I’ve rarely appreciated that teacher more than in these sordid days of testimony from disgraced B.C. teacher Tom Ellison.
Unlike my decent teacher, Ellison drew no boundaries. He had sex with his young Vancouver alternative-education students as if he was just another boy among them, with barely a thought to the teacher he was supposed to be.
“I apologize to you guys because you’re my good friends,” the former secondary teacher said in court Wednesday to a dozen stricken female students from those years. “I just crossed the line. I know it was wrong.”
Good friends? Since when was that ever a desirable characteristic in a teacher? Ellison made the ridiculous claim in court this week that it was “extremely common” for secondary teachers to have sex with their students in the 1970s. I can only hope that every middle-aged teacher in the province jumps all over him for that, because it’s a lie. Then and now, teachers knew not to sleep with their students.
Not that anything is going to make a dint on Ellison, who’s 63 now and still as unaware of his terrible breach of trust as he was in the years when he was chasing young girls from room to room and tearing off their underwear. A guy who still refers to these now-grown women as his “good friends” after they’ve charged him with 16 counts of gross indecency and indecent assault - well, that’s a guy who’s never going to get it.
But I was in school in B.C. in the years that Ellison was teaching, and what really bugs me is watching him try to excuse his pathetic behaviour as normal for that period. Sure, there were other teachers like Ellison back then, and still are. But it was never OK.
The case at hand involves young girls attending Vancouver’s Prince of Wales Secondary in the 1970s and ‘80s. Ellison was in his 30s for most of that period, running one of those experimental outdoor school programs that get tested every now and then as a new way of teaching. Ellison’s particular teaching style included dating the students.
He contends it was OK because the law criminalizing acts like teachers dating their students didn’t come into effect until 1988. The reality is that, law or no law, teachers have always been in a position of trust over their students, and fully aware of the need to be the adult in whatever scenes play out with their students. It has never been acceptable for teachers to date their students.
As many of us can attest, the early teen years are a sexual awakening. Today, the girls announce it with their teeny tops and skinny-low pants. In my day, it was ridiculously short skirts and matching underwear. We dressed to experiment with how it felt to be a woman, and to stop traffic with our body-baring style.
Why not? Youth is a beautiful thing. Let the young people feel their oats, because years of dignified behaviour and modest clothing await them as adults. From a girl point of view, I think the phase is all about testing your sexuality - sending out those come-hither vibes and seeing how it feels to pick up something coming back.
Sometimes those girl vibes get directed at a teacher. But what’s supposed to happen is nothing at all, because that young, vulnerable girl practically throwing herself at her teacher is simply off-limits.
From Grade 7 on, I can think of at least one teacher per year who my little-girl self dreamed of falling in love with. Did any of them recognize it? Impossible to say, but I can attest that they never took me up on my offers. They let me be a little girl growing into a young woman, and do my learning with boys my own age.
Things were different in Ellison’s class. Testimony in the case so far reads like one big frat party. Ellison and at least one other teacher from the same alternative program essentially surrounded themselves with swooning teenage girls and nights out on a school yacht. Ellison acknowledged he was “taking a risk” when things turned sexual, but the testimony of witness after tearful witness from those years certainly made it clear that he never let that get in the way.
Thank God for the teachers who know where to draw the line. Being a teenager is hard enough without having a teacher like Tom Ellison taking you up on an offer that you’re too young to make. Every girl who never met him ought to thank their lucky stars.