Posted by: nealchambers | July 1, 2009

Is ‘selling’ a bad word for teachers?

Sale! Sale! Sale! Get your materials before they're gone!

Sale! Sale! Sale! Get your materials before they're gone!

When I first arrived in Japan to start teaching English, I had the foolish notion that I would just be teaching English.  But to my surprise I was asked to sell a few things.  Now they didn’t tell me it was selling, instead they employed a whole host of euphemisms in a futile attempt to cover up what was actually going on.  This seemed odd to me because I had sold things before. I had previously been working for a FOX affiliated television station in Portland, Oregon.   At the TV station we basically sold air (talk about having to be a good salesman) so I knew a thing or two about sales.  It really didn’t bother me.   What did bother me was the great lengths that everyone went through to avoid saying selling.

Academia is seen as this special world where money doesn’t exist. Everyone is happy and somehow needs are taken care of with snaps of fingers.  You only have to fill out a form or make a valid case and several years or a stroke of kindness later you have a new piece of equipment.  The currency of schools appears to be paperwork and narcolepsy-triggering meetings.

You see I like to teach and I like to help people.  I like meeting people and enabling them to communicate with people from around the world.  It helps me get up on those mornings when I’m covered in sweat from the suffocating humid Japanese summer.  It gives me a spring in my step and fills my life with funny stories and good people.  But unfortunately those feelings don’t keep the lights on or build a house for me and my family to live in.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I had no illusions of grandeur when I signed up to teach English.  If you are an English teacher and you have a penchant for swimming in bathtubs full of Christal then I think you need to rethink your career choice because you will definitely not be making an appearance on the lifestyles of the rich and famous anytime soon.

I’m just saying that it’s perfectly okay to make money teaching English.  If in fact you are delivering a great lesson.  There are many out there that try to push off a lively conversation as a lesson.  For reference this is not a lesson.  It’s a conversation, and should actually be free.

A lot of people are a little afraid to sell themselves, classes or materials.  But it’s an absolute necessity.  My hope for this article is that the word ‘selling’ will be at least cleansed in your head.

Hey! Is this some kind of trick?

Hey! Is this some kind of trick?

Let’s start with why you probably have a bad image of it in your head.  When I say ‘sell’ you are probably reminded of that used car salesmen or the guy at the computer store that wants you to buy the top of the line computer.  You’ve probably encountered many bad salesmen in your life.  And they have all tried their best to weasel you out of your cash.  Let’s not even start on the dazzling display of bad salesmanship that is currently being showcased on the net.  But try to put that out of your head for now.

Why?  Because, well, selling is so much more than that sleezy guy and pop-ups on websites.  In order to get anyone to do anything you need to know sales.  How can you get that attractive smart guy/gal to go on a date with you?  Sales.  How do you get that dream job?  Sales.  How do you get your neighbor to stop playing his guitar at 3 in the morning?  Sales.  You have to, you must sell it.

Some may argue, somewhat successfully, that nothing ever begins until there is a sale.  They’ll tell you that all of the greatest inventors of our time were great salesmen and they’re right. They had to be.  They had to sell their initial product to an initial investor who then had to sell it to the world.

The badass that gave you AC Power

The badass that gave you AC power

A case in point is Nikola Tesla.  Do you know who he is?  He invented AC, now the only kind of electrical system we use.  But he had a tough fight against Thomas Edison’s DC and Edison almost won.  Why?  Because Edison was an expert salesmen.  He would showcase the power of DC in traveling shows which made him popular with the public.  But DC is dangerous and not capable of traveling long distances efficiently so AC won the day.   But it was only with the help of George Westinghouse that this was possible. The millionaire investor believed in Tesla and helped give us cheap efficient AC power.  In a sad twist of fate, Tesla later went on to when the Edison Medal for his achievements. (ouch!)

So it’s okay to sell.  Sometimes you need to sell.  To get your ideas to the world you need to sell them.  But you need to be sure you are good salesman or saleswoman.  The basics of good salesmanship could take up several posts, but I just want to open the topic up for discussion.   What do you think of this?  Have you had to sell materials or classes?   How did you feel?  I’d like to know.  Thanks for stopping by.

And while we are on the topic of selling, it’s time for a shameless plug (but it’s free!)

If you are a private teacher in Japan selling your services be sure to post a listing and find more students over at



  1. Sadly, I must support a lot of selling to raise funds for technology. Our school annually sells cookie dough to buy laptops and IWBs. In a less concrete way, of course, I sell my ideas in discussions about curriculum and pedagogy. The best way I’ve found is to have research and expert backup for these ideas. That way the selling has credibility, not just opinion.

  2. What a thought-provoking post, Neal. Thank you for writing in such an enthusiastic and succinct way-so easy to read.

    Sorry, I digress – this is such a great point you have made and one that I feel totally inadequate in – I find when I knowingly try to sell something – it never works. However, if I am oblivious to the fact that I am selling – and just doing what I love to do – whatever it was I was trying to sell flies out the door!

    I think when I am consciously selling my main aim is money – and that just does not work for me – I just don’t have that knack! I will keep putting the passion and enthusiasm in, and hope it will reap the rewards (in the long run!).

    Shonah 🙂

  3. By the way – I feel very honoured to be on your blog roll – Thank you 🙂

  4. Hey Neal,
    great post. I think selling yourself as a teacher will become much more important in the years to come.

    Before the internet you were kind of “protected” by distance. If you were the best english teacher in your town, great. All the students would sooner or later be your students. With the internet the distance does not matter anymore. Students will find the best teacher in New York, London or Melbourne.

    So if you are still a great teacher you will have to handle the marketing, too. You need to think like an entrepreneur.

    @Shonah Still no Gravatar? Why? This is where marketing and selling starts.

  5. @Kirsten – Great comment and now that I know what an avatar that travels with you to any blog comment you make is – I have one! Thank you 🙂

  6. Well I thought I had one! :-/

  7. very thought provoking post, will try and put some thoughts together on the subject , thanks

  8. teaching English is big time biz in Japan which is why even NHK produce their own English language learning programs even though most are lousy – though some are more entertaining than educational 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: