Education TED Talks

The story behind my new TED Talk: Giving teachers what they deserve

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Bill Gates speaks on teachers’ need to get better feedback. Watch his talk during our first television special, TED Talks Education, airing Tuesday, May 7 at 10/9c on PBS. Photo: Ryan Lash

By Bill Gates

I spend a lot of my time working to help improve America’s schools. I’m also a big fan of TED Talks. So when TED’s Chris Anderson asked me to give a talk as part of a special TED session on education, I jumped at the chance. The show premieres on PBS this Tuesday, May 7, at 10 p.m. Eastern/9 p.m. Central. (Here’s a preview. And you can find your local broadcast time.)

John Legend hosted the show and did a fantastic job. John cares a lot about improving education and is investing a lot of his own time on the issue. I first met him when we were both involved with the documentary Waiting for Superman, and I could tell right away that he was an impressive and well-informed guy, in addition to being a super-talented musician. It’s great that he’s using his fame to draw attention to the need to improve our schools.

We taped the TED show last month in a beautiful hall at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York City. I was very impressed with the lineup of speakers. One of the great things about the TED format is that it can accommodate lots of different kinds of speakers, from energetic storytellers to more analytical people like me who are hardcore about numbers and systems. That helps the audience look at the topic from lots of different angles.

In this case, they had education experts like Geoffrey Canada, who runs a terrific program called the Harlem Children’s Zone, and Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth, whom I’ve met with a few times as part of my own learning about education. They also had several passionate teachers from around the country. One of them, a chemistry teacher named Ramsey Musallam, startled everyone with video of himself blowing stuff up in class. John brought the house down with a beautiful performance.

For my part, I talked about what I think is the most powerful idea in education today: getting teachers the feedback they deserve so they can improve their practice.

It’s amazing to think about how much coaching is given to, say, professional athletes. I have a coach who gives me feedback too. (You’ll have to watch the show if you want to know why.) But most teachers get almost no feedback at all. And the vast majority of countries that outperform us in education have some formal way to give their teachers feedback. So this is an area where innovation and investment can make a big difference for teachers and students in this country.

As always, the TED team put together a great show, and I’m happy to have been a part of it. I hope you get a chance to watch it.

Find out more about TED Talks Education, airing on Tuesday at 10/9c on PBS »

And stayed tuned to on Wednesday, May 8, when we will post a full-length version of Bill Gates’ inspiring talk. Curious about his favorite talks in the meantime? Watch his TED playlist »