• 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 Three: Conference

“Time to clean up your workspaces!” Cheerilee announced, clicking the timer on her desk off. On cue, the entire class mobilized, putting away colored pencils, paintbrushes, and watercolor packs as quickly as they could manage. They loaded all of their supplies into the boxes that they came in, and rushed over to the cabinets on the wall with boxes in tow. A small crowd began to form around it quickly, each foal trying to get in first.

“Everypony stop! Remember how we line up?” Cheerilee rose from her seat and made her way across the presentation area to the cabinet. “Everypony sit back down and then come back up here in a line.” A few groans of irritation came from the class as they all returned to their seats. Once all of them were back at their desks, they rose up in unison and formed a more-or-less single file line to the cubby.

“That’s better,” Cheerilee said, motioning for the children to go ahead and put their things away. She returned to her desk at the front while they put their supplies away. Apple Bloom was the last in line, and she shut the cabinet door when she got her turn. When everyone was back in their seats, Cheerilee addressed them once more.

“Now, I know it’s almost the end of the day and you all want to go home, so I won’t be long. When you leave, place your projects on the end of my desk. Tonight is the first parent-teacher conference of the year, and I hope to see everypony come out tonight at eight o’clock! I already gave you the handouts, so remember to give those to your parents.” The bell rang, and the foals began to get up from their seats with eager grins on their faces. “Remember your math homework tonight! We have the first spelling quiz on Friday! See you tonight!”

Art projects piled up on her desk as the children exited, all of them in a rush to get out the door into the late-summer afternoon.

Cheerilee wiped a hoof across her brow and leaned back in her chair. Today had been a bit of a doozy, mostly because of Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon constantly disrupting class. That coupled with an incident that involved Rumble taking a spill from the swings during recess had taken quite a toll on her energy. More than anything, she wanted to sit back in her comfortable chair and take a quick nap.

Fifteen minutes couldn’t hurt, right? She shifted a bit, slouching back into the cushion on the chair, which made it roll backwards a couple of inches. As she began to descend into slumber, the birds outside in the playground’s trees began singing their songs. Even by Equestria’s standards, it was an especially beautiful chorus of chirps and whistles. It seemed to ride elegantly on the air to soothe her fatigued mind, the lilting melody washing her worries—

Lilting Melody. Through the hectic day, she had forgotten that her mother was expecting to meet her immediately after class dismissed to prepare for conference night!

With as much energy as she could muster, she hoisted herself from the chair and grabbed her saddlebags from the bottom desk drawer. She considered running to town at a full gallop for a moment, but a passing glance at the clock told her that a leisurely trot would do the job just fine. She pulled the door closed on her way out, but didn’t bother locking it before she started down the earthen path back to town.

If she couldn’t spare the time for a nap, then she could at least stop at Sugarcube Corner for a large coffee.



“It was a pleasure to meet you, Filt— Mr. Rich,” said Cheerilee, shaking the tan businesspony's hoof politely.

“Likewise. Come on, Diamond. Randolph should have dinner waiting.” Filthy Rich rose from his seat in front of Cheerilee’s desk, alongside his daughter. They both turned to leave, though not before Diamond Tiara could sneak a dirty look in Cheerilee’s direction.

During the meeting, Cheerilee had noticed several things. Filthy Rich had been a very keen listener when she talked about Diamond’s academic performance, but when the conversation shifted to the filly’s disciplinary record, he went through a drastic shift. He interrupted frequently, began fidgeting in his chair, and became dismissive of nearly every point that was brought against his daughter despite the fact that there was a near daily record of problems. From what she remembered of Mr. Rich, she knew to expect it. He was the type of father to see his daughter as a perfect angel who does no wrong.

Now that they were gone, she took out her pencil and scratched off Diamond Tiara’s name. So far, seven of the twelve students had come in. Sweetie Belle was first to come in with Hondo and Cookie, as promised, followed by the Apples. Granny Smith had brought Apple Bloom in with Applejack and Big Macintosh in tow. It had been years since she had seen the entire Apple clan together in one room, and they were just as much of a joy to meet with as she remembered. A skinny little colt named Featherweight and his ironically heavyset mother were next, and not long after them came Snips and Snails together with both of their respective parents at the same time. Rumble and Thunderlane showed up a little while later.

Rumble brought his brother to the conference despite the fact that he needed his parents to attend. Things went a bit farther south when she caught Thunderlane staring at her more than once. It was flattering, but nonetheless unwelcome at a parent-teacher conference.

Cheerliee shook her head to clear her mind of the memory and looked down at the list again. At least Diamond Tiara had come in, but her partner in crime Silver Spoon was a no-show. Surprisingly, Twist had also skipped, but it must have been conflicting schedules if she knew anything about her. The rest of the no-shows included Scootaloo, Piña Colada, and Aura.

Aura.

Cheerilee had been meaning to find a chance to speak with the little mauve filly, but she was always out of the classroom faster than she could blink. In the past few days, she had noticed a few more things that struck her as peculiar. Of all the foals in the class, she had far and away the worst mouthwriting, which was a bit unