Paul Foster gives new meaning to the term multi-tasking.
He offers a quick handshake as he troubleshoots a problem with students printing a school newsletter. He helps another student with a computer graphics question, while checking the progress of yet another of his charges. He never breaks stride as he goes from one to the next in his graphics and printing communications class.
When Foster accepted his teaching position at Sollers Point Technical High School, his main goal was to show his students what to expect in the real world of printing.
Not only has Foster achieved his goal, he has surpassed it. His students are landing good jobs in the field, and people in Baltimore County are recognizing Foster for his efforts.
So, it came as no surprise that when Edward Fangman, principal at Sollers Point, was asked along with all the other area schools to submit the name of a teacher to be honored as outstanding by the local chamber of commerce, he would select Foster.
"The criteria for the award dealt with service to the community and the quality of teaching," Fangman said. "Mr. Foster puts his students in real-life situations, and he works well with the community. He's the type of teacher that despite working incredibly long hours, he took a student to a professional club he belongs to and introduced him to people in the printing profession. He puts a lot of faith and trust in his students, and they know it. We're very fortunate to have him."
The school has not had him long. The Baltimore native earned a degree from the University of Maryland, and he has worked in the printing business for more than 20 years. When Frank Dingle, head of Community College of Baltimore County's printing management class and Foster's unofficial mentor, asked him to teach a typography and publications course, he agreed.
Dingle also encouraged Foster to join the Graphic Arts Professionals of Baltimore. At one of the organization's meetings, Foster's current supervisor, Rhonda Hoyman, walked over and signed him up for teaching-certification classes. Shortly after, Foster received a call to teach at Sollers Point as a long-term substitute, a position that became permanent this spring.
"I drew on my industry experience to show the kids what they can expect in the real world," Foster said. "I am trying to prepare them because I don't want them to suffer the shock of the real world unprepared."
To give his students the most realistic experience, Foster set up the program like a small printing shop. He gives his students real jobs, which they complete from start to finish.
"When we take our field trips to print shops and businesses, the kids see the same equipment we use," he said. "The kids know what to look for and what to do when they get into those environments."
Foster's instruction has landed more than one student a job in the printing business.
"We took a field trip to Peabody Press, and Sam Miloro, one of my students, went off and talked to some of the employees there," Foster said. "A few weeks later, they called Sam and offered him a job working on a five-color press. It's unheard of for someone that young to get that job. I would like that job."
When Foster asked why his student got the job, he was told Miloro asked all the right questions. Miloro said the guys at work tell him he was taught well. Miloro agrees.
"Mr. Foster isn't like a teacher to me, he's more like a friend," Miloro said. "I go to him anytime I need someone to talk to. He's a great guy. He has lots of patience with me. He never yelled at me when I screwed up. He just showed me how to do things the right way."
Other students talked about their experiences with Foster.
"Mr. Foster gives us jobs, and they are ours from start to finish," said Stephanie Janney, a junior. "We learn something new every day with Mr. Foster. He taught me to learn to pay attention to detail."
Janney has had such a good experience with Foster that she has decided to make a career of graphic communications.
"Graphic design is something different. It's everything and it's everywhere," Janney said. "It's socks, shoes, clocks and clothes. It's posters, brochures, pamphlets and invitations. It's something new all the time."
Megan Tomaszewski, a junior, said Foster helped her change her focus from photography to graphic design.
"I was only interested in photography when I joined Mr. Foster's class," said Tomaszewski. "He taught me how to not only work with photos, but how to make them better. He's always here for me when I need him. When I have a project, he helps me complete it."
Randi Bowen, a senior, said it was Foster's hands-on approach that sold the programs to him. He said that in the ninth grade, his class took a tour of each of the specialty technology classes.
"In each class, the teachers would talk about their class," said Bowen. "When we got to Mr. Foster's class, he put us on the computers and had us each make a notepad. That drew me in. I thought it was really cool."
Although Foster's annual budget is $4,200, his students work with state-of-the art equipment and software. Customers, including Dundalk Marine Terminal, Dundalk Chamber of Commerce, churches, football leagues, Baltimore Museum of Industry and several schools, pay for materials and are charged a small fee for the work completed. The money is put back into the program.
The students work with some prominent customers, and while Foster guides his charges, he lets them do more and more themselves.
Although students lined up to pay tribute to their teacher, he said he does not have 100 percent success.
"I don't always get through to my students enough to get them interested in the field as a career choice," Foster said. "But, they take away skills that help them down the road."
Foster said his students' success is his greatest reward.
"Carl Holmes, one of my former students, finished my program and landed a job with one of the largest printers in Maryland," Foster said. "He's 18 years old and working 12-hour shifts six days a week. He can't believe the money he's making. Kids like Carl make this all worthwhile for me."