Bill Gates: Giving Teachers What They Deserve

In this TED 2013 talk, Bill Gates tells the audience his surprise when he found that teaching is among the professions that receive less feedback.

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(Link to video: TED Talk: Giving Teachers What They Deserve)

He closes his talk showing the amount in dolars that would be necessary to implement a minimal feedback system in every classroom in the US, according to his foundation. Give the teachers the tools to diagnose their skills, and the tools to act upon the diagnosis, and this will have a direct positive effect on the students.

The system proposed is certainly interesting, and I agree that having the means to get feedback is important. However, the underlying affirmation is that if teachers are bad at teaching it is because they don’t receive proper feedback, and this is not always true. There are other factors to take in account when looking at teachers performance. Experience says that you can find extraordinary teachers in a system that provides no formal feedback.

How did these teachers become good at teaching? I think the answer has to do with motivation. Teachers that are truly motivated usually find ways to improve their teaching and achieve outstanding results in less-than-optimal conditions. But having motivated teachers is a harder problem to solve than implementing a technical platform for receiving feedback. It probably requires that each teacher has some kind of coach assigned. (Coaching may imply receiving feedback, but is not limited to feedback.) And for coaching to work, it is essential that the teacher agrees to have a coach, which may not always be the case. Such a system, obviously, doesn’t scale, and cannot be implemented just by funding.

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