• 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 Fourteen: A Good Day

With a quiet grunt, Aura flopped down on the grass, dropping her bag next to her. Even though she was on the brink of starvation, she could wait to start eating her lunch. For the moment, she just needed to close her eyes and forget where she was.

Too bad she couldn’t close her ears as well. The sounds of laughter, rapid hoofbeats, and the squeaking of the slightly rusty chains on the playground swings all around kept her grounded, unable to separate herself from where she was stuck.

Only four more hours.

She opened her eyes and looked up at the sky, watching the clouds blow past swiftly. There was a chill on the wind today, just enough to make her wish she’d listened to mommy that morning when she’d said the weather team was bringing in another cold front in the afternoon. No matter though. Recess only lasted forty-five minutes, so she’d be back inside soon enough anyway.

That thought, unlike the cold breeze, was enough to send a shiver down her spine. Recess wasn’t very fun anymore, but it was way better than sitting through class, listening to Miss Cheerilee drone on and on about math or whatever else.

Four more hours. Aura groaned and rolled over onto her side, tipping her lunch sack over and inspecting the contents. A peanut butter sandwich, some corn chips, an apple, and two cookies wrapped up in the usual note that mommy wrote her. Nothing too bad. At least she didn’t put any celery in there. I hate celery.

As Aura ate her sandwich, she sat up and propped herself against the side of the schoolhouse, watching the rest of the class. Most of them had already wolfed down their food and started the afternoon’s fun and games, jumping on the swings and climbing all over the playground equipment, screaming and yelling and chasing each other.

Part of her wanted to run over there and join them. It had been a while since she’d participated in any of the games at recess. It would probably be fine if she did, but then again, she’d also be facing her.

There, perched high atop the jungle gym, self-important smirk on her face, was Diamond Tiara. She appeared to be in the middle of a game of king of the hill, pushing off the advances of a few other fillies and colts who were trying to climb up to the top with her. They fell quickly and easily to her defenses, and it looked unlikely that any of them would be able to dethrone her anytime soon.

Yeah, not going near that. She stuffed a cookie in her mouth and chewed quickly, not bothering to savor the taste. She knew that she’d just get called names and kicked out of the game even if she tried to join. Heck, if she even went anywhere else and tried to have fun, they’d probably track her down and ruin it. Better to just lay low and wait until she was back inside, safe from their wrath.

I hate recess.

Finished with her food, Aura set the bag aside and laid herself back out on the ground, closing her eyes. A nap wasn’t quite in the cards considering the chilly wind, but at least she could sit there and relax for a while. It was at least better than watching other ponies have fun without her.

I can’t wait to get home, she thought. She’d been up late the night before working on a drawing, and she was eager to get back to it. A few days ago, she picked up a book from the library about drawing techniques. The words didn’t make any sense, but by following along with the pictures in it, she’d started practicing her shading technique. Her art was already getting better, looking more life-like with every attempt. As soon as she got home that night, she was going to get right back to it, working on the—

“Hey!”

Aura opened her eyes, immediately coming face to face with a yellow pegasus filly wearing a wide smile.

“Get up, we need you,” said the pegasus. Aura recognized her from a few seats over in class, but she didn’t remember her name. “You know foursquare?”

“Uh…” said Aura.

“We’re getting a game of foursquare going and we only have three ponies,” said another voice, this one belonging to a tannish-yellow filly who was walking up. Unlike the pegasus standing over her, she remembered her name. Noi. “Can’t really play without a fourth. Wanna join?”

“I don’t even know what foursquare is,” said Aura.

“That’s okay. We’ll teach you,” said the pegasus. “Now come on! We don’t got all day!” She took Aura’s hoof and yanked her upright to her hooves, fluttering her stubby little wings as she pulled. The two fillies quickly dragged Aura over to the small blacktop near the entrance to the playground, where Miss Cheerilee was sitting and reading a book of some kind. On the blacktop, a grid of lines had been drawn with chalk, forming boxes numbered one through four, with a triangle in the far corner of box four.

“Okay, it’s really simple,” said Noi, ushering Aura over towards box one. “All you have to do is hit the ball into the other squares when it comes to you.”

“I call king!” shouted the pegasus, taking up her position in the triangle of box four. Noi went to box three, and Featherweight, who had been waiting for them on the court, went to box two.

“Newbies start in the toilet square,” said Noi, gesturing to Aura. “Rainy Feather is the king, so she serves the ball to you. You have to bounce the ball into other squares when it comes to you. The first pony to mess it up goes to the toilet and everypony else moves up.”

“I guess that makes sense,” said Aura. She looked to Rainy Feather, who was hovering just above the ground with a rubber ball in her hooves.

