There is something about teaching that is a little like sales. I haven’t chased down all the things they have in common, but they do work together in certain ways. I have come to this conclusion from watching Cadillac Man (as promised).
First of all, though an attractive appearance can help, it is not ALWAYS necessary. Good looking people can sell things because they are pretty and because they can sell things. Not-so-good-looking people can also sell things, not because they are pretty but because they learned to compensate, to charm, to begin the conversation. This is how sales work like a classroom.
The quality of a teacher has little to do with how the teacher looks. Certainly it can be pleasant to be in a room with a lovely looking person who has grace and style, but so little of teaching really springs from that. Entertainment sometimes does. Teaching is more about building a productive exchange, like sales. When I work with a writing student, I am beginning a conversation. In some cases the conversation is remarkably short, maybe an hour, but occasionally the conversation is LONG, years long. If it’s a good conversation, both people benefit. If it’s a good sale, both people benefit. AH! This line of thought has possibilities, no?
Sales works like teaching in another way. In the film, Joey (a sleazy car salesman) is trying to work out a deal for the release of captives from an unpredictable kidnapper named Larry. In a moment near the end of the crisis that can could lead to death or release, Joey jumps up and says, “I’ve got it. I’ve got a plan. Not A plan. I’ve got THE PLAN.” Larry asks, “What it is?” Joey answers, “Let everybody go.” He proceeds to have Larry revise the plan, change it so he likes it better, but in the end Larry lets everybody go. Originally Larry did not like the plan. He proposed revisions, but really his revisions were only hesitations, and even though Joey is not altogether honest or trustworthy, the plan works out for the best for all people involved. Everybody gets out alive. Some unhealthy affairs are ended, suffering takes place, but so does healing. Is there a better description of an English class than this.
I know there have been times when students have felt like captives, miserable captives, in my classroom, especially on days when I am returning their work (or giving them tests), but many students have been kind enough to have real writing relationships with me, and some have even gone on to become peers. There are two teachers in my department who have been my students, and there are even more people on the campus who have been my students as well. There are people in town who were once my captives and are now my friends. Some never became my friends, but that’s okay, too. Not every product or service will do for every customer.
Maybe we teachers should think a little more about the art of the sale. Maybe that would help us enjoy the work more. Then again, maybe teaching is MORE than sales…