He is not, however, a chef — or even confident in the kitchen. "I never really learned how to cook," Gates wrote in a recent blog post. "It just wasn't something I was taught growing up."
But Gates had the opportunity to pick up some new skills recently when he spent time with Robert Hand, Washington state's Teacher of the Year. Hand teaches family and consumer science — what was once referred to as "home economics" — at Mount Vernon High School in Mount Vernon, Washington. He teaches two classes, Beginning Foods and Life After High School, and leads the school's teacher prep program.
The two made BBQ chicken and talked about how Hand prepares his students for adult life.
"You've got a very entry-level student here," Gates told Hand, as the teacher showed him how to prepare BBQ using a whole bird — legs, wings and thighs — to keep costs down.
But the chicken recipe aside, it was Hand's experience teaching "Life After High School," a course where high school seniors learn practical life skills like writing resumes and cover letters, applying and interviewing for jobs, personal budgeting, securing a loan and paying taxes, that Gates was most interested in learning about.
"We always start with career preparation. We talk about filling out applications, how to be professional and to put your best foot forward, writing resumes and cover letters. I teach them interview skills," said Hand. "Then we kind of transition from that to like, well, let's assume you got the job. Now, you're going to have a paycheck, so we talk about how to balance a budget so that you're meeting your life goals with what your budget is."
Approximately 60% of Mount Vernon students come from low-income families, so Hand also maintains a stocked food pantry for hungry students and takes students to a local thrift store to buy suits for job interviews.
"I think students are thirsty for knowledge and love in equal parts, so I ask myself every day, 'Is what I'm doing today going to make students feel welcome and loved,?" said Hand. "Because teaching is hard, but growing up is harder."
This practice of teaching practical life skills with empathy stood out to Gates.
"It takes a special kind of educator to get kids excited about filing their taxes! The skills he teaches are essential for any student, whether they plan on going to college, vocational school, or straight into the workforce," writes Gates. "If we want to give our kids the best chance possible to succeed after high school, we need more amazing teachers like Robert."
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