Wednesday 18 February 2009

Great talk by Bill Gates

Hate him or hate him, Bill is a very interesting character. This 20 minute talk from TED is worth sitting in front of for 20 minutes. The first part is all about eradicating malaria, and he has nice things to say about DDT (shock, horror) and the importance of doing things properly - rather than in a half-arsed manner.

The second half is about excellence in teaching. He makes some very interesting points.

Teachers do not really improve after 3 years in the job. That surprised me, but then I thought about it - I have worked with a lot of managers, and you can usually tell within the first month or so whether they have the "right stuff" or not. Some don't, but they are never yanked and put back into a position where they are more suitable. I suppose teachers are the same - how many headmasters would have the guts to say to a newbie teacher that has just spent a year at Uni learning how to be a teacher that they are rubbish, and should find a new career? That number would be pretty low if you ask me. Most would persevere, hoping as eternal optimists that the crap will get better as they gain more experience.

The other is the enormous gulf in outcomes between the top and bottom quartiles of teachers, and the enormous resistance against measuring teacher performance. I know that such a thing is riven with controversy, but it's clear that some are better than others - and almost everyone knows it - but very few people want to confront the problem of getting rid of poor performers. I know I always had that problem as a manager - the system would not allow me to get rid of mine, so I had to live with them. That drove me nuts, but I don't know how I would have handled working at a company where I was forced to sack the bottom 5% or 10% of performers each year - that may well have been a tougher proposition.

Enough of my gabbling. Watch Bill in action.

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