The Teacher is a Star

By Neil Sturomski


From a 1996 National Institute for Literacy newsletter following my resignation after three years as the first Director of the National Adult Literacy and Learning Disabilities Center, a Center created and funded by the National Institute for Literacy.


Barbra Streisand is a rarity. She is a successful performer in a variety of mediums. She has an incredible voice. She has acted on Broadway and in movies and television specials. She has performed in concerts and recorded numerous albums. In addition she is a producer and a director. She has proven herself to be a success in different aspects of the entertainment industry.

Tony Bennett is also a successful performer. He is a famous singer. However, his success, like that of most singers, has been limited to the music facet of the entertainment industry. He has performed in concert and recorded music. He has not transferred that success to acting, directing, or television; nor does he have to.

Like Barbra Streisand and Tony Bennett, teachers, too, are performers – according to their given individual talents and teaching styles, they perform to their audiences. However, it’s a rare teacher who, like Barbra Streisand, is successful at performing in a variety of mediums. Most, like Tony Bennett, develop their talents in one particular medium, one particular style in which they feel most comfortable.

Successful teachers are stars. They are creative. And, like Tony Bennett, successful teachers have a style in which they feel most comfortable. In fact, it is their own effective teaching style that sets them apart from other teachers. Asking a good teacher to change his or her teaching style for each individual learner can be difficult. Clearly with ongoing training, teachers can learn new techniques and interventions that allow for flexibility and the use of a wide range of methods and modalities. However, it’s the teacher’s individual style, honed in on and matched with student’s learning styles that allow the star quality in each teacher to shine.

It is a teacher’s particular teaching style that program directors should strive to match with student’s unique learning styles. This is an essential element in the design of successful literacy programs which serve all adults including those with learning disabilities. My extensive interaction over the past three years with literacy and learning disabilities practitioners who are working in a variety of settings, serving a variety of clientele, operating under a variety of educational philosophies, has established this point clearly in my mind. Taking the extra time, up front, to match strength for strength – teacher’s strength and learner’s strength – will underwrite the greater success of adult learning programs. Students will stay with programs and enjoy success in doing so.

Equally essential to successfully planned and implemented programs is the unwavering commitment on the part of all participants – literacy practitioners, classroom instructors, learning disability specialists, program directors, and administrators at the local, state, and federal level – to collaborate. Writers, producers, directors, set-designers, other actors, and other professionals work together to make award winning productions. They support the work of stars and make them successful. Teachers must also tap the expertise of other professionals to help make them successful performers. Sharing talents, expertise, as well as commitment to the goals to be met, helps to eliminate the overlap of funding by utilizing the knowledge of experts that currently exists. Collaboration takes time and energy, involves sharing information and expertise, and relinquishing professional territory. Meeting the crucial literacy demands in the country over the next decade will entail sharing visions, sharing through collaboration.

Barbra Streisand and Tony Bennett as all true stars, as all true professionals, have over the years of their careers developed themselves in their chosen crafts and expanded their horizons. They have worked with others on their visions and sought out experts in their field in order to become successful. They have discussed and listened and tried new ways of performing. They have been opened to new ideas and learned from their experiences.

It is ongoing professional development coupled with collaborative efforts that produces professionals in every trade. Professional development takes a lifetime. Adult educators need to be provided with the opportunity to be exposed to new creative ideas that help them change as times change. They need to know about strategies and techniques that work with adults with special learning needs, such as learning disabilities. The kind of professional growth that needs to occur can not happen in a two-hour workshop. Only by setting up an ongoing professional development plan and consistently working on that plan can adult educators benefit from the most current information in their field. Through conferences, workshops, coursework, and independent reading, educators can develop themselves professionally, learn new ways to instruct, grow and expand their knowledge, and be successful. As such they can be integral parts of the process of collaboration – opened to sharing and being shared with.

In the past three years, as Director of the National Adult Literacy and Learning Disabilities Center, my perspective on the issues of learning and teaching styles and the need for professional collaboration has been broadened. Most importantly, I’ve realized the critical need to change the status-quo by providing ongoing professional development in the use of various techniques and methodologies in literacy and adult education. As I move into working with adult educators and literacy providers in other capacities. I’ve recognized ongoing professional development as a key element to be considered in order for adult education and literacy programs to be effective, especially with those having suspected or diagnosed learning disabilities.

Literacy practitioners and adult education instructors are dedicated individuals. They are indeed stars. Like everyone in the teaching profession they need to continue to increase their knowledge. This will enable them to strengthen their abilities in working with more students with diverse needs. Being successful, remaining a star involves keeping up-to-date, like Tony Bennett who now successfully appeals to the younger generation through his videos. Only through all these efforts can anyone remain a star.