PROFILE: Going live, changing lives: Pelham High School broadcast teacher Justin Foster helps students chase their passions

Published 8:36 am Friday, March 29, 2024

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By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

PELHAM – Justin Foster didn’t always feel called to teach. In fact, he wasn’t sure someone could be called to do anything.

That is until he met a woman with a very specific vision for his life.

“My brother had told her that I was considering going back to school,” Foster says of his interaction with this parent. “She looked me in the eye when she was just picking up her kid and she said, ‘you know, your brother told me what you’re thinking about doing, God’s told me you need to do that. I’ve just got this vision of you in front of a bunch of kids. They’re listening to you, you’ve got the tie on and you got something to say. And she said, ‘What you’ve done with my son, I know you see that, right? The impact you’ve made on my son. You’ll do that with 100-plus kids. This is what you’re supposed to be doing. I know the money is what you’re worried about. You’re going to be taken care of.’”

Foster chased that calling, and it has paid off. His journey led him to Pelham High School, where he serves as broadcast teacher, and he uses his experience working for major networks like ESPN to prepare students for life, not just in the broadcast industry, but in any industry.

Foster believes he is living in his calling as a teacher at Pelham High School, but he took a long journey before finding and embracing that calling. (For the Reporter/Dawn Harrison)


Foster started his journalism journey at Montevallo High School, where he took journalism classes and laid the foundation for his passion.

Then, when he was 17, one of his friends in live sports production offered him a chance to work an Auburn football game for $50.

For a sports-obsessed kid, it was a no-brainer, and he was hooked.

He became a camera operator out of college, and he quickly moved up the ranks.

Soon enough, he had regular contract work from ESPN, FOX Sports and CBS Sports, running cameras for the biggest games around the Southeast.

While he loved his work, he felt unfulfilled, partly because he never saw himself making a career out of being a camera operator.

He felt called to do something else, even though he wasn’t sure what that looked like.

His brother ran the after-school care program at Helena Intermediate School, and his brother invited him to work there during the weeks he was home after working as a camera operator on weekends.

The more he kept going, the more he realized that education was what he loved.

“I started working with all these kids and I’m like, ‘I’m starting to look forward to this as much as anything,’ watching these kids grow and instilling values in them and seeing them apply those things,” Foster says.

During that time as well was when the parent approached him about her vision of his passion, and that pushed him over the edge to pursue becoming a teacher.

He quickly went back to school to get his master’s in education. He admits it was a risky move to do on a whim, especially because he would be making less as a teacher than as a full-time camera operator.

“I think the pull for so long, it was like, ‘How are you going to leave a job where you make more money? You’re going to pay to go to grad school to make less money,’” Foster says. “But I really just felt a calling. I don’t know how else to say it. I felt like that’s where I was supposed to be, and I really think I just gave in to that and said, ‘You know what? I think this is the path,’ and took that path.”

That path initially led him to Thompson High School, where he taught as part of earning his degree, but after graduation, Pelham High School aggressively pushed to get him.

His goal was to teach English and maybe coach basketball on the side, but Pelham saw more in him.

The administration saw an opportunity for him to lead an entire broadcast program at PHS where he would have free reign of the program.

“There was kind of this excitement of and nervousness of, ‘I get to build it however I want it,’” Foster said. “I often tell people the best thing is they trust me entirely with this, and the worst thing is they trust me entirely with this.”

As it turns out, trusting Foster has worked so far. He transformed an old English classroom into a full broadcast setup, complete with news desks, a camera, green screens and a control room.

As the years went on, his role at Pelham grew into something beyond his wildest dreams. Foster is now the play-by-play voice of the Pelham Panthers’ football broadcasts and the host of the Panthers Pulse coaches’ show. He also produces every broadcast in addition to his day-to-day work.

At the same time, Foster’s camera operator career has never been better. He still works on weekends shooting everything from Alabama to Ole Miss to Mississippi State, and the financial concerns he had when he became a teacher took care of themselves.

He receives more offers now than he did when he ran cameras full time and fulfilled a dream of shooting March Madness in 2023. He even turned down an offer to shoot the College Football Playoff Semifinal between Georgia and Ohio State in 2022 to prioritize plans with family.

Now, after feeling empty before becoming a teacher, Foster feels fulfilled and happy that he chose to teach at Pelham and live in what he believes he was called to do.

“In deciding to go into education, I think a lot of times you get this idea that, ‘Those who can’t do, teach,’ but I’ve had the opposite where in teaching, I’ve been able to do so many things that I always wanted to do and really find that fulfillment that when I was just traveling all the time, just a camera guy, I didn’t have,” Foster says.

Pelham High School students have access to a full broadcast studio to produce programs under Foster’s guidance (For the Reporter/Dawn Harrison)


Foster has created a wide lineup of shows that his students work on each week.

Every morning, the students host Happening on the Hill, a five-minute morning announcement show. Then, every Friday, they host the Panther Playback, which is a longer weekly recap show.

In addition, they have the freedom to make personal passion projects for the program’s YouTube channel.

Both studio shows have two main anchors, a sports anchor, multiple stage managers, a full production team behind the scenes, and occasionally, a guest for a live interview.

For football games and other big athletic events, the program runs a full camera and production crew in addition to Foster calling play-by-play.

The best part? Every position in the studio and on the sports production crew is filled by a student, and Pelham students can get started with broadcast from the moment they walk in as freshmen to get as much experience as possible.

When Foster started regularly working on live productions, he was stunned at how many recent college graduates had no foundational knowledge to get started in the business.

“There’s not a lot of practical application, there’s not a lot of emphasizing the shifts in technology and the shifts in thinking that you really need to succeed,” Foster said of the education his college-aged colleagues received. “But the bottom line, it’s work ethic. There’s no magic formula to success. It’s just work in whatever you’re doing.”

Because of that, Foster wants to prepare his students for the real world as much as possible, teaching them both the skills they need and instilling a drive to work. He brings the experience he has from working for major networks to teach students what they need to succeed.

During sporting events, he prepares production notes similar to what crews at ESPN use for their own shows, researching each team for key players to focus on and going over them in professional-style camera meetings.

It may be hectic at times balancing everything, but Foster takes pride in seeing it all come together.

“It is absolute chaos,” Foster says. “But it’s beautiful seeing it all come together.”

Foster teaches students broadcast skills they can use in college and the professional world while giving them opportunities to use their skillset at PHS. (For the Reporter/Dawn Harrison)

He hopes that everything in the program helps expose his students to new career options.

He has students interested in production, reporting and even film, and he tries to cater to each type of student by giving them the tools they need to succeed.

Their work is getting noticed too.

Foster regularly brings in guest speakers that he knows from the local media like ABC 33/40 Sports Director Jeff Speegle, and they are continually impressed by what the students are capable of at such a young age.

“It’s really cool that Mr. Foster is developing this next level of people who are going to work in this industry,” Speegle says. “We need good teachers who know the craft and know how to teach it and hold kids accountable, hold them to a standard, and I think he does a good job of that.”

Foster continually seeks ways to improve the program and better teach his students. One of his goals is to train himself on how to operate a replay system so he can integrate it into their broadcasts for students to learn as well. He also hopes to expand the number of sports and games his crew covers.

In fact, former students frequently come back and can’t believe how much the program has grown.

For Foster, he just wants to be the teacher that gives his students a chance to learn broadcasting since high school was when so many people in journalism and production got their start.

“Since I started teaching, so many people that I work with in TV have told me, ‘Yu know I got into this because of an opportunity I had in high school or a teacher that I had that kind of turned me on to this world,’ and really, that’s what I want to do, when you see kids, you spark that fire in them,” Foster says.

Foster remains committed to build genuine relationships with his students and help them grow not just as future broadcasters, but as people also. (For the Reporter/Dawn Harrison)


However, beyond teaching them about broadcast, Foster wants to instill a lifelong love of learning in his students.

“The reality is, they’re kids, they’re moldable and they’re young and they need to be pointed in the right direction to find their passion,” Foster says. “I was called a slacker, and now I’m called a workaholic. So, where’s the difference? It’s just in finding your place.”

Part of the way he does that is by building genuine relationships with his students and discovering what they’re passionate about.

His ability to cultivate relationships is one of the first things that people like Pelham High School Principal Kim Kiel remark about him.

“Justin has what I call ‘the it-factor,’” Kiel says. “Not everyone is good at developing relationships, but he innately does that. He is a people person. He truly cares about people. And I think once you really care about something, specifically, in this situation, people, I think that you really work hard to develop relationships with him. It just comes very easy. It’s very natural because he’s just a good person.”

Foster doesn’t believe there’s a secret recipe. His philosophy is simple–kids are just like anyone else, and the more that you listen to them, have grace, show that you value them and encourage their passions, the better you can relate to them.

“If you want to connect to your kids, ask them what they’re listening to and then go listen to it,” Foster says. “You may not like it, and that’s okay. But if they know you take the time to listen to their recommendations or just ask them about what’s going on in their life and be able to remember those things, it’s no different than anybody in the world.”

Beyond anything that his students learn from his class or do after they graduate, Foster is most proud of the people who look up to him like a father figure and tell him that he had an impact in their lives.

“The TV side of things, that’s great and that is incredibly rewarding,” Foster says. “But when someone gets to the end of their high school time and says, ‘You are a father figure to me. You were somebody that I looked forward to seeing every day. I’m going to miss you,’ somebody that years later comes back and you see them light up when they see you, and you know that everybody has those teachers. To be that, there’s nothing like it. I get chills thinking about it.”

Part of that is because of the impact he has seen other teachers have on communities. Foster proudly hails from a long line of teachers, including his aunt. When she died of pancreatic cancer, he saw how her community mourned her because of how much she loved them and how much they loved her back.

He left quickly after she died to shoot the NFL Draft, which at the time was one of the biggest events he had ever worked. The outpouring of grief made him contemplate his own legacy.

“This entire school was grieving her, it wasn’t just us,” Foster says. “And so, I asked myself, ‘If this were me, what would my legacy be?’ They’re going to find someone else to run the camera, they’re a dime a dozen. What is your impact in the community? I wanted to carry that legacy on, and I wanted to know whenever my time was called, what did I do? What lasting impact did I have?”

Every day that he comes to work, Foster hopes to grow his impact on Pelham, giving back to the school that has given so much to him and playing his part in the tight-knit family that Pelham is.

He now sees that there were people throughout his life who pointed him towards his calling. One of those people was the parent from Helena Intermediate with a vision of him teaching. Now that he’s a teacher impacting the next generation, he hopes that she would be proud of what he has done.

“All of those things she told me years ago, I’m like, ‘You were put there for a reason to tell me those things,’” Foster says. “And I hope that she’s looking down and proud of what I’ve done.”

He’s now convinced that everyone was put on Earth for a reason, and he wants to help his students find their purpose, no matter what that looks like and even if it isn’t in broadcasting.

“I tell people I was very skeptical of, ‘You have a calling,’ before I answered the call that was in my life,” Foster says. “I try not to get too religious with the kids, more speak in general senses. But I fully believe we all have a purpose. There’s a reason every one of us is here, and the world’s a little dimmer when you don’t embrace that purpose.”