• Published 24th May 2015
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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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Chapter Eleven: Educational Misconception

Cheerilee swallowed the lump in her throat as she looked up at the address above the door.

19 Alfalfa Street.

“I can do this,” she whispered to herself. She raised her hoof to knock, but felt all of the determination she’d just had a second before fade out in an instant.

“I have to do this, and I can. I can do this. I can absolutely do this.” She knocked three times, feeling the nerves start up with renewed intensity in her gut. She bit her lip as she waited for somepony to answer, but after a few moments, it seemed as if nopony was going to come to the door. It would probably be better to just come back later and—

The latch turned and the door swung open. “Oh! Hi, Cheerilee!” Daisy said, her poofy, green mane bouncing slightly as she spoke.

“Hello, Daisy. Nice to see you again,” said Cheerilee.

“What brings you by today? I wouldn’t figure you’d be busy with school matters on a weekend,” said Daisy.

“Oh trust me, you sign on for five days a week, but you really get seven.” Cheerilee chuckled lightly, getting about the same amount of amusement from Daisy. “I came by because I wanted to talk to you about Aura.”

“Oh no. She isn’t giving you any trouble in class, is she?”

“Well…” Cheerilee racked her brain for the right words. “There’s... really a lot we need to discuss. Do you mind if I come in?”

“Yes, please. Come in.” Daisy moved aside, allowing Cheerilee to step into the foyer. There were just about as many potted plants laying around the place as before, but they didn’t look much like the ones she’d seen several weeks ago.

“I take it you’re still fighting Town Hall on the flower shop?” Cheerilee asked, gesturing to the numerous pots and planters scattered about.

“No, actually. Town Hall got back to me last week, so now I’m just working out the details on the location. All of this should be out of here in about two weeks, but don’t quote me on that.” There was just a hint of pride in Daisy’s voice. Judging from the smile on her face, she seemed to relish the chance to talk about her business. “And it might be more of a stand than a full-blown shop, but that’s just sort of the nature of the beast here.

“Oh, you’ll be setting up in the market?”

“You got it!” Daisy said. “I’ve got a couple of other mares on board with the business now, so things are definitely looking up.”

“You’ll do great down there. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the market have a slow day,” said Cheerilee.

“I sure hope so. You wouldn’t believe how many hoops I’ve had to jump through to get this far.”

I have a feeling I might. There was a short pause in the conversation, and Cheerilee steeled herself. It was time to get the ball rolling. “Well, I guess it would be best to get started as soon as possible. I don’t want to take up any more of your time than I need to.”

“Sure, sure. Would you like something to drink?” asked Daisy.

“Oh, just a glass of water would be fine, thank you,” said Cheerilee. Daisy turned towards the kitchen, but Cheerilee stopped her. “Before you go, is your husband here?”

“Oh yes, he’s upstairs in his office. Pencil!” she called.

“Yeah?” came the response from the second floor.

“Aura’s teacher is here. She needs to talk to us!”

“I’ll be down in a minute!” Pencil Pusher’s voice was enough to bring Cheerilee’s nerves back. Spoiled Rich hadn’t been quite as bad as she’d expected at the board meeting, but this stallion was sure to be about ten times as difficult to convince. And yet, she still had no idea how Daisy would react to hearing that her daughter was suffering from a disability.

She would just have to hope that Daisy would take it better than Pencil Pusher had the first time.

"Come with me, we’ll sit in the dining room.” Daisy led the way out of the foyer, and Cheerilee followed along.

Though the floor plan of both this house and Cheerilee’s were similar in their entryways, it became apparent that this one was quite a bit larger than her own. Where Cheerilee’s kitchen was a single room complete with a dining table on the side of the room opposite the stove, the doorway Daisy led them through took them into a fully-fledged wing of the house. The dining area was loosely separated from the kitchen by an open partition, and beyond the kitchen, there appeared to be a den of some kind. More potted plants lined the floor, forming somewhat narrow pathways from one room to the next.

“Have a seat, and I’ll grab us those drinks,” said Daisy as she disappeared into the kitchen.

Cheerilee took a seat in the middle of the far side of the long table, right at the perfect angle to face kitchen itself. She took off her saddlebags, placing them on the ground next to the chair. In it were many of the same things she’d taken along with her the day before. A copy of the academic records that File had given her, a bundle of Aura’s math and language assignments, the dyslexia information and test packets that Dr. Scope had given her, and the well-traveled drawing that she’d been placing almost all of her faith in.

