The Chilliwack Progress is honoured to profile four ‘Heroes in Education’ from a long and amazing list of nominees sent to us from the Chilliwack community.
Harold Willers had tears in his eyes after hearing what a former student had to say about him.
Amber Heetebrij called Willers “truly exceptional” and a “gift” to Chilliwack.
“I am not nominating this man because of one moment, or incident, that’s the beauty of Mr. Willers; he’s always engaged, he’s always trying to ensure you become the best version of yourself,” she wrote in an email to The Progress.
She is just one of thousands of people Willers has taught over the past three decades. He’s the teacher everyone loves, everyone remembers – the kind of teacher who cares about his students and inspires them.
Willers taught Grades 4 to 12 in the Chilliwack School District for 33 years. Most of his years were spent at Sardis Secondary and Chilliwack Secondary where he mainly taught math, but also science, humanities and coached sports like track and field.
He had a ‘comfy corner’ in his classroom, a place with a fridge, kettle, microwave and snacks. A place where kids could come and hang out anytime.
“The door was always open. Any kid could come in at any time they wanted,” Willers said. “It was a safe place.”
If teens needed a place to escape to because they didn’t want to face someone in a class, then they knew they could come to Willers’ room. If a student couldn’t open up to another teacher about a problem they were facing, Willers would help bridge that gap.
Having the best grades were not the most important part of school. Having good kids was more essential, he said.
“Whether they can do Pythagoras or factor anything is not as important as how they inter-relate with peers or adults.”
Willers also loved to have fun and wasn’t afraid to laugh at himself. He was the one to step forward when the school needed teachers to do ‘something’ when it came to fundraisers – like waxing his legs, being duct-taped to a telephone pole and getting dressed up as a Spice Girl.
“My dad told me ‘Life’s too short to be taken too seriously.’”
Even outside the classroom, students would come up to him. When he and his wife Mary go out, chances are they will run into one of his students.
“When you see the students and they see him, it’s excitement and happiness,” Mary said. “He always has a moment to say hi.”
They could also call him whenever they needed. He handed out his phone number to his students and some of them would call him up at 2 a.m. needing a ride home and Willers would do it.
What does he think his former students would say about him?
“I was willing to put in the time and that I was welcoming and a good ear,” he replied.
After teaching full time for 33 years in the same city, it was bound to happen that one day he’d teach the kids of some of his former students.
“The first time it happened I felt really, really old. And now it just happens all the time.”
Although he retired in 2019, Willers is still in the Chilliwack School District as an on-call teacher.
Like countless other former students, Heetebrij has stayed in touch with him years after she graduated.
“I do not know one person who has crossed paths with this incredible man and not been blessed,” she said.
“You can see that the caring is there,” Mary said. “When someone genuinely cares, the kids know that.”
Go to theprogress.com/community to read about Chilliwack’s other Heroes in Education. All four features will be published April 30 and May 1, 2022.