“Good. Serve!” Rainy Feather tossed the ball at Aura’s square, bouncing it just inside the border. Aura reached high for it, barely tipping it skyward before it fell down inside her square.

“Out! Aura’s still in the toilet!” yelled Noi. Rainy Feather collected the ball from Aura’s square.

“Wait, it was still in my square!” Aura shouted.

“It can only bounce one time in your square,” said Featherweight.

“Oh, that makes more sense,” said Aura, deflating and returning to her place on the corner. Rainy Feather served once again, and this time Aura tapped the ball directly across the center to Noi. She returned the ball to Rainy Feather’s square without missing a beat, and from there, the ball made a few laps around to each player before Aura missed the ball entirely and it went careening off towards the fence behind her.

“Not bad!” said Noi. “You’re getting the hang of it.”

“I’m awful at this,” said Aura.

“But you’re getting better,” said Rainy Feather, sliding back into her position after retrieving the ball. “A few more rounds of practice and you’ll be a pro like me in no time.”

Aura chuckled and took the serve in stride, knocking it towards Featherweight. He wasn’t quite ready for it, barely grazing it with his hoof before it landed in the grass behind him.

“Ponyfeathers!” he shouted.

“See? You already knocked him into the toilet,” said Rainy Feather. Featherweight walked over and ushered Aura towards his former square. “And now we go again.”

The game went on in earnest for the next twenty minutes or so. During that time, Aura almost managed to dethrone Rainy Feather from the king spot. Almost. That pegasus was fast on the draw, and defended her square to the bitter end, when Cheerilee blew the whistle and called recess to a close.

For the first time in weeks, Aura wasn’t quite ready for it to end.



And... done. The stack of mismatched notebook paper of varying size and rule dropped neatly into her bags leaning against her chair, and her red pen into the cup at the top of her desk with a resounding clink.

Math was graded, and life was good.

Bedtime was near, so near in fact that she could taste it. Her bed sang the siren song of slumber, calling her name with words so sugary that she could have used them to make caramel fudge.

Speaking of caramel fudge... Her thoughts shifted to the fridge, to all of the ingredients that were sitting in there, begging for her to make them into a caramel fudge sundae. After all, she’d had a productive evening. She could treat herself. “It’s a sundae kind of Thursday,” she said, scooting back and hopping down from her chair. She made her way downstairs and into the kitchen. About five minutes later, she came out carrying a bowl piled high with ice cream, a content little smile on her face as she walked back up the stairs.

Back in her room with her treat safely placed on her desk, she took a quick look around. There wasn’t a lot of time left before she needed to be in bed, but there was just enough that she looked down to her saddlebags. Her lesson plans were still not fully done for the semester, and there were some essays that still needed grading. She could be productive and get a head start on all that.

It took all of a millisecond for her to find the answer. “Psssh,” she scoffed, pushing the bags under the desk and out of sight. I’ve been working all day. This is me-time. She walked over to her shelf and lifted one of the cover panels out of the way, revealing a row of books ripe and ready for the reading.

But they weren’t the right variety of book. Cheesy romance was good, one of the most versatile genres for any type of mood, but right now she needed something more… substantial. She closed the cover back, hiding the books behind the smoked glass pane emblazoned with her cutie mark, and moved down to the next shelf. This one was only partially filled, but these were the meatier novels. Murder mysteries. Historical fiction and fantasy. Maybe she could get lost in a wild epic like Creation of Dawn, or even just re-read Stone Grey. Both were solid choices, but not quite the thing she was looking for. She went down the line, eyeing title after title, until she came upon a book whose ornate, intricate binding didn’t match the more utilitarian covers of the regular books.

“When did I put my diary on this shelf?”

She pulled it out from the shelf and leafed through it. Old entries from her college days, venting about stress and frustration, stuff that she didn’t feel like reading. About halfway through the book itself, she came to the last entry. The one she’d written during her first week on the job.

“Oh right, I was going to start updating this thing again, wasn’t I?” The last few months had been a blur, and restarting her diary was one of the things that had gotten swept under the rug in the maelstrom of new responsibility. She took the diary over to her desk and dropped it next to her sundae, which was starting to melt ever so slightly. She took a bite of the ice cream and took out a pen.

Dear Diary,

Okay, I lied. Turns out, teaching here in Ponyville isn’t a cakewalk, so I completely forgot to keep up with writing here.

Well, now I’m actually going to start doing it. For real, this is happening.

I’m stressed.

The bowl of ice cream was already halfway gone, and thanks to that, the inevitable brainfreeze made her pause. Not that she’d been writing quickly, though. It felt as if she was writing with a ghost watching over her shoulder, and that was enough to make her hesitant to put her thoughts to the page.

