BLOOMFIELD, NJ — After 21 years in the district, Watsessing Elementary School second-grade teacher Laura Foster has been selected as the Bloomfield School District Teacher of the Year.
A 1997 Bloomfield High School graduate, Foster attended and was promoted from the Brookdale Elementary and Bloomfield Middle schools. She graduated from Caldwell College in 2001 and started her teaching career at Watsessing that fall. She has worked with principals Lou Clerico, Mary DiTrani and Gina Rosamilia; Rosamilia is the school’s current principal. To be considered district teacher of the year, Foster had to first be selected Watsessing teacher of the year, a distinction she previously achieved under DiTrani.
Growing up in the Bloomfield school system, Foster said her sixth-grade teacher, Elaine Faller, had a big influence on her.
“It was just to have someone understand you and take time to get to know you as a person and not just as a student,” she said. “I think that was Elaine’s genuine nature.”
Foster knew from an early age she wanted to influence and guide children. She cared for them as a babysitter and as Bloomfield summer camp director. In high school, she led an early childhood class for preschoolers and planned their lessons.
“Working with 4-year-olds really made me think I wanted to do this,” she said.
In college, she double-majored in elementary education and psychology. While still at BHS, because she was so immersed in scholastic sports, her influences moved from the classroom to the playing field. She played softball and soccer, and was coached by Bob Mayer.
“I think it was the friendships built playing these sports,” she said. “In high school, my focus was definitely more on sports.”
Foster has taught first, second and third grades, and sometimes she has taught the same students in consecutive years. Unsurprisingly, some of the students she taught in consecutive years have remained in touch with her.
Although she had to learn a new curriculum from one year to the next, getting to know a student and watching them grow grade by grade far outweighed any challenges she had from learning a new curriculum, she said.
“Having the experience of teaching the first, second and third grades, and now being in the middle with the second grade, I know where they should be,” she said. “I know the expectations and can set them high.”
For the last 17 years, Foster has been holding down the fort as a second-grade teacher.
Foster said being a good teacher comes from mutual respect.
“In order to gain respect from students, you have to be willing to show that respect,” she said. “A good teacher must also be aware that not all pupils learn in the same way, and the teacher must find that particular way.”
Foster said she is most proud of her work with the Wingman program, a districtwide social-emotional learning program in which students mentor one another.
However, the more things change, the more they remain the same, and Foster said that, throughout her career, nothing has changed about teaching.
“Kindness is still in the forefront,” she said. “The demands are still there. There’s been a shift toward the social-emotional development of a child. It’s definitely shifted.”
She explained that, along with other factors, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a large impact on students’ abilities to connect with their peers, as they could not go outside together and play.
“Our outside world has changed a lot,” she said.
Foster said that, when growing up, her twin brother walked with her to school, her neighborhood was her family and trust had to be built up among neighbors.
“Second-graders are at an amazing age, like little sponges, learning who they are as individuals and fully absorbing all they are taught academically and socially,” she said. “The reward is watching them put into practice either an academic concept or social issue, or speaking to them about kindness and watching them show an act of kindness.”
Foster said it is important for students to address controversial topics, to have a voice, and for teachers to answer their questions so that they know sharing their feelings is OK.
“The hope for a teacher is to create an environment that is safe and fun,” Foster said. “If a student wakes up and can’t wait to get to school, that’s the biggest reward. I wake up and feel that. The day I don’t, I’ll stop teaching.”