He sat in the middle of the auditorium, and with his flaming red hair and beard, and booming voice, everyone knew who he was. On lecture days, he attended both sessions, even though they were repeats, and he made comments that bounced off the walls and caused the audience to stir uncomfortably. He was full of himself, and long-winded, and while I was amused at first, I soon joined my peers in dreading his presence.
When classes switched at midterm, there he was, front and center in my Counselling Adolescents class, deflating my bubble of anticipation. His was always the first hand to shoot up and when the instructor acknowledged him, he would settle into his seat, clasp his hands on his belly and begin his epic pronouncement. Nothing that he said invited response, it was instead an endless declaration of his own accomplishments, real or imaginary. I shared my fellow classmates disgust of this fellow, and like the others, chose to keep my distance.
“He must be awfully insecure,” my husband offered. “People like that usually are.”
I tried to feel sympathy for him. Maybe my husband was right. Maybe he actually will make a good teacher, and is as gifted as he likes to proclaim. Maybe I needed to give him another chance.
In our final week of classes, the student body was divided into mock schools, complete with a pretend principal, vice principal, etc. Each “school” team was given an series of issues to explore: preparation for the real world. My assigned principal was mister pomp and circumstance. I knew in that moment that this would be a wasted exercise and committed myself to sudokus for the remainder of the course, sitting in the back where I would be undetected. I remember little of what went on as those little math puzzles can be wonderfully addictive.
On the last day, a real principal visited our team and presented a dilemma to be acted out. A disgruntled parent was to appear before the principal and teacher to argue that her child had been unfairly treated. Principal Pomp turned the tides on the parent, berating her in defense of his teacher. After the role play, we were asked to comment on what we saw. Ignoring the blah, blah, blah, I hunkered down to break the current pattern on my page.
That is when I heard a fellow classmate tell the “Principal” that he did a wonderful job.
I was on my feet in protest before I even knew what was happening. “No he didn’t!” I objected. “He was condescending and patronizing and quite frankly, if I had been the parent I would have punched him in the nose.”
Whoops! Did I just say that out loud?
I sat back down.
“Actually, you are right,” the real Principal responded. “Your tone was out of line for someone in a position of authority. How should he have responded?”
The spotlight was now on me. “Well, as a parent, I would want to feel like I was heard, so he should have acknowledged her frustration, and then invited input as to how they might resolve the situation. Everyone present was an adult, so everyone deserved to be treated as such.”
I didn’t hear the response, mortified as I was that I had just embarrassed myself and acted unprofessionally in front of a future potential employer.
The next day, our last day, I found myself elevated to heroic level as people cheered me in the halls: word of my outburst had traveled quickly. I deflated the pomp. Momentarily.
It would be a while after graduation before we all had interviews and found our various jobs. Occasional work was all there was for newcomers, and so like many of my peers, I went from school to school searching for that final resting ground. In my third year, I landed a job at a tiny school, thirty minutes out of town. With a staff of twenty, I knew it wouldn’t take long to get acquainted, so I sought out my colleagues and introduced myself. All seemed very friendly, except for one fellow who left each room when I entered. I finally caught up with him in the staff lounge and when I offered my hand in introduction, he replied: “I know who you are, Beth. I am _____________”.
Yes, you guessed it. He’d shaved the beard, and somehow his hair wasn’t quite as red, but here we were, face to face, colleagues in a staff of twenty.
Now if that isn’t karma, what is?