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December 1999

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Elwy Yost’s
Remarkable Teacher

"Iwas very impressed by all my teachers," says the affable retiring host of Saturday Night at the Movies, "but one man stood out. His name was Tom Boone."

Tom Boone taught Elwy Yost English for four years at Weston Collegiate, in what is now part of Toronto. Boone had asked the class to write a composition.

Yost says: "I wrote mine with the title of ‘Suspense.’ It was the story of a woman walking along the street with a wrapped-up box under her arm. She notices a man following her and she quickens her pace and goes down the stairs to an underground train station. This man does, too, and she’s worried and moving closer to the edge where the train comes by. She thinks he’s going to push her. A train roars by and he pulls her back. He was nervous she was going to fling herself in front of the train. He pulls her back and saves her life."

Boone gave the work a 60, barely a pass, Yost reports. "I had put a lot of energy into this, so I went to Mr. Boone and said, ‘Honestly, Mr. Boone, I worked hard on this. He said, "But you never told me what was in the box." I told him I never wanted to, that I wanted to keep him wondering all the way through, until finally, it looks like she is going to step in front of the train and he reaches forward, not to push her but to pull her back.

"Mr. Boone asked me what my purpose was. I told him just to keep him in suspense. He said he’d look at it again and he did, and he gave me a lovely mark"

Boone had terrific patience, says Yost, "He didn’t judge too severely, and he tried to be reasonable."

Yost went on to university, then a stint as an actor and six years at A.V. Roe as an employee counsellor. Yost still remembers the smell of the acetylene torches cutting the finished Avro Arrows into scrap on the orders of the government. Yost was looking for work when an old friend, now a teacher, told him he had a natural gift for teaching. Yost thought this sounded interesting and called Tom Boone, now director of education in Etobicoke.

Boone had Yost enrol in teachers college for the summer and hired him to teach English at Burnhamthorpe Collegiate.

"In my first week teaching," Yost reports, "I got very angry at a boy and wanted him to write out something a million times. Then I worried all through the afternoon that I had done something really stupid.

"So I went to the principal. Mr. McNab was a wonderful man and he said to me, ‘That’s perfectly human, Elwy, to do that. I would like to suggest to you that one of the most interesting traits of any teacher is a sense of reasonableness. You’re afraid that you can’t go back on yourself. You’re thinking it’s not right, you must never budge because some weakness would be seen. If I were you I’d talk to him and tell him that you were kind of stupid and emotional. Have him write an essay or something like that and hand it in a week or two.’

"And so I took his advice," Yost winds up, "and that student became one of my favourites." And Yost learned the trait that had made Tom Boone a remarkable teacher: reasonableness.

Yost taught English for five years, using movies often in class. He also moonlighted as a panellist on some CBC TV shows.

His interests in movies and education merged when he went to work for the Metropolitan Education Television Association (META). Then, TVOntario beckoned, and about 30 years and one Order of Canada later, Elwy Yost is ready to move on to his next career, whatever that is.