She dropped her pen on the table and rested her head on her hooves with a frustrated huff. It had been nagging at her ever since she got the news, no matter how much she tried to forget the situation. Her hooves were tied. Aura was helpless, at the mercy of the school board. Reinsburg surely awaited her when she took her aptitude test, and here she was, powerless against nature’s course. She’d been—

That’s good. That’s really good. She picked her pen back up and put it to the page.

I met with Spoiled Rich last week, and I promised her that I was going to make sure Aura is ready to go for class by the end of the semester.

I have no idea how I’m going to do it. I don’t have any funding to work with, and the district isn’t equipped to handle things like this. I don’t know that they’ve ever had to deal with a situation like this, for that matter. And so I’m stuck with it. I can either grind it out, make Aura hate my guts, and probably die in the process, or I can just let her go off to wherever she winds up.

I don’t like saying this, but in the past week, I’ve been thinking about the latter more and more. It’d be a lot easier that way.

But I don’t think I could live with it if I did. If I try my best, I’m sure I can figure out something. I’m the only pony in a good position to help her, and if I do nothing, then I’m no better than those teachers out in Seaddle that let her get like this.

This sucks.

Cheerilee blinked and sat back in her chair, the last thought out of her mind for the moment. She took a look back at what she’d written, recoiling at the sight of it instantly. It was apologetic, defeatist drivel, nothing like what she’d felt immediately after Spoiled Rich left the schoolhouse that day.

But when she’d made that promise to herself to prove Spoiled wrong, she was running on pure defiance and spunk. Now, she was looking at the cold, hard facts in front of her, and they weren’t pretty. It was going to be one heck of a grind, provided that Aura even responded to her efforts. For all she knew, there was still the strong possibility that Aura would simply reject it when she tried to work with her.

But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try. Yes, it was going to be rough. Yes, it was uncertain whether it would even work. Heck, Aura probably wouldn’t even like her by the end of it, but that wasn’t what mattered. All that mattered was keeping Aura here, with her friends and family, where she could grow up normally instead of going away to Reinsburg, which was little better than Tartarus itself.

Cheerilee set her jaw and glared down at the page. What can I do to make this happen?

There are a lot of different things to worry about. Getting the red tape and approvals out of the way should be easy, provided I convince them that I can do it. But then there’s the question of creating a special lesson plan for Aura, actually using that plan and getting results with it, bringing her up to the level of the aptitude exam…

Oh, and funding. All of the resources I need are going to be expensive, and I have to figure out a way to get the money for those resources on my own.

That’d be a good place to start. How am I going to get all of the bits that the curriculum requires?

Cheerilee sat back in her chair and locked her gaze on the ceiling in the far corner of the room. She chewed lightly on her pen as the gears in her mind started back to life. How did ponies usually get money for worthy causes when they didn’t already have it?

Fundraisers. I could do a fundraiser! She grinned, pressing her pen back to the page again, but she hesitated. What kind of fundraiser?

A fundraiser would be a great way to start getting the money in order. But what can I do to get one of those organized? I’m only one pony, and I don’t have all the time in the world to devote to it. If I’m going to be working with Aura, then I’ll barely have any time to myself until she’s back up to speed.

So I’m going to need help. A lot of it.

And I have a whole schoolhouse full of students that I can use enlist to help. If I can organize the class, we could make a project out of it.

Two words: Bake. Sale.

It’s perfect! I highly doubt Aura wants everypony in town to know that we’re raising money for her, so I can just call it “A Bake Sale for Education”. Get at least half of the parents to contribute something for the sale, bring as much as I can myself, and I should be in business!

Now all I need is approval.

I guess that’s all I can do for now. Until next time!

Cheerilee closed the diary with a yawn and took it over to her nightstand instead of the bookcase. “I can’t believe I forgot how helpful it is to get your thoughts out on paper,” she muttered to herself. “Definitely gonna keep up with writing here from now on.”

Tomorrow was going to be a good day.

Comments ( 6 )

Hmmm...I hope things get better for Cheerilee. She has a lot of hurdles to jump over.

Nice! Cheerinice like sugar and spice.

Good to see this updated. Happy 4th of July!

The plot thickens, can't wait for more! Also really glad to see Aura getting closer with the other kids.

Any updates on this story?

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We're not dead in the water just yet! I still intend to continue this story, but writing time is at a premium right now. I have shifted this one to the backburner for now in favor of focusing on other stories, but I still intend to bring this one to completion once my schedule opens enough that I can write multiple projects at once without 6-month waits between updates (right now I'm averaging three months between updates and only actively working on one story :applejackconfused:)

I appreciate the reminder that this project still exits, though! Hopefully sometime this year I'll find the time to continue this one.

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