BLOOMFIELD, NJ — Diane Bentley, a Bloomfield High School family and consumer science teacher, is retiring at the end of this month. She has been a district teacher since 1997.
Bentley grew up in South Orange and graduated from Columbia High School in 1971. She received her teaching certification from Montclair State University in 1972 and has three sisters, all in education.
“We ran a popular babysitting ring,” Bentley said. “If one sister wasn’t available, another was. I’ve been working since I was 12 years old.”
Bentley adored school, she said, and, although neither of her parents was college educated, it was their dream to have their girls go to college.
“But teaching is my second career,” she said. “I started in an employment agency business.”
She worked for a small agency and acknowledges that the partners knew their stuff and designed a winning business. She was the receptionist and learned a lot; observing the foot traffic going in and out, she thought an employment agency would be rich fodder for a TV sitcom. Bentley expressed a desire to be a writer.
Nonetheless, through a friend of her sister-in-law, she learned BHS had an opening for a family and consumer science teacher.
“Even though I was in the business world, I knew I could do this, and that’s how I started,” she said. “If you have an education in this field, you’re certified to teach five different disciplines.”
In the 1990s, the subject of home economics was almost nonexistent. Classroom space for computers was needed, and kitchens made way for them.
“Real-life classes were going by the wayside,” Bentley said, “but Bloomfield kept its program growing. The district had the wisdom to know families were being pressed and needed survival skills.”
Bentley is a big proponent of learning from your mistakes but acknowledges that it can get tricky with teenagers. One of the first things she teaches her students to do is make brownies. They have only about 45 minutes of class time, so Bentley usually takes them out of the oven. The results are five trays of brownies that look totally different from one another.
“The lesson I like to teach is that there are more things invisible to us than visible,” she said. “Life is tightly webbed. It’s important to the students’ lives that they understand this. Sharing, working as a team, rotating jobs, all of these are everyday skills. The more you’re accomplished in these areas, the better off for everybody.”
There is one change that Bentley has seen in students over the years that she does not like.
“I’m very, very sad about it and we’re not there yet, but students don’t stand up during the Pledge of Allegiance,” she said. “It gets into individual rights, but there are all these people who have died for their country. When students don’t stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, it’s an erosion of the respect for these people.”
Bentley said she is retiring now because she is the primary caregiver for her mother, who will be 99 this year. She has a lot of ideas of what to do with her time and serves as a delegate of the National Education Association. She also plans on traveling and visiting her three sisters, who live in different states.
“We have a really wonderful family,” she said. “But one day, I’ll write a book. I probably won’t stop working. I love to work. Based on my mother, I have another 30 years, at least. She’s been a great inspiration. Both of my parents are the best.”
Bentley said she is grateful to have known all the children who have come through her classroom.
“Maybe I was more enriched than they were,” she said. “But it’s not important to ask that question. This is an all-heart community. It’s fragile, but we do the best we can.”