Lessons in love

Another teacher has been cleared of assaulting a pupil. Is it getting impossible to legislate for teenage desire? Or are we just too hysterical about school relationships? By Julia Stuart
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The Independent Culture
It's the pitiful cry that has been heard so many times before: ``I love him. He loves me.'' The teacher is in the dock, while the schoolgirl utters her pledge of undying love. ``I will wait for you.'' Mick Edson, a 31-year-old chemistry teacher at a Bradford secondary school, ran away with 15-year-old Rachel Russell after their relationship was discovered by the girl's parents and the school authorities. Four days later, the couple walked into a police station where Mr Edson was arrested. Yesterday he was acquitted of abduction and indecent assault.

Now 16 and training to be a nursery nurse, Rachel treasures the engagement ring which she says he bought her last August, and which she wore to school. She told the court that they had discussed contraception, but had not had sex, deciding to wait until she was old enough. "He could go to prison for that," she said earnestly. She insisted it was her idea to run away.

The relationship developed while Mr Edson was Rachel's form teacher and tutor at Wyke Manor School in Bradford. When she was 13, Rachel started babysitting for the unmarried man's five-year-old daughter. After a while, with her parents' permission, she would stay over at his house, and even went on holiday with him. The relationship was discovered by another teacher, and the couple were challenged by Rachel's father, who said the relationship had to stop.

Mick Edson and Rachel Russell's story is a familiar one. Raging hormones and privileged access to impressionable teenagers makes a powerful combination which both pupils and teachers may find hard to resist. One former girls' public-school pupil recalls that a teacher in his early 30s seemed to make a habit of falling for pupils in the sixth form, moving in with them once they left school, and then starting again with another pupil.

``Being a public-school teacher didn't carry much status in the real world. For some of the teachers, the girls were the only people who really admired them," she said. "It was very tempting for them. They had a captive audience.'' She added that some of the more competitive girls saw attracting the teacher's attentions as a way of getting one up on their friends.

According to a survey, one school leaver in 20 claims to have had a sexual relationship with a teacher, and nearly half fantasise about them at some time. A spokeswoman for the National Union of Teachers, however, said parents should be cautious of teenage boasts.

``The indications are that [such relationships] are extremely rare, because they are frowned on by teachers," she said. "You always have to be careful with young people's claims: there's an awful lot of bravado." She acknowledged that temptation was a potent element. ``Teachers are human beings too and behave extremely foolishly.''

She added that there were no active strategies in schools to stop relationships forming. ``You don't have to be told not to murder someone. They automatically know. The school doesn't have to spell it out. It's part of your responsibility to young people that you don't take advantage of their being young.''

There are instances, which have increased in recent years, of pupils falsely accusing teachers of making sexual advances, a threat which teachers are forced to take very seriously. One somewhat naive graduate went to teach classics in a girls' public school, and found himself followed around by an adoring troupe of teenagers wherever he went. The girls persisted in calling him by his first name, sighing and staring at him with ill- disguised lust during lessons, until he began to worry that the whole situation might get out of hand, and left within a year.

A public-school teacher was cleared of having sex with a 15-year-old pupil in January. Daniel Angadi, 54, was suspended from his job when his former pupil, now 28, told the police she lost her virginity to him when she was just 14 and he was her history teacher. He admitted having an affair with the girl, but said that it was only after she left school for university at the age of 18.

The former pupil admitted to the court she felt jealousy and "pure hate" for Mr Angadi's second wife - another former pupil. She admitted that she had even thought of killing his wife after discovering that the couple were happily married.

Mr Angadi had attracted a lot of attention at the school. He was adored by the girls for his boyish enthusiasm, and was, by all accounts, a brilliant teacher. One former pupil said: ``The girls all fell in love with him, of course. One mother even complained, but that was what all 14-year-olds did really. We spent our whole time having crushes.''

His popularity was such that there was an appeal to cover his legal costs, to which two headmistresses, a number of parents and ex-pupils donated generous sums of money. One former pupil said: ``He didn't flirt, but was very enthusiastic and he always seemed younger than his years. You would always get those dirty old men at school, but he truly wasn't one of them.''

One 34-year-old woman, who declined to be named, remembers having a relationship with a teacher in which she was the predator. She lost her virginity to her French teacher after complaining to him that she had never had sex.

``I kept going on about still being a virgin, which I no longer wanted to be, and eventually he offered to be the one. I didn't have a crush on him but he was a conscious choice on my part. But I think he liked me more than I realised. He became slightly obsessive with me and left the school.

"I don't think badly of him because I was so sexually aggressive. I taunted him. I'm glad that it was him, rather than some drunk 16-year-old. The only thing I regret was that he left the school. There was no other reason why he should have left. He had only been at the school for a few years."

Yesterday, a spokesman for the teachers' union NASUWT offered a caution: "Relationships between teachers and pupils are a difficult area. It remains to be seen if Mr Edson has a future as a teacher."

CHIEF INSPECTOR of Schools Chris Woodhead became the target of much righteous moralising when it was said that he had had an affair with a pupil at Gordano school in Bristol. It was alleged that, in 1976 when he was in his early 30s, he had an affair with Amanda Johnston, a sixth- former. The story emerged after new draconian measures were introduced to imprison teachers for sleeping with pupils. His ex-wife confirmed the story, but Woodhead, who said the relationship took place after Johnston had left the school, survived calls for his resignation.

LUCY HAYWARD, 30, an English teacher at Abraham Darby school in Telford, had an affair with a 15-year-old schoolboy. Ms Hayward was accused of smoking cannabis with boys from the school and seducing the pupil. She was placed on the sex- offenders register, lost her job and was sentenced to two years in prison.

DANIEL ANGADI, 54, a teacher at an independent London school, was charged with indecent assault after a former pupil told police they had had an affair. She claimed they had fallen in love during the break-up of his marriage when she was just 15. He claimed the relationship took place when she was 18 and had left the school. He was acquitted.

MARY LETOURNEAU, 34, a high-school teacher in Seattle, had an affair and then had a baby with a 13-year-old pupil. LeTourneau, who was married with five children, taught at Shorewood Elementary until her husband discovered love letters in her closet. LeTourneau pleaded guilty to second-degree rape and was sentenced to three months in prison. After her release, she was rearrested in a car with her boy-lover. She was subsequently given a seven-year sentence.

SOME TEACHERS find themselves taken quite by surprise by schoolgirls' fantasies. In her autobiography, A Slight And Delicate Creature, Margaret Cook revealed that she had had an affair with her drama teacher at age 19. No one was more surprised to read this than `Ben B', the teacher in question, who had forgotten the affair. He did however recall being thrown out of his lodgings for the indiscretion.