at all the available books out there. If we decide to go with you in a few months, it will be at a lower price than the one you just quoted me, and here's a list of how many teacher manuals and supplemental materials you're going to throw in for free. We'll be in touch."

It's a thing of beauty, and it is based on what so many administrators and teachers seem to forget-- in the sales relationship with textbook publishers, it is school districts that hold the power.

Instead, too many administrators and teachers "negotiate" like Oliver Twist or an unattractive teen in an Abercrombie & Fitch, acting as if we're just hoping that maybe the publisher will consent to sell us something. No. Wrong. Backwards. We do not have to bow and scrape for the privilege of being allowed to buy their product. Negotiate from power and for the love of God, remember that no matter how much they try to suggest otherwise, you are not making friends with the salesperson-- you are buying something from them on behalf of the taxpayers who ponied up the money in the first place. Get the best deal possible and please don't worry about making the salesperson sad-- he'll perk right up when he finally makes a sale.

Amateur Hour Professional Development

Once the product is purchased, then we get the next round of fun and games-- professional development during which a textbook salesperson tells teachers how to do their jobs.

Textbook publishers have developed a greater interest in following up their sales, figuring that if they can make sure that teachers are successful with, say, Pearson products, then Pearson loyalty and repeat business may ensue.

This leads to the awkward spectacle of trained professional educators sitting in a room and listening politely as some publisher's rep (who may have taught for a year, once, a while ago) explain how to "properly" teach addition or pronouns or whatever else the textbook contains. These sessions range from insulting to infuriating, and they can be one more example of too-polite teachers refusing to stand up and push back.

I'm not advocating rudeness. The publisher's rep is just the messenger, but always remember-- the line of communication runs both ways, and your reaction in the "training" session will be carried back to the mother ship. Your behavior in the PD will be the difference between Publisher McRepface telling the boss, "People out there love this stuff" and "Boss, we have got to get this tweaked."

So don't be an asshat, but don't just sit there smiling and nodding if you are thinking, "Well, that can't possibly work." Use your words. Use them politely, but firmly. But use them. Is your principal in the room? All the more reason to be vocal. Stand up for your students. Stand up for your profession. Never forget-- you are the person who actually teaches and nurtures students for a living, and that guy in the nice suit is the person who sells textbooks for a living.

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