Teacher Training and Indies

Josie Leavitt -- September 13th, 2010

I’m happy to report that our two days of teacher in-service training are over and went quite well. In the spring we approached our local school district about the idea of us doing book talks and a picture book creation seminar for the teachers, and they were thrilled with the idea. Elizabeth will blog about her picture book seminar separately.

Our goal was to reach out to teachers who might not know about us and the store and wow them with our knowledge of books and how to use literature in the social studies curriculum. Our first day focused on the third and fourth grades. The social studies curriculum ranged from basic geography, mapping skills, Vermont history, early settlement, and the beginnings of government. The second day incorporated fifth through ninth grade on more American history.

We tried not only to think outside the box (such as using dystopian novels to discuss government and mapping), but also tried to come up with books the teachers didn’t already know. The Vermont history proved to be quite challenging as there just isn’t a lot out there. We did find some great historical fiction books from a small publisher that no one had heard of, but were thrilled to find. I also found a great Old Maps of Vermont on CD, that the teachers loved. We sell these CDs at the store and they are a county by county map of the state in 1857 and 1869, searchable by town, street or landowner name. These were a huge hit.

Elizabeth and I created a 320-book annotated bibliography for the teachers, sorted by date. This was a risk as giving them all our hard work in 20 pages meant they could take it anywhere, say to Amazon, to place their orders. Bu we had faith that they would order from us, and we really wanted to amaze folks who don’t know our store. Teachers were suitably impressed at the hard work that went into the bibliography. We considered the document not just for teachers, but a wonderful resource for our staff to have on hand when folks come in seeking historical fiction titles.

We were forbidden by the District to do an overt sales pitch to the teachers. We were there to share our knowledge, but making connections and sales was an obvious goal. I wish I could say we got lots of orders from our two days of teacher education. Sadly, we got one, for $104. Several teachers spoke of their desire to shop local and order with us, but it’s been three weeks since the training, and nothing other than the one order. I know some schools mandate where teachers can buy books, say Barnes and Noble, even though our discounts are identical.

I’m trying not to take it to heart because budgets are tight, but I had a real low moment during the work session when two teams of teachers got on their laptops and made a book order from what we’d talked about from Amazon. It was all I could do to contain myself and not shout out about our teacher discounts and our customer service as I passed out goodie bags to all the attendees, our tote bags filled with a galley, a Flying Pig pen, teacher materials and several newsletters.

In the weeks since this event several teachers have emailed how much they loved our presentation and our bibliography, and yet, we’ve only gotten the one order. I’m officially at a loss at what to do about getting teachers to break old patterns and order directly from an independent bookstore. I can talk until I’m blue in the face about savings being greater at indies than at Amazon for most paperbacks, and that the money stays in the state,  but the perception of greater savings at Amazon and the chains is getting really hard to fight.

Booksellers, how does your store get teacher orders? Teachers: do you have a choice of where you can order?

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