Bill Gates explains what separates the good teachers from the very best in a recent blog post and accompanying YouTube video.
Gates describes physicist Richard Feynman as "the best teacher I never had." Feynman, a Nobel Prize laureate for his shared work on particle physics, was a professor at the California Institute of Technology.
Some of Feynman's lectures there were recorded, and Gates saw them and immediately became a fan, despite never stepping foot in Feynman's classroom.
It wasn't Feynman's Nobel Prize that made him a wonderful teacher, Gates says. There are teachers all over the nation who aren't famous and "deserve just as much respect and admiration as someone like Feynman," Gates writes. "You walk into their classroom and immediately feel the energy."
Gates highlighted three takeaways from Feynman's lectures.
Great teachers are excited—and so are their students. One of the things that drew Gates to Feynman was his enthusiasm for his work. "He takes such obvious delight in knowledge—you can see his face light up," Gates writes.
That passion is mirrored in teachers across the country. The best teachers radiate such passion and energy, they can even make high school algebra fun, Gates says.
Great teachers break down difficult concepts. Feynman taught a series of lectures around California for students that weren't specializing in physics. He intentionally tackled complicated topics, making them understandable for a layperson.
"He's taking something that's a little mysterious to most people and using very simple concepts to explain how it works," Gates says in a YouTube video.
Why don't more faculty members adopt learning innovations?
Great teachers don't just teach. Feynman was "quite the character," Gates writes. He was known for pranks, such as a habit of breaking into safes while he was helping develop the atomic bomb. Feynman's hobbies also included playing the bongos and reading Mayan hieroglyphics. Great teachers have breadth, not just depth, Gates argues, and can engage their students on multiple levels (Gates, LinkedIn Pulse, 1/28; Garfield, Business Insider, 1/28).
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