I just hope to Celestia this works.

Cheerilee took a deep breath, and placed her bags against the chair legs. With a moment to herself, she took another look around the room. The walls were covered in wallpaper that looked to be nearing the end of its lifespan. Several dings and dents were easily noticeable, and the alternating pink and off-white pattern that was too thick to call striping must have once been red and white, now faded through the years of use. A single painting adorned the wall behind the table’s end seat, a simple scene depicting a vineyard on a hill. On the wall that led into the kitchen were three sets of framed hoofprints.

Three foals. But which one is Aura’s? She squinted, trying to get a look at the writing in the bottom corner of each frame, but she couldn’t quite make out what they said. She was about to get up to inspect them up close, but hoofsteps coming down the stairs stopped her. Here he comes. She let out the breath she didn’t realize she’d been holding as he stepped into the doorway.

“Oh, hello!” Pencil Pusher announced. “I believe we met a few weeks ago at the office. I’m sorry, but I’m absolutely horrible with names. What was it again?” he asked, pouring on a smile that almost struck her as cheesy.

“Cheerilee, nice to see you again,” she said, shaking his hoof.

“Alrighty, order up!” Daisy came in with a tray loaded with three glasses. Pencil Pusher lit his horn and lifted the tray from his wife’s back, floating the three drinks out above the table.

“What did you have, Cheerilee?” he asked.

“Water, thank you.” One of the glasses dropped down and landed in front of her with a resounding thunk. Cheerilee flinched, a bit surprised by both how forcefully the cup had landed and by how he’d managed to keep even a single drop from spilling.

Sometimes I really wish I was a unicorn. Daisy and Pencil took their seats, Pencil at the head end of the table and Daisy next to him, sitting directly across from Cheerilee.

“You two have a lovely home. Do you know who made that painting on the wall there?” Cheerilee asked.

“That was a piece we actually found at a flea market in Whinnyapolis a few years ago. We can’t figure out who it’s by, but it sure looks nice up there on the wall. It kind of has a Bitalian feel to it, don’t you think?”

“Yeah, I sort of feel like it has that style. I’d love to know who did it,” said Cheerilee.

“You and me both,” said Daisy. She took a sip of her drink, which looked to be iced tea.

“Now then, you wanted to talk to us about something?” Pencil asked.

She couldn’t be sure, but Cheerilee was sure that he was acting funny. He probably still remembers that first time we talked. How could he forget? “Yes, I’m afraid I’m not here to discuss fine art with you today.” Not quite fine art, but it’s quite fine for a filly of her age. Cheerilee cleared her throat. “Now then, I know I’ve met with you two before regarding Aura’s performance at—”

“Has she been doing better?” Pencil interrupted.

“Well, that’s not exactly it—”

“Well, is she getting in fights again? If she is—”

“Pencil!” Daisy chided, bringing the conversation to a halt. “Stop interrupting and let the mare talk. Cheerilee, you were saying?”

“Right.” Cheerilee took a deep breath, steadying herself. Already off to a rocky start. “I’ve been keeping a close eye on Aura over the last several weeks, and I’ve been noticing some alarming trends.” She paused, keeping a close eye on both of the parents’ reactions, but devoting a little more time to Pencil Pusher. Something about his expression didn’t quite sit right with her; it was like he was forcing himself to seem friendly.

“Alarming trends? Does this have something to do with the ditching incident a couple of weeks ago?” asked Daisy.

“To be honest with you I’m—”

“What? Aura was cutting class?” Pencil asked. A bit of his friendly facade seemed to erode. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I told you! I told you that I took care of it and that Aura was grounded for two weeks.”

“When did all of this happen?” he asked.

“Two weeks ago! You haven’t heard her record player since then, have you?”

“I’m sorry to interrupt, but—”

“Oh my goodness, we’re so sorry Cheerilee. We just cut you off… and I did it again. Oops.” Daisy put a hoof over her mouth. “Sorry. Go ahead.”

“Thank you.” A little bit of tension was starting to creep into the back of her neck. The anxiety was starting to be replaced by frustration. “Now then, alarming trends. I’d been noticing that she was exhibiting some rather troubling classroom behaviors just about since the time school started a couple of months ago.” She cleared her throat, coughing once. “Excuse me. I kept an eye on her and tried to talk with her and see if I could help her get on track, but nothing seemed to change. She would just sit there, staring at the front of the room blankly all day long, never participating unless I called on her.”

A scoff punctuated Cheerilee’s sentence for her. “What is this, a smear campaign?” Pencil wore a sneer on his face. He was obviously trying to downplay her argument. “You’ve been saying all of these things about how she’s doing poorly, but what’s the point? Kids don’t want to be in school all day—”

“I’m going to cut you off there, sir,” said Cheerilee, casting a stern glare at Pencil. His condescending smirk faded, replaced by a more serious look of anger. He definitely knows. The hairs on the back of her neck bristled. “If you’ll let me finish speaking, you’ll understand what I’m talking about, but I can’t exactly get there if you interrupt me every five seconds.”

Pencil opened his mouth, probably ready with some sort of retort, but a sharp elbow to his side cut him off. Daisy’s glare was about ten times more intense than Cheerilee’s had been, and the stallion seemed to shrink back. If there was one thing that could get Cheerilee through this successfully, it was Daisy’s cooperation. “Alright. Go ahead,” he said, though it sounded more like a dare than approval to continue.

Cheerilee took a short, deep breath. Daisy was still on her side, so she still had leverage. While she still had it, she needed to keep going. “So, I continued monitoring Aura for a week or so, and I began to notice things about her assignments that seemed to indicate something besides just casual disinterest. Her mouthwriting is hooves down the worst in the class, but we usually expect the girls to have better writing than the boys, and that was only one of the problems I noticed. I went to talk to an expert on the subject—”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa. I think I know where this is going.” Pencil stood up from his chair.

Daisy reached up and grabbed his hoof. “Pencil, what are you—”

He shrugged her off. “I had it in the back of my head from the first second that I heard you were here, but I didn’t want to go and make a mule of myself.”

Here it comes. Stay calm and stay grounded in reason. Cheerilee snuck a glance at Daisy, hoping to Celestia and the sun above that the mare wouldn’t let him take over.

“You mentioned learning disabilities to me at the office the first time we met, and that’s what this is all about, isn’t it?” Cheerilee didn't reply, simply staring up at the irate stallion pointing his hoof at her. “You think my daughter has some sort of disease? That she isn’t right in the head?”

“I never—”

“Oh, save it!” Pencil shouted. “How long have you known my daughter for, huh? A month? Maybe two? I’ve known her from the very minute she was born! I held her in my hooves when she took her first breath, and you’re trying to tell me this load of manure?”

“You don’t—”

“Oh yes I do! She’s outside in the backyard, playing right now. We can go take a look at her, and see if she looks like she has a problem. You’re no shrink, so how could you tell that there’s something wrong? Huh?” Pencil’s shouts echoed in Cheerilee’s ears, along with the throbbing of her heartbeat. He was as wrong as he could be, but nopony could convince him otherwise. He was going to let his pride ruin his child’s future, just so he could continue to live in his glass house. Cheerilee looked at him once more, and she felt the tension in the base of her skull grow sharply stronger.

She was angry.

“Pencil, that’s enough!” Daisy shouted, trying to rein him in.

He didn’t seem to notice. He leaned over the table, not quite getting in her face, but close enough to get the same message across. “My daughter is just fine. She’s a happy, healthy little girl, and I don’t need somepony like you coming in here to try and tell me otherwise. So why don’t you just scurry on out of here, get back to your grading, and leave my family alone.”

That’s it! Something inside of her seemed to break loose, and Cheerilee jumped up from her seat.. “Now you listen here, buster! You may think there’s nothing wrong, but there’s plenty you don’t know about your daughter!”

“Oh yeah? You want to come into my house and insult not only my parenting, but my family?! You can march your little butt out that door right now!” Pencil pointed to the door, and his face was turning red under his light gray coat.

“Oh yeah, mister big shot? She tells me that you barely even have time to see her every day, so how would you know? You’re going to throw her entire life down the toilet just because you’re too proud to listen to reason!” Something seemed to shift in the stallion, and his expression shifted from one of anger, to one of full-on rage.

“Get out of my house! Get out of here and don’t you ever come back!”

“Both of you stop it!”

“Listen to yourself! You’re denying your child the chance to grow—”

“Get out! Get out of here right now before I pick you up and throw you out!”

“Cut it out! We don’t need to fight each other!”

“I’ll be reporting you to the school board! You’ll be fired for this!”

