• 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 One: First Day on the Job

Thwack!

Cheerilee shut her eyes tightly, biting down harder on the tennis racket’s handle. The return swing was shaky, and she almost lost her grip when the ball made contact, but she managed to hold it together. The lime green ball sailed through the air, returning to her opponent’s side of the court on a different path than she had anticipated. It barely cleared the net and bounced once not far beyond that.

Her opponent rushed to reposition herself for the return stroke, sidestepping quickly to her left to follow the ball on its haywire course. As it bounced back into the air, she met it with a short yet stout swing that sent it on a much straighter path back to Cheerilee’s end of the court.

Thwack!

It was a perfect shot. Cheerilee was offset to the right side of her end, and the next incoming stroke was sailing towards her back left corner. She broke into a dead sprint, pushing herself as hard as she could to meet the ball. It was too little too late, and the ball skipped across the concrete floor and bounced against the back wall. The serve had been game point, and with that final thump, the game ended. Cheerilee had lost.

“Almost had me there, Cheer!” called her opponent, a light cream-coated unicorn mare. She grinned smugly as she crossed the court to Cheerilee’s side. “I almost thought you were trying that time!”

“Yeah, yeah, Nook.” Cheerilee muttered in between breaths. “Do I need to remind you of your little wager from junior year?”

“Touché,” Nook replied, her grin melting away. “Up for another match?”

“Why don’t we take a break?” Cheerilee took a deep breath and balanced herself against the wall, the sweat on her brow doubling now that she wasn’t moving around.

“Sure thing.” Nook trotted over to the bench off to the left side of the court where their bags sat. She retrieved two squeeze bottles in her magic, one from each bag, and tossed one to Cheerilee. She caught it in her forehooves and proceeded to spray it on top of her head and neck before gulping down most of the rest.

“Wow,” Cheerilee gasped when she finally took another breath. “I didn’t realize how out of shape I’ve gotten since spring.”

“It happens,” Nook agreed, taking a few much less desperate drinks than her friend. “Hey I forgot to ask you—” she took another gulp “—what are you gonna do now that you’re back in town?”

"I could swear I already told you this," Cheerilee said, taking another swig of her water. "I'm taking over as teacher for Mrs. Write at the schoolhouse."

"She's retiring?"

"Yeah. I have to admit that I didn't figure her for one to retire as soon as she was eligible for it," said Cheerilee.

"You know what they say; teaching is one of the toughest jobs out there." Nook took another drink before tossing her bottle back over to the bench.

Cheerilee grimaced a bit at that. "Please, don't remind me."

"Pre-job jitters?"

"Yeah,” said Cheerilee.

“Don’t worry yourself too much. They’re just kids, after all.” Nook gave a small smile.

“I know, but I’m kind of worried. What if they don’t like me?” Cheerilee said.

“Kids not liking you? What happened while you were in Fillydelphia that you aren’t telling me?” Nook took a few steps forward, cocking an eyebrow at Cheerilee.

“I know, I know. It’s silly, but I just can’t stop feeling like something won’t go well,” Cheerilee admitted, her ears flattening against her head.

“Hey,” Nook said, wrapping a hoof around Cheerilee’s shoulders. “I know what it’s like. I was nervous when I started working my job, but it all turned out fine. Everyone at the office liked me from the start, and my cutie mark didn’t have anything to do with the job!” She pointed a hoof at her flank, which featured a simple green leaf. “You’re a shoo-in for it! Hay, you always said that your cutie mark meant that you were gonna be a great teacher someday.”

“I guess,” Cheerilee said. “That still doesn’t make the butterflies in my stomach go away though.”

“Of course it won’t, but do I look like I can work miracles?” Nook joked, giving a goofy smile. “So, ready for another chance to beat the champ?”

“You know if you keep letting your head swell like that you’ll float away, right?” Cheerilee rebutted, smirking as she picked her racket up in her teeth. “My therve.”



The sun had yet to come over the horizon when Cheerilee trotted up the path towards the schoolhouse. It was a still, humid morning; a bit of thin fog had collected in the valleys overnight, and the air felt thick with moisture left over from a shower the previous evening. A typical late-summer morning for Ponyville.

Cheerilee walked with purpose, adding a little extra speed to her usual stride. She needed to be there extra early to make sure that the last of her classroom preparations were made for the incoming class in about two hours. It had taken quite the strong cup of coffee from Sugarcube Corner to get her going so early, but she was also riding on the extra energy provided by heavy anticipation. She had been working towards this day for the better part of a decade, and she was ready for it to happen. She was ready to begin the next chapter of her life.

