BLOOMFIELD, NJ — After 21 years in the district, Laura Foster, a second-grade teacher at Watsessing Elementary School, has been selected as the Bloomfield School District’s Teacher of the Year.
A 1997 graduate of Bloomfield High School, Foster attended and was promoted from Brookdale Elementary and Bloomfield Middle schools. She graduated from Caldwell College in 2001 and began her teaching career at Watsessing this fall. She has worked with principals Lou Clerico, Mary DiTrani and Gina Rosamilia; Rosamilia is the current headmistress of the school. To be considered District Teacher of the Year, Foster first had to be selected as Watsessing Teacher of the Year, an accolade she previously achieved under DiTrani.
Growing up in the Bloomfield school system, Foster said her sixth grade teacher, Elaine Faller, was a big influence on her.
“It was just for someone to understand you and take the time to get to know you as a person and not just as a student,” she said. “I think that was Elaine’s true nature.”
Foster knew from an early age that she wanted to influence and guide children. She cared for them as a babysitter and as the director of Bloomfield’s summer camp. 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 school sports, her influences moved from the classroom to the playground. She played softball and soccer and was coached by Bob Mayer .
“I think it’s the friendships that have been made while playing these sports,” she said. “In high school, I definitely focused more on sports.”
Foster taught first, second, and third grades, and sometimes she taught the same students in consecutive grades. Unsurprisingly, some of the students she taught in consecutive years stayed in touch with her.
Although she had to learn a new curriculum from year to year, getting to know a student and seeing them grow year after year far outweighed the challenges she encountered learning a new curriculum, she declared.
“Having experience teaching first, second and third grades, and now being in the middle of second grade, I know where they should be,” she said. “I know the expectations and I can set them high.”
For the past 17 years, Foster has held the fort as a second-grade teacher.
Foster said being a good teacher comes from mutual respect.
“To earn respect from students, you have to be willing to show that respect,” she said. “A good teacher must also be aware that not all students learn in the same way, and the teacher must find that particular way.”
Foster said she’s most proud of her work with the Wingman program, a district-wide social-emotional learning program in which students mentor each other.
However, the more things change, the more they stay the same, and Foster said that throughout his career nothing has changed in teaching.
“Kindness always comes first,” she said. “The claims are still there. There has been a shift towards a child’s socio-emotional development. It’s definitely moved.
She explained that, along with other factors, the COVID-19 pandemic had a big impact on students’ ability to connect with their peers, as they were unable to hang out and play.
“Our outside world has changed a lot,” she said.
Foster said that when she was growing up, her twin brother went to school with her, her neighborhood was her family, and trust had to be built between neighbors.
“Sophomores are at an incredible age, like little sponges, learning who they are as individuals and fully absorbing everything that is taught to them academically and socially,” she said. “The reward is seeing them practice either an academic concept or a social issue, or talking to them about kindness and seeing them do an act of kindness.”
Foster said it’s important for students to talk about controversial topics, have a voice, and for teachers to answer their questions so they know sharing their feelings is okay.
“The hope for a teacher is to create a safe and fun environment,” Foster said. “If a student wakes up and can’t wait to go to school, that’s the biggest reward. I wake up and I feel this. The day I don’t, I’ll stop teaching.