A well-known, much-loved Chilliwack secondary (CSS) teacher who has taken countless teens under his wing for nearly 30 years is retiring.
Psychology teacher Steve Anderson will be stepping away from his classroom at the end of this month. He said teaching has been a “fabulous experience,” and something he got into a bit later in life than most.
Anderson was about 30 years old when he was encouraged by his mother to become a drafting/woodworking teacher. It seemed like a natural fit for him since he worked with kids as a journeyman carpenter, and in youth groups in churches.
So he called up BCIT the week before the Labour Day long weekend in 1988 and told the professor he was inquiring about joining the teaching program.
“He said, ‘the course for this year is full, but I’m going to make a seat for you. So we’ll see you Tuesday,’” Anderson recalled. “My stomach just fell out… I just about wet myself.”
After finishing the program, he was a teacher on call for CHANCE Alternate School, and then CSS before getting hired as a full-time drafting/shop teacher in 1994 at CSS.
Over the years was involved in leadership, school dances, pep rallies and the annual “grad car” that was build entirely by girls. He also introduced stage craft to the school which was so popular it branched into the city where students got involved with open houses, sets and parade floats.
“He came into our school in the early ’90s with a tremendous amount of energy, spirit and creativity,” said fellow teacher Joe Mauro. “He brought the culture of our school a couple of levels up. Students, staff and the community wanted to be part of our school. Steve put us on the map.”
He has built relationships with the kids and they trust him. Anderson is the teacher students could turn to for help.
“When somebody asks me what I do, I say I build young adults,” he said. “I value young people. I get it, I was there and I remember it well.”
His advice to fellow teachers is to connect with the students, get involved and don’t be just a “talking head at the front of the class.”
“When you see a kid who’s upset, don’t be afraid to engage because that’s what a community member would do in a real community,” Anderson said.
And he’s done just that for countless kids.
“Steve always made students his number-one priority and made them feel like a million bucks. He cared so much for their well being and made CSS their second home,” Mauro added.
About 10 to 12 years ago, his classroom changed dramatically from hands-on building to teaching psychology, which he says is the most valuable course at CSS.
“If you can teach young people about how their brain works, how they think, why they think the way they do, if you can teach them they can actually fine-tune their brain… they can actually work at making their brain work better.”
His interest in psychology began in 2005 when he and his daughter, Courtney Anderson, started up The Wanted Children Foundation where they work with kids in Nigeria who’ve gone through trauma.
That work in Nigeria made him want to teach psychology at CSS.
“I’ll take the psychology, but I want it for more than one year,” Anderson recalled saying to the principal back around 2010. “I’ll go for two years… and see if we can build it into something.”
Boy did it grow, and quickly.
“Given the reputation that I had of being genuine and liking the kids, it went from one block to two instantly. Then it went to five, and we’ve had full psychology ever since.”
In time, he turned his course into an applied psychology one where kids study in the classroom and then go out and volunteer in elementary classrooms to identify younger kids who need help.
“They’re not taking the place of the teacher. They’re just and extra set of intelligent, knowledgeable eyes in the classroom that can match up with a little one who’s having trouble.”
He is a trainer in understanding the neurosequential model of therapy related to brain development where he connects people’s behaviour with trauma that happened to them at a younger age.
Now, at the age of 63, he’s taking his years of teaching psychology at CSS and applying it to his private practice called REACH Trauma Response Consulting Ltd. REACH stands for Rehabilitative Education and Comprehensive Health.
Anderson said he’s had a “great time” at CSS. And much like how his classroom door was always open for those who needed to talk, his retirement door will now be open instead.
“Those that still want to keep in contact, please do.”
Mauro said he’s going to miss Anderson’s “upbeat and funny” PA announcements, his pranks, his smile and his kind words.
“He cared so much about our school. He will be missed,” Mauro said.
Anderson is now packing up his classroom. The walls are filled with 27 years worth photos, newspaper clippings and other memories.
“I think the last day is going to be like ‘I don’t have any regrets, I don’t have any loose ends, I have no shoulda, coulda, wouldas,’” Anderson said. “I’ve been all-in, fully committed for all these years. It’s been a great ride.”