Those that have been wronged (or even have a perception of being wronged) quite often say ‘oh well, what goes around comes around’, and ‘it’s Karma’ both meaning that eventually the person who wronged them will get some sort of just deserts and something bad will happen to them. Karma is a safety net to keep us all from going over and just punching someone when they’ve annoyed us as whether we are spiritual or not the idea that bad things happen to us and nothing happens in return (did I say return? I think I meant revenge) makes us feel awful and we do get a huge sense of comfort by the idea of Karma. Karma’s great. Someone annoys me or is awful to me but one day, even though I may not be there to see it, they will get what’s coming to them for being nasty to me. Unless you’re the one having a dose of Karma thrown at you…
When I was younger I wasn’t really a model student though I certainly wasn’t the most rebellious in the class. Occasionally I would join in with those causing a kerfuffle but generally only in a ‘safety in numbers’ kind of way. I have been part of a class that was known as ‘the terrible 1B’ that apparently no one wanted to teach. I know we were terrible as this was shouted at us by a rather scary welsh history teacher whilst we were all waiting outside for our class to start. He made the boys get into press up position and us girls stand with our hands on our heads. We had supply teacher after supply teacher but I remember 2 out of the many. Mrs Anderson and Mrs McDonald.
Mrs Anderson was a lady who clearly looked after herself as I remember her with immaculate blonde hair and she was always well dressed. She couldn’t quite control the ‘terrible 1B’ but came back day after day to have a go. Maybe she thought she would crack us or maybe she thought each day was a knew day that couldn’t possibly be worse than the last but now having been a supply teacher for a year before graduation I salute her silent determination. One particularly memorable lesson was when she bent over and her pearl necklace broke releasing tens of tiny little pearls everywhere, all over the floor. Now, as an adult, I would rush over to help collect all the pearls but then as part of the terrible 1B I just sat and laughed at her wildly patting her chest and saying ‘oh my, oh dear!’ as they went all over the floor. She wasn’t the worst teacher though that accolade should be reserved for the wonder that was known to us as Mrs McDonald.
Like I said having been a supply teacher I know it’s hard work. To take a class for a lesson or a day that you know nothing about and they know nothing about you is amazingly fraught with danger. Walk in slightly nervously and they will smell your fear and leap on it with relish. I had a class in a rough area of Reading that appeared to be behaving until I asked them to go back into class from the playground. Once I’d done this they knew I actually couldn’t make them so they sat down and refused to move. After 10 mins I had to admit defeat and go and get the Head who absolutely bollocked them (you could in those days) and off back to class they went. I have no idea how she made them do what she did but they were never any more trouble to me after that. Mrs McDonald was one of those quite, nervous looking ladies who you knew only did supply teaching as a way to pay the bills as there was no way anyone would really I want to come back to teach us ‘1B-ers’ but she did and we were awful to her. One lesson we sang ‘Old McDonald’ until she went out to get one of the Welsh teachers to shout at us to be quiet. When he came in we all stopped as his mere presence was enough to silence us all –it also might have something to do with him putting us in press-up position or making us stand with our hands on our heads till they ached -which was surely illegal? Again though there is one particular lesson that I remember when we just hummed. One single note that slowly everyone joined in. At first she tried to ignore it then she walked around saying ‘stop it!, Stop it!!’ and then she began manically trying to listen in to each table to see it the person sitting behind it was humming, which of course they weren’t as we stopped as soon as she came anywhere near us.
1B were awful. We were awful. I was part of the awfulness.
Many years later after a stint at Music College, a year out and a teaching degree I found myself at a Catholic School for my first job. It was an extremely high achieving school with very high standards and I was in my first year having an issue with a boy who had learning difficulties. I’d tried most things that I knew to help him but felt that he needed a bit more than my teaching degree could offer so a meeting was called with the local special needs coordinator from the local education authority. I was looking forward to this meeting as I wanted to help the little boy so when the day came I had all my evidence ready and all my thought and observations ready to share. I popped into the staff room to make myself a quick cuppa before going back to my classroom. I strode over to the kettle at the back of the room, put it on and as it began to boil I heard a familiar Scottish voice. Stunned in my tracks I listen more carefully and stared at the wall above the kettle. As the kettle boiled I realised who the voice was. It was that of Mrs McDonald…
I made my coffee and went to sit in the corner of the room alongside Mrs McDonald (with a few other colleagues in between so she couldn’t see) my Deputy Head who I was good friends was next to me and I leaned over to ask who that woman was and what she was here for. My Deputy Head replied ‘Oh that’s Mrs McDonald, she’s here for the meeting with you regarding your special needs chap…’
I said under my breath ‘oh my God…’
She said ‘Are you alright? What’s the matter?’
I explained (bearing in mind my deputy had interviewed me and had commented on how well I came across, how personable I was and they were very much looking forward to working in a team with me) that at school she was a supply teacher and not a wonderfully good one and how I was in a class that terrorised her for a few lessons.
She thought this was hilarious and started giggling.
‘Well, that’s going to be an interesting meeting for you. Have you changed much?’
I said no that I looked virtually the same and still had that very unusual not easily forgettable name…
She said she had to go back to her class but muttered something about wishing she could be a ‘…fly on the wall.’
I gulped stood up and slunked out of the staffroom back to my classroom.
Mrs McDonald appeared in my classroom and we chatted about the boy and his mum came to join us. During the meeting she seemed very much in control and came up with some great strategies and ideas in which to help the little boy. She gave no hint of ever having met me before and kept up a professional façade to the very end. I don’t know if she actually did realise who I was and I never saw her again to pluck up the courage to ask but I had had a large, well thought out and particularly uncomfortable dose of Karma that landed right in my classroom.
I’ve longed believed in what goes around comes around both as a way of making sense of other people’s actions and as a comfort that if you push an awful thought out into the ether then it will come back to you in some way. Maybe Mrs McDonald didn’t need to say anything because seeing how uncomfortable I was (oh and I was) may have been enough. She may have thought that seeing as I hadn’t turned out to be the reprobate that I was clearly showing an aptitude at school for then I really couldn’t really be that bad. Or she may have actually forgotten who I was because the actions of a stupid teenager who thought they were cool really didn’t make that much of an impact on someone who worked with teenagers’ day in and day out. Maybe that was really where the Karma could be found.
We laughed about it in the staffroom at the end of the school day. I say we but really I mean the staff laughed at me and I was teased for a few days afterwards but in the many years that have passed I have often thought of Mrs McDonald and wondered where she ended up. I was sometimes a prat at school and I got what I deserved. She was quite a lovely lady by all accounts; I hope she did too.