Ahead loomed the bright red schoolhouse. It was an inviting little building by design, but cozy would be a more effective way of describing it. The little swirl designs etched into the sides and the rail fences that lined the path coupled with the bell atop the roof worked together to create a building that made ponies want to go inside. She had to admit, it certainly had charm. Children wouldn’t hate the idea of coming through those doors to learn.

She reached the porch and took a glance up at the horseshoe insignia on the awning as she climbed the steps below. She nudged the door open and stepped across the threshold, carefully letting it swing closed behind her. The room was dark, and after a bit of fumbling around the wall, she found the light switch.

The lights revealed a mostly undecorated classroom that smelled faintly of paint. The walls were painted in a muted green and cream color scheme, changed from the previous yellow and red design. More etched swirls similar to the outside of the building were scattered about the interior walls, and a trim of horseshoes and silhouettes of ponies lined the border between wall and ceiling. The desks and chairs were stacked along the far wall, and a tarp covered the floor to the right of the door. Her own desk was in its usual place, set off to the far side of the front of the room so that a presentation area was open in front of the doorway.

Cheerilee tossed her saddlebags onto the desk as she passed by it and went straight to the stacks of desks to begin the task of pulling one down. For a unicorn, the task would have been a cinch; however, since she was confined to using her hooves and lacked wings, it would take a fair bit of maneuvering to get the desks from the top of the stack moved.

She placed her hooves on the legs of the top desk, sliding it forward until it was halfway perched on the edge of the desk beneath it. She maneuvered herself underneath it, letting the other half rest on her back. A little bit of wiggling on her part inched the table forward, and she moved to reposition herself for the catch.

She misjudged her movements, and the table slipped free earlier than she anticipated. It squeaked as it slid down and rolled to the left side of her back, pinching her sharply as it fell to the ground with a loud SMACK!

“Ponyfeathers,” Cheerilee muttered, rubbing the spot where the desk had pinched her. She lifted the table back upright and began sliding it across the room. Before she got it into its place in the far corner, she went ahead and picked up the tarp, folding it over several times and placing it in the corner of the room out of the way.

As she walked back across the room to get the next table down, she found herself fixated on her own desk. Ever since she had accepted the position and began her work to transform the classroom, she had made it a point to not sit down in her chair until the first day of school. It was a little symbol that she wanted to save, to mark the occasion of the first day of her career. And now that day had come at long last.

It was as good a time as any to take the plunge, she supposed. She detoured from her original path and crossed the room to the side of her desk. She ran a thoughtful hoof over the tabletop as she came around to the chair. She slid it out from its nook, taking a look at the modestly cushioned seat, and took a deep breath. Slowly, methodically, she turned around and eased herself into the chair. At that moment, all of the buildup of the last decade hit. This was it. The big day; no turning back from here.

Not that she would have wanted to, anyway. She had put far too much into getting herself to this point to even know what doubts were. Nook had done a good job of warming her cold hooves. She looked out across her empty room and smiled. She wasn’t just at her new job.

She was home.



The sun beamed through the windows on the left side of the classroom, bathing the room in golden light. A couple of hours had passed, and Cheerilee had finished her work ahead of schedule. The desks were set up, bookshelves put back in place, and two pictures that she had brought along hung on the back wall: one a line art visage of Princess Celestia, and the other a stylized guard pony. The room was as ready as it was ever going to be.

And the students had arrived on time. All but two of the twelve desks were filled, and the students were doing all sorts of things ranging from showing off their school supplies, to talking, to folding what Cheerilee knew was the beginnings of a paper airplane. She was going to have to get that from the colt before he used it.

She actually recognized several of the foals in the room, though she was sure she would know at least a couple of them. A filly from the Apple family—she couldn’t remember her name—was sitting in the front row. A row back and one desk to the right was Rarity’s little sister, Sweetie Belle. Berry Punch’s little sister, Piña Colada, was sitting in the back row. The rest of the children were fresh faces. A few colts were present, though the fillies outnumbered them almost three to one.

Cheerilee stood at the front of the room, giving a warm smile while she waited for the bell on the wall to ring. It was beginning to become a bit awkward, her standing there waiting so that she could begin. She had given each a greeting when they entered the room, but now all she could do was wait.

As if on cue, the bell rang.

