Bill Gates on great teachers

Bill Gates talks about great teachers in a Parade interview.

We’ve never had a meaningful evaluation system that identifies the dimensions of great teachers so we can transfer the skills to others. The Gates Foundation has learned that two questions can predict how much kids learn: “Does your teacher use class time well?” and, “When you’re confused, does your teacher help you get straightened out?”

Last year, the Gates family traveled for three months, home-schooling the three children.

I taught math and science. We went to the Large Hadron Collider, the giant particle accelerator in Switzerland. We went to a toilet-paper factory, a garbage dump, an aircraft carrier, and a coal plant. I also found great educational material on the Web, including short videos at

What did you learn from working with your kids? Parade asks.

“Teaching’s hard!” Gates responds.  “You need different skills: positive reinforcement, keeping students from getting bored, commanding their attention in a certain way.”

About Joanne


  1. Hmmm… what I’ve learned from teaching my own kids after a stint as a classroom teacher:

    1. Teaching’s much easier when you don’t have to deal with discipline problems. (And discipline problems melt away when the established rule is “No Webkinz until you’ve finished school!”)

    2. “School” goes much better when everyone gets to work at their own rate. And when you keep the formal schooling to less than 2 hours a day.

    3. It’s easier to teach when interruptions and tangents can be explored instead of quashed. (We don’t count those as “school” but they’re the reason that, for instance, my kids are currently deeply vested in Revolutionary War history…)

    4. If you start out as homeschoolers, the kids seem to equate ‘school’ with parental affection and interest. Also, Chutes and Ladders is a super-easy way to teach numbers to 100.

    Or, to be brief: Teaching a classroom full of kids whose parents don’t give a darn about anything but how the basketball team is doing is TORTURE. Teaching a few cheerful, interested kids whose parents back you up and who find the world a fascinating puzzle to be solved is incredibly rewarding, even on the tough days.

    Also, food and green time go a long way towards increasing attention….

  2. So Bill Gates taught his own kids for three months. I’ve been teaching my kid for fourteen years, no one’s interviewed me about it, and I agree that it’s tough. As would, probably, most every parent in the United States.

    Still, put Bill Gates in front of 34 teenagers who don’t know who he is, five times a day, and he will likely learn a thing or two. His willingness to expound on topics about which he knows nothing fails to inspire confidence in this reader, at least.