Sophie Foster’s (BEd’71) former students will always tell you that she was very firm, but very fair, something Foster recalls fondly.
“Quite a number of the students I’ve taught over the years are grandparents and great-grandparents themselves now,” she says. “Whenever we had a class reunion, they would all tell me the same thing: ‘You were very firm but you were very fair.’ That was something that was repeated over and over again.”
Now at 105-years-old, Foster is one of the oldest people in the province. She credits her longevity to her determination, active lifestyle and good genes, as both of her parents lived well into their 90s.
Throughout her life, one thing that’s remained constant is her love of teaching and encouraging young people. She graduated from the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Education in 1971, a feat she worked hard to accomplish.
Foster was born in Portage la Prairie, Man., and shortly after, the family settled near Tadmore, Sask. where she attended public school. After completing her high school degree at the Yorkton Collegiate, she moved to Saskatoon to attend the then Teacher’s College and obtained a teaching certificate.
She taught in three different rural schools, and then at Kerrobert Composite High School for 18 years, teaching English, which was called Composition at the time.
“There was a shortage of teachers, so my certificate allowed me to teach for three years, but I had to get three university classes during that time too, which gave me a permanent certificate,” she said. “I was ambitious though and wanted to get my degree, but I was also married and had two children at the time.”
Foster and her husband Wilfred lived in Kerrobert and were married for 60 years. They had two children, Ron and Evelyn.
Determined to get her credits, Foster attended summer school, evening classes and took classes via correspondence to accomplish her goal.
“I couldn’t afford to go and take a full year, so I did it the long way around,” she said, noting that it took 22 years for her to get her bachelor of education.
“My son and I have a joke about this, because he graduated from the College of Law in 1970, and I graduated in 1971.”
Foster says she took advantage of every opportunity that came her way while in university, including attending conferences on teaching styles. She remembers taking a slightly different approach to learning than her classmates.
“I was always much older than the other students, especially in summer school. Many of the other students would say, ‘Here comes Grandma,’ she said, laughing. “I devoted all my efforts and skills into my class work, because I knew how important it was. That’s not the way that the first and second year students I met looked at it. They wanted to get their credits so they could graduate and get a job. Well that was not my thinking! I already had a job, so I put everything into it and I’ve never regretted it.”
Ever a natural teacher, Foster also lent her expertise to other university students, helping them with things like basic grammar.
In her Composition classes, she always encouraged students to read during the school year, and there was a strong focus on writing.
“In Grade 12, we had letter writing for how to write a friendly letter, a letter of complaint, a letter of request, business letters, etc. Those are the ones the students needed the most guidance on,” she said.
She also enjoyed the mentorship aspect of teaching, and was keen on helping students find their path beyond high school.
“I think I spent a lot of thought in trying to pick out what is the best in every student, and my students always came to me to discuss a lot of things, like applying for scholarships, which of course involves writing letters or summaries. If they were having problems in another subject, I would give them what advice I thought was fair from my standpoint.”
As the oldest member of Saskatoon’s Century Club, Foster also used to speak regularly to high school students, offering advice on school and life.
“I always told them to have a goal. When you’re starting grade nine you should have a goal. When I see someone who is 18 years of age and on the verge of graduating from Grade 12, and I say, ‘What are you going to do when you graduate?’ and they say they haven’t a clue, it just breaks my heart. It’s important for staff to have taken into consideration helping the students to set a goal.”
With that in mind, Foster says there have been many changes to the education system over the years.
“If I start talking about this I could be here for the rest of the afternoon!” she laughs. “I would say my two complaints though are the change to not teaching phonics, and then the second one was when they brought in (changes to how you can) fail a student. Where in life can you be successful by not meeting the requirements of that particular job? You have to meet the criteria before you get a mark on it.”
With a love of instructing engrained in her, Foster continued teaching in one form or another for many years. She worked as a tour guide director, training other guides and leading tours in North America and Europe for travellers. Her favourite trips were to Disneyland and the Maritimes.
Foster also spent years volunteering as a private English tutor with international students, and was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012 for her volunteer service.
She has quite the stack of letters of thanks and congratulations too, including some she received for her 100th birthday from the premier, prime minister, governor general and others.
Always learning, Foster loves to stay engaged in current events and listens to many audiobooks, including ones on history and biography.
She follows Canadian curling closely, and is an avid bridge player, noting that the game is her favourite pastime.
Looking back, Foster says one of the best things is keeping in touch with former students and hearing that she made a difference in their lives.
“My students, who are themselves seniors now, still keep in contact with me during the year. And if we have a reunion, it’s always very touching and moving when they come up to me and say, ‘Mrs. Foster, you were my best teacher.’”