If sitting in her teacher’s chair for the first time hadn’t been the big awakening that she had officially begun her adult life, then hearing that bell ring for the first time on her first day would have been what drove it home. Her heart fluttered, and she barely waited for the bell to go silent before she began.

“Good morning, students!” she said in a singsong voice, drawing the attention of the foals. “I hope you all had a good summer, and I'm sure some of you are wondering who I am. Let's begin today with a game." Several excited murmurs came from the students while Cheerilee retrieved a red foam ball from her desk.

"How the game works is that when you get the ball, you stand up and tell us all your name and something about yourself. It can be what you did this summer, your favorite food, anything you want! Since I —"

The door swung open, pulled with attitude. "...and my daddy got me this tiara yesterday, isn't it amazing?" Even before Cheerilee got a look at who the voice came from, she could tell that it meant trouble. The little sneering voice was distinct, like the pony behind it felt that she owned the world and everything in it.

In walked two fillies, the lead one pink with a purple-tinged mane, and the tiara on her head signified that she was the source of the grating voice. Behind her was a gray filly with her hair in a braid, a pair of stylish glasses adorning her nose. It seemed that no school was complete without a pair like this. Entitled, snooty, and dressed up expertly. The divas had arrived, fashionably late.

"Good morning," Cheerilee said, just a bit less enthusiasm in her voice, though she kept her kind facade up. "I suppose I can let it slide since it's the first day, but you two will need to be on time from now on."

"Fine," said the pink filly, turning her nose up and walking to the empty desk in the front of the room. The gray filly took the open seat in the middle row next to Sweetie Belle.

"Now then, where was I? Since it's my first day here, I will start off the game." Cheerilee held the ball up. "My name is Cheerilee, I am your new teacher, and I like to play tennis." She scanned the crowd, looking for a student not paying attention to pick on. The gray filly looked like a prime candidate, and Cheerilee gently tossed the ball her way. The throw was dead-on, bouncing on her desk and again off of her nose. She gave a startled gasp and looked around, while all the rest of the class erupted in giggles.

"What was that?" demanded the filly.

"If you had gotten here on time and paid attention to what was going on, you would know that it's your turn to stand up and tell us your name and something about yourself."

"Ugh, fine," the filly said begrudgingly, standing up. "My name is Silver Spoon and I got a puppy for my birthday." She seemed to relish the chance to brag a bit, but she was obviously the more subdued of the two.

"Nice to meet you, Silver Spoon. Now, pick up the ball and toss it to whoever you want."

The colt in the seat next to her picked up the ball and passed it her way. She took the ball and smirked. "Diamond Tiara, catch!"

The ball sailed over to the pink filly, landing in her waiting hooves. She stood up, looking as if she were preparing to deliver a bold speech. "My name is Diamond Tiara, and my daddy is the owner of Rich's Barnyard Bargains." One muffled sigh of discontent came from the back of the room, but she didn't seem to notice. She tossed the ball to the filly next to her, the red-haired Apple family kid.

“I’m Apple Bloom, and I got to help my family harvest apples this summer!” Though she was young, she had already fully developed the Apple Family’s trademark drawl. She turned around to face the rest of the class, considered for a moment, and then tossed the ball to a filly in the back of the classroom. “Here, catch!” she exclaimed, taking her seat again immediately after the throw.

The ball reached its target, but the filly in the back corner wasn’t ready for it. It bounced off of one of her outstretched hooves and went straight up in the air. She didn’t see where it went, and it came back down on her desk. She fumbled it again, this time knocking it to the floor where it rolled towards the front of the room.

She smiled awkwardly and blushed a bit, rising from her seat slowly. She was a mauve Earth pony with a turquoise mane, appearing to be about in the second grade. She seemed to shrink back with all eyes in the room on her, shying away from the attention. That would explain why she chosen the furthest corner from the teacher’s desk.

“I’m Aura,” she said quietly, immediately taking her seat.

“Aura?” Cheerilee asked. “Do you want to tell us something about yourself?”

“No,” Aura replied, laying her head on the table and hiding her eyes, which were a slightly different shade of turquoise than her mane.

“Okay then, that’s fine too.” Cheerilee said, hiding her disconcerted frown quickly with a smile. “Who has the ball?”

The game continued on for a few more minutes, each student taking their turn and happily standing up to tell something about themselves. One colt had gone on a trip to Prance with his family, and another filly had gotten her cutie mark over the summer. All fairly standard, save for Aura not answering the second half of the question. Regardless, she had already started to engage with the students, and it was hardly ten minutes into the first day.

This was going to be a great class.