The Importance of Star Teachers

For children who attend urban schools, especially those living in poverty and those that come from diverse cultural backgrounds, having an effective teacher can be a matter of life and death.  These children often have no life options for achieving decent lives other than by experiencing success in school.  These are the high stakes involved in schooling that Dr, Martin Haberman identifies in his book Star Teachers of Children in Poverty, and why teachers-student relationships can change life trajectories.

The foundation of Dr. Haberman’s philosophy is that he believes the greatest gift that life bestows upon us is the opportunity to occupy a role that puts hope into other people’s lives and puts them in a position for future success.  When individuals can seize on this opportunity, they put hope and meaning in their own lives.  This philosophy comes down to one thing, much like learning, it is all about relationships.

Star Teachers

A ‘star teacher’ can be described as a teacher that is able to get the best out of their students.  This type of teacher excels in their role: their students score higher on tests, parents and children are drawn to them, principals rate them highly, and other teachers regard them as exceptional.  However, only 5-8% of teachers are “star teachers” according to Dr. Haberman.

Haberman’s research identifies key dispositions of star teachers: persistence, organization and planning, the ability to survive in a bureaucracy, fallibility, perspectives on what makes students and teachers successful, an ability to connect with all students (especially “at-risk” students), outlooks on student learning, and the ability to put theory into practice.  These are important teacher skills and dispositions to have today to be an effective teacher for the students who have many factors working against them.

The trickle-down effects of star teachers are immense, students tend to learn a great deal more, act respectfully between themselves and with others, and that starts the process towards becoming happy, successful, contributing citizens.  All teachers have the potential to be star teachers, with these skills being transferable to other walks of life as well.

Socioeconomically Disadvantaged Children

Star teachers understand that individual efforts alone are rarely enough to overcome structural barriers in school and society, so they take it upon themselves to act as a lifeline.

In Canada, the number of people living paycheck to paycheck is at an all-time high. 46% of Canadians are 200$ or less away from being financially insolvent (CBC News). And it is not uncommon for families and individual children to stay silent about having an unstable residence because they are not comfortable revealing their situation to school and government officials.  But the combination of having parents with low educational attainment and low-wage jobs, inadequate housing, limited access to healthy food, health care, and safe neighborhoods takes its toll on educational outcomes

Researchers at the Urban Institute carried out study on deep poverty, to better understand the psychosocial development of children.  “Deep poverty” is a term that refers to poverty that manifests itself through housing instability, food insecurity, threats to physical and emotional well-being, a lack of jobs, and a lack of access to strong health care systems.

Their findings indicated that poverty during childhood had lasting consequences on health and developmental and educational outcomes, which contributed to the persistent poverty across generations.  Deep poverty is thus more of a chronic condition, a structural barrier, the type that star teachers are better suited to address.

46% of Canadians $200 or less away from financial insolvency: poll | CBC News.  (2019, January 22).  Retrieved from
Haberman, M.  (n.d.).  Star Teachers of Children in Poverty.  Routledge.
Ratcliffe, C., & Mckernan, S.-M.  (2012).  Child Poverty and Its Lasting Consequence.  The Urban Institute.  Retrieved from
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