“Sit DOWN!” Both Pencil and Cheerilee were taken off guard by the sudden ferocious scream from Daisy. Even up against their own shouting match, it had plenty of power to derail the argument. They both looked over at Daisy simultaneously, to find a mare who looked like she was ready to tear both of them apart. “I said. Sit. Down.”

Pencil instantly deflated, scurrying into the closest chair like a foal who’d just been caught with his hoof in the cookie jar. There was genuine fear in his eyes.

“You too!” Daisy shouted, slightly hoarse from the amount of force she’d put into her scream. “You sit down and you,” she glared at her husband. “Shut up!”

“Daisy—”

“Ah, ah! I don’t want to hear a word out of your mouth!” Daisy whapped her husband on the snout; not hard, but enough to get the message across: One wrong move, and he was toast.

“I don’t know how we let this escalate to the point that it did, but I will not have that happen again! We are all adults in this room, and we can all treat each other like adults. Understood?!”

Cheerilee nodded, as did Pencil. There were tears streaming down her face, but she wasn’t sobbing. “Maybe we should do this another time, so we can all cool down.”

“No, no. You always struck me as a level-headed mare, so for you to get this worked up over my daughter, there has to be something big going on. Am I wrong?”

“It is a pretty serious problem,” Cheerilee muttered, finding it difficult to make eye contact.

Daisy sat down once again, and the room descended into an uncomfortable stillness. Pencil glared at Cheerilee, his eyes still filled with anger and harsh judgement, but he remained silent. “So, you said you took Aura to see a doctor? Why would you do that without telling us?”

“Oh, no! I never took Aura to see anyone. I went by myself to talk to Dr. Clear Scope, the town’s pediatrician.”

“So, what came of that?” Daisy asked. Pencil moved to talk, but was silenced by yet another harsh glare from Daisy.

“Well, I ran all of the information I had by her, and she told me that she believes…” Cheerilee tapered off, trying to find the strength to say it. She looked to Daisy, and her eyes said it all. She was no longer a disciplinarian getting a hold on two unruly ponies. She was back to her normal self, a mother who cared about her children. And she was worried enough to finally listen to what Cheerilee had to say. She took one last breath to steady herself.

“I believe that your daughter is suffering from dyslexia.”

The words seemed to echo in the room, hanging on the air like a blanket of dense fog. Cheerilee watched both Daisy and Pencil Pusher’s reactions. Daisy, who had been standing over Pencil to keep him in check had taken a seat. She didn’t seem to know who to look at, but she seemed to want to make eye contact with her husband. Pencil, on the other hoof, was a bit trickier to decipher. He stared unblinkingly at Cheerilee, eyes steely, and though there was still a lingering bit of anger in his expression, there seemed to have been a shift in him.

He looked scared.

And so the silence hung. Cheerilee had already decided that she wouldn’t be the next pony to speak, and judging by the look Pencil was giving her, he wasn’t going to be the one to get things rolling either.

And so it fell to Daisy. She didn’t seem sure of herself, and given that the room was still ripe with tension, she had every right to be. The mare who had taken charge and reigned in a fight that was about five seconds from the brink of disaster was gone now, replaced by a worried mother who didn’t quite know what to say.

“What?”

To her surprise, it was actually Pencil who broke the silence. Cheerilee took another deep breath, steeling herself just in case things decided to go south. At least he sounded less confrontational now. “Unless I’m mistaken, it seems likely that Aura has dyslexia.”

“How do you know? All you said earlier was that she has bad mouthwriting and doesn’t pay attention,” said Daisy.

“Let me start by asking you a question,” said Cheerilee. “How well did you know Aura’s teacher back in Vanhoover?”

“Gale?” said Pencil. “Well, we didn’t really hear too much from her, now that I think about it. I guess I figured things were going okay because she never really had anything to talk to us about.”

“Mmm,” said Cheerilee. She reached into her bags, which had been knocked over in the altercation, and retrieved the papers she’d brought along. “Let me say something about the Vanhoover school district. They aren’t exactly known for being the best school system in Equestria.”

Pencil frowned. “So what does that have to do with—”

“Honey, shut up,” said Daisy. Pencil shrunk back, leaning back into his chair. “Go ahead, Cheerilee.”

“Alright then. I pulled her academic records from before, and her teacher’s comments were… troubling. Coupling what you just told me about her with what’s on the page here, I’m thinking that she really didn’t care too much about her job.”

“What? She seemed nice when we talked to her,” said Daisy.

“And she may be a nice pony when she’s talking to you, but this page doesn’t lie. She sure noticed problems with Aura, but she didn’t do much to fix them.”

“So, what does that mean? Could she just be behind?”

Cheerilee shook her head. “I’m afraid not. The problems run a lot deeper than what it would be like if she only had a bad instructor. You’re familiar with how sloppy her writing is, I assume?”

“Yes, I’ve seen it, but I didn’t really think too much of it. Some foals just don’t write neatly,” said Daisy.

“And that’s true, but there’s still more. A few weeks ago, we were reading a book as a class, and when Aura’s turn came up, things went south pretty fast. She struggled to read even a few words on the page, and then she complained of a headache, so I let her off the hook. Later that afternoon, I asked her what the problem was, and she said that the words kept moving around the page and floating on her.”

“And that’s a warning sign of dyslexia?” asked Daisy. “I thought it just meant that they saw letters backwards.”

“I’m not exactly an expert, but reversed letters is only one of many different signs,” Cheerilee shuffled the papers around, gathering an essay and a math worksheet, which she passed across the table to Daisy. “These are a few of her assignments. See how almost illegible her writing is?”

“Cheerilee, you’ve already convinced me that there’s a problem,” said Daisy. She paused, looking over the papers in her hooves, and Cheerilee could see the tears beginning to well up in her eyes. She choked up as she tried to speak, “How did we not see this sooner?”

“Pragmatically, I’d place the blame on her old teacher. She saw the problem and could have done something to stop it, but she didn’t, and here we are.” Daisy passed the pages to Pencil, who took them in his magic. He didn’t seem to break like Daisy did, but his expression softened.

Maybe she’d finally gotten through to him.

“Oh goddess above, we let this go on all this time,” Daisy choked out, fighting not to break down, but losing the battle.

The papers floated down to the table, and Pencil slid them back across to Cheerilee. He looked her in the eyes for the first time since the argument had been broken up. “What can we do?”

Bingo. He’s on board. Cheerilee smiled, trading Pencil a thick, slightly crumpled packet of papers for the old assignments. “This is what Dr. Scope gave to me when I talked to her. It’s got a lot of good information on dyslexia and what you can do to help. There’s a home assessment that you can do to determine whether or not the problem is actually dyslexia, or you can always take her in and have Dr. Scope examine her. I’d recommend going with the latter, because that mare really knows her stuff. You’d be putting Aura in the best hooves in town.”

“We’ll get that done first thing tomorrow,” said Pencil. He flipped through the pages of the packet, not pausing to read any of them. “But I don’t think the problem ends with us getting her tested, does it?”

Cheerilee swallowed. This was the other thing she’d been worried about. “Yes, you’re right. Aura’s been severely disadvantaged by this for far too long, and it’s going to take some work to get her back on track.”

“And that means?” asked Pencil.

While she usually would have searched for a way to soften the blow, Cheerilee had already been run short of patience. “Special education,” she said flatly.

Pencil’s ears flattened and his expression soured. “I really don’t like the sound of that. Won’t that show up on her records later on?”

“We’re not talking about a permanent removal from mainstream courses, and in fact, I think I can keep her in with the same group of students. I don’t know the specifics of what it will take, but I would definitely expect her to be in class for extra hours each week until we can get her back on track.” Pencil passed the two assignments back to Cheerilee, and she reincorporated them into her little stack of papers. “And there’s one last thing to consider. Specialized curriculum isn’t cheap, and because the district is so small and already underfunded as it is, the school is not going to be able to hoof the bill either,” said Cheerilee.

“So it falls to us,” said Pencil. “How much would it run?”

“I don’t have an exact figure, but it will probably be in the…” Cheerilee grimaced. They definitely weren’t going to like this. “Two or three-thousand bit range.”

Both Pencil and Daisy seemed to flinch as Cheerilee delivered the last piece of news, like it pained them to hear it. The room fell still once again, the tension rising as Cheerilee waited for their response. There was only one obstacle left standing. One last detail to work out before they could get Aura the help she needed. Daisy and Pencil exchanged a glance at one another, and Pencil took his wife’s hoof in his before they both returned their attention to Cheerilee.

“There’s no way we can afford it.”

Author's Note:

And that concludes the first story arc of Learning Curve.

As always, my thanks go out to Lord-Commander, KillerShadow15, and to everyone who continues to support this endeavor. Thank you for reading, and I'll see you next time!