With conviction and a straight face, Gretel Reid-Willis says she loves teaching to the extent she would do it without compensation.
It’s a profession she gravitated to as a young girl growing up in a large family in St. Catherine, Jamaica and one that has endeared the North Kipling Junior Middle School educator to her students and her peers.
Last week, she joined several outstanding Canadians as recipients of the Bryden Alumni awards presented to York University past students. Established nine years ago to honour the memory of the university’s alumni association founder and first Board of Governors alumni chair Bruce Bryden who graduated in 1964, awards are presented annually in the Outstanding Contribution, Local Hero, Redefine the Possibilities and The One to Watch categories.
Reid-Willis was recognized in “The One to Watch” category this year.
“This is a special honour,” said Reid-Willis who perceives herself as a classroom motivational leader. “York University has been a great training ground for me and I will continue to represent the institution in the highest standard of professionalism, effective teaching and lifelong learning…I am committed to continue to educate our future leaders by inspiring them to achieve to their highest level of potential…I feel there are too many young people out there who are uninspired, lost and confused. They are never given a chance to be understood.
“We have a responsibility as teachers to step up and help our young people succeed. Teaching for me is not a career. It’s my calling and that’s why I teach with a passion from sunrise to sunset. Life is not about us. It’s about what we have to offer…This award is special because I feel that I am being honoured for teaching with great dedication and commitment which is what I always do.”
Reid-Willis, who graduated from York University in 2000, joins ex- Ontario Conservative Party leader John Tory, former Ontario Premier Ernie Eves, David Collenette, the first federal minister to graduate from York, the late Canadian Olympic Association chief executive officer and secretary-general Carol Anne Letheren and broadcasters Andrew Craig and Sandie Rinaldo as winners of the prestigious award that celebrates York alumni who have attained extraordinary achievements and made remarkable contributions to the university and to their communities.
This is the second major teaching award for Reid-Willis who taught in Jamaica before coming to Canada two decades ago.
The Grade Six teacher won the 2006-07 Premier’s Award for Teaching Excellence in Numeracy by using a creative and hands-on approach to inspire a love of Math. Hundreds of teachers were nominated for the awards presented to nine recipients.
In a math centre she developed, students visit stations to work through problems related to music, language, space and other subjects. Her students baked a pineapple cake to learn procedural writing, 3-D geometry and calculating volumes. She also uses journal writing, dancing and ‘math walks’ to integrate Math with other subjects.
Reid-Willis, whose husband William Willis was the principal at Clarendon College before becoming an education officer in Jamaica, worked as a teaching assistant for several years before joining the North Kipling Junior Middle School staff eight years ago.