• Published 24th May 2015
  • 2,492 Views, 150 Comments

Learning Curve - Jack of a Few Trades

Cheerilee's new teaching career tests her passion for education when she must teach a student who is unable to learn.

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Prologue: Welcome Home

Cheerilee took a deep breath and sighed, resting her head against her right hoof and watching the world whiz past through the window. She had long since exhausted her supply of magazines to read during the train ride; tracing the lines of the floral moulding along the ceiling had long since grown boring, and the bag of snacks she had brought along was running close to empty. Stuck with nothing else to do, she sat glumly and watched the trees and fields roll by. The first few times making this journey, she had been content to watch the scenery as the train trundled down the track. But now on the latest of the dozens of trips on the line between Canterlot and Ponyville, she found no interest in the farmland at the base of the Canter mountains.

Though she was bored, she was grateful at the same time. It had been a long ride since she left Fillydelphia before dawn that morning, and the final leg between the layover in Canterlot and her destination of Ponyville was the shortest of the journey. The sun was sinking lower and lower in the western sky, and soon it would be nightfall. The train was running a bit later than usual, and from her best guess, she would disembark in her hometown by dusk.

There was a bit of queasiness in her belly; though she could have easily blamed her unsettled stomach on the constant rocking from the weathered tracks below, she knew that the train was not to blame at all. It wasn’t a sick sort of upset stomach, but rather a nervous one. Ahead in Ponyville lay the source of her nerves: A job.

But it wasn’t just any sort of job. Of course even the most mundane of jobs would carry a bit of first-day anxiety, but this was much more. This was the beginning of what she knew was her career. About a month prior, she had been on the lookout for a job pertaining to her field of study. She found out that her old primary school in Ponyville was hiring a new teacher, and leapt at the chance. She never expected to hear anything back, but a week later, there was a letter in the mail from the Ponyville School Board asking her to come in for an interview. Of course she leapt at the opportunity, and a few days later, another letter came in. This time it explained that she had been the pony chosen out of over two dozen applicants.

And now here she was, moving back to her hometown to begin her career. Despite how sweet the deal was, she couldn't help but feel nervous about what lay ahead. She took another deep breath and sat back in the seat. Everything would be okay, she told herself. It wasn’t like she was unprepared for the position. To take her mind off the worry, she went to rummage through her belongings.

Around her on the floor of the train carriage were two suitcases and her saddlebags, personalized with her cutie mark engraved into the clasp. The saddlebags were mostly empty, having been primarily used for holding food for the trip and now only contained a bag of pretzels and three rolled-up tabloid magazines. The suitcases on the other hoof, were stuffed to the gills. Clothing, tennis balls, a few books, reams of documents, and a few knick-knacks had the two bags stretched to their limit, such that she could swear that a good bump could tear them apart at the seams.

She took yet another deep breath and let it out with a sigh. This time, instead of a bored frown, she closed her eyes and smiled. This was the final time she would be taking this journey for the foreseeable future. All of her things had either come back on previous trips between Fillydelphia and Ponyville or had been shipped by a moving company the week before. The suitcases contained the last few things she had packed up before closing the door to her old apartment for the last time that morning.

Most of her belongings were packed into the overstuffed bags, save for one particular item that she had opted to carry separately. A picture frame sat on her lap, inside of it was a document written in fine, ornate calligraphy and a golden seal. Stuck with nothing else to do, she flipped the frame right side up and read the degree for what must have been the hundredth time.

Bridleway University

Upon recommendation of the Faculty and by the authority of the Equestrian National Board of Education, the Board of Trustees has conferred upon Cheerilee the degree of Bachelor of Elementary Education, with all the rights, privileges, and honors pertaining thereto, in consideration of having fulfilled all the requirements of the four year curriculum.

Cheerilee read over the degree again, her smile widening. After four long years of college, four years away from her home in Ponyville, she was finally returning. This time, however, she was not going to be living at home with her parents. Cheerilee had signed the lease on a small home down the road from Sugarcube Corner a few days prior to beginning her move. It was a modest house, two bedrooms and one bathroom with a proportionally small kitchen and den. Nothing fancy, but plenty for a pony who had lived in a cramped apartment for the last three years.

However nice her new home sounded, the best part of her new arrangement was where she would be working. Her old school. The red, one-room primary schoolhouse that sat near the Apple family’s farm, was conveniently in need of a new teacher after the previous one had retired. In fact, the outgoing teacher was the same one that had taught her years ago. In a stroke of luck rarely seen for a young mare fresh out of the university, Cheerilee had landed the job, and was due to start the fall semester in two days.

While she admired the framed degree, Cheerilee noticed that the train was slowing down. She sighed a third time, this time a sigh of relief. A few other ponies in the car were preparing their own luggage for the upcoming stop. Cheerilee followed suit, tucking the frame into her empty saddlebags before slipping them over her back and tightening the strap. That was the easy part; now came the dilemma of carrying the heavy suitcases without damaging anything inside.

This was going to be tricky.

Cheerilee stepped across the gap between the train and the platform on wobbly hooves. One of the heavy suitcases was draped over her neck, hanging clumsily in front of her chest and knocking back into her forelegs as she walked. The second was precariously balanced in the small of her back, the only things holding it in place were the two saddlebags on her sides that provided a bit of support. She could handle the weight, but the sheer clumsiness of the load made walking a difficulty.

“Would you like some help with your bags, ma’am?” asked a stallion's voice, which she recognized as the conductor who had come through to check tickets early in the ride.

“Thank you,” replied Cheerilee. She felt the weight of the suitcase on her back ease, and with the new freedom that it provided, readjusted the one on her neck to a more manageable position on her side. “You can set it by that bench.” She pointed out where she wanted to go, and crossed the platform with the conductor following close behind. At the bench, she dropped her bag off on the ground and took a seat while the conductor placed his next to hers, albeit more gently than she had.

“Thank you, sir,” Cheerilee said, smiling at the helpful pony.

“Happy to do it, ma’am!” The conductor tipped his hat and returned the gesture. “Have a good day.” With that, he turned and went back to his place at the train door.

The crowd of arriving ponies were already mostly dispersed by the time the conductor called “All aboard!” A few seconds passed as the doors on the train were closed. The conductor gave a wave to the engineer, and the train let out two blasts of the whistle before lurching forward. The locomotive chugged loudly as it accelerated, dampening but not completely overpowering the creaks, groans, and clacks that the rest of the train made as it started rolling. Farther down the platform, Cheerilee noticed a young grey colt galloping alongside the train. She couldn’t hear him at the distance and with the noise of the train, but she could tell that he was having a blast just getting to see the train go by. She couldn’t help smiling.

The train was gone within the minute, having disappeared around a curve farther down the track. The little grey colt had disappeared as soon as the train left, and now the platform was empty except for her.

Dad’s late, what a surprise, she thought. Her father had promised to be there to meet the train with the family’s cart to help haul the luggage to her new house. Even with the train’s lateness, he still managed to arrive after it. It was typical, befitting the pattern of tardiness that she had sworn to never fall into as an adult.

As if on cue, the sound of a wagon skidding to a stop beside the platform to her right caught her attention. “I’m here! I made it!” announced Chisel Point, the stallion pulling it. He was a sandy-coated Earth Pony of average build; a cutie mark of his namesake chisel and a caliper graced his flank, though it was partly covered over by the tool belt that he usually wore for work. He quickly unhitched himself from it and ran up onto the platform, “I’m so sorry I was late! I lost track of time helping your mother pick tomatoes and then Allie started getting in a fight with the neighbor's cat and…”

“Dad!” Cheerilee ran forward and embraced him, nuzzling against his burnt-orange coat and breathing a sigh of relief. He returned the hug, though he added a bit too much pressure as usual. The hug didn’t last for more than a few seconds before they pulled apart.

“How was the trip?” he asked.

“About like always,” Cheerilee answered. This little exchange had become routine in the last few months with her frequent trips back and forth. Her father hummed in understanding while picking up one of the suitcases in his teeth and slinging it up onto his back. “Where’s Mom?”

“She was finishing up harvesting in the garden and probably just started cooking. That reminds me, your mother wants you to come over for dinner tonight.”

Cheerilee smiled through the strap in her teeth while she swung the second suitcase onto her back in the same fashion as her father. “Was I ever going to be allowed to eat on my own tonight, anyway?”

“Nope,” Chisel answered, turning back towards the cart. “But I wouldn’t be one to complain about that.”

Cheerilee giggled, “No, I can’t argue with that.” She followed along behind Chisel, walking down the steps at the end of the platform and turning right to reach the cart. He flipped down the back gate and took the suitcase in his teeth, swinging it up into the bed of the cart with such finesse that it barely disturbed the contents. Cheerilee’s followed a moment after, though hers landed in the wagon with a resounding thunk.

While Chisel went back around the cart to hitch himself up, Cheerilee climbed up into the cart alongside the bags. She lifted the gate and took a seat at the front end, right behind her father. There was some straw piled up at the front end, which was much better than sitting on the unforgiving wooden cart floor. She hadn’t been settled in for more than a few seconds when the cart lurched forward, followed immediately by the four distinct bumps of the railroad crossing.

Both Cheerilee and Chisel Point remained silent during the trip. The rail line passed through the northern portion of Ponyville, and the new house was on the southern end of town, closer to the schoolhouse than her parents’ home, which was nearer to Town Hall in the center of the community.

As the cart trundled through the streets, Cheerilee found herself spending most of her time admiring the houses that lined the road. After spending so long in Fillydelphia—where the buildings are mostly all square and purely designed for function—the unique thatched roofs and antique look of the houses was a breath of fresh air. In fact, the rustic and altogether homey architecture of Ponyville was one of the things she had missed most.

The cart rounded a turn and came out in front of Sugarcube Corner. It had been years since Cheerilee last stopped in to get an order of Mrs. Cake’s lime-frosted cupcakes. She made a mental note to stop by later and pick up a few, and possibly catch up on what the couple were up to. Perhaps she could do that tomorrow.

The cart passed through the little square around Sugarcube corner and ducked down one of the adjoining streets, passing a few houses before slowing and eventually coming to a halt in front of the eighth house on the right side of the street. It wasn’t exceptional compared to any of the other homes on the row; in fact, it was nearly identical to the rest, discernible only by flower boxes under nearly every window and a quite unique green mailbox that was a remnant of the previous tenant.

“Hello!” announced an unexpected, yet unmistakable high-pitched voice from right next to Cheerilee’s right ear. Only one pony in Equestria could appear so suddenly without unicorn magic. Cheerilee turned her head to see the grinning face of none other than Pinkie Pie looking back at her. “Hiya, Cheerilee! I heard you were moving back to town and then you were passing by Sugarcube Corner in a wagon and then I had to come and say hi because it’s been, like, forever since I last saw you and—”

“Hi, Pinkie!” Cheerilee said, pulling Pinkie into a hug. “It has been a long time!”

Pinkie returned the hug with forceful enthusiasm, squeezing the air from Cheerilee’s lungs in the process. She hadn’t changed a bit since high school.

“Three years, two months, and twelve days since you moved away to be exact,” Pinkie corrected matter-of-factly. “I brought you a cupcake. Your favorite was lemon, right?”

That’s the first thing I’ve ever seen her get wrong about anyone, Cheerilee thought to herself. “I love lemon, Pinkie, thank you.”

“Great! So since you’re probably tired from your looooooong train ride from Fillydelphia, I can wait to throw your ‘Welcome back to Ponyville’ party this weekend. You seem like a balloon type of pony, so I’ll use lots of balloons. Of course we need punch, or would you prefer soda? And lemon cupcakes! Lots of lemon cupcakes!”

Cheerilee smiled and shook her head. She knew to expect this, but she was still a bit surprised by how suddenly the whirlwind of pink appeared. Just as with her mother’s invitation to dinner, there was no possible way to decline. It was best to just accept it and have fun, despite how badly she wanted to rest.

“Pinkie, could we change the lemon cupcakes to lime?” Cheerilee asked.

“Sure! It’s your party after all!” Pinkie said, poking a hoof at Cheerilee’s chest.

“Pinkie? Where did you go?!” announced a shout from far behind the cart. Mrs. Cake had come out of Sugarcube Corner, obviously to find out where her helper had gone. She had been a live-in assistant at the store for the past couple of years, though she seemed to have a lot more hours off the clock than on.

“Oh hay, I totally forgot! I was getting a sack of flour for Mrs. Cake and then you went by. Gotta go!” With that, Ponyville’s notorious pink bundle of joy promptly leapt to the back gate, turned around, saluted to Cheerilee with her mouth affixed in determination, and rolled off of the wagon backwards. Cheerilee watched her go bouncing back down the road, waving and saying hello to every pony she passed until she rounded the corner and ducked out of sight.

“I see she found you already,” said Chisel as he walked around the cart to the back end where he flipped the latch and let the tailgate fall open.

“She hasn’t changed a bit.” Cheerilee picked up the first bag in her teeth, carried it to the end of the cart, and placed it on her father’s waiting back.

“Just throw that other one on my back too,” he said, nodding towards the remaining suitcase. Cheerilee complied, retrieving the second bag and placing it alongside the other on his back. With the baggage dealt with, she hopped down from the cart and closed the rear gate behind herself while her father toted the bags to the door. She trotted ahead, unlocked the door, and let them both into the house.

The front door opened into a small foyer, with a staircase on the left side and an open passage to the den on the right. In front of the staircase was another smaller opening that led into the kitchen. Though Cheerilee was moving into the home, it contained surprisingly few boxes. The foyer was empty, and the den wasn’t crowded with boxes either. Granted there were several around the room, but it wasn’t nearly as cluttered as one would expect during a move.

“You can just drop them off behind the door, Dad,” said Cheerilee.

“Sure thing,” Chisel Point replied, lowering his rump and letting the bags slide to the floor against the foyer wall. “Your mother is going to kill us if we aren’t there when she has dinner ready.”

“We’d better get going then!” Cheerilee said, stepping back out towards the cart. Her father let her pass by and followed her out, closing the door behind himself and leaving the house dark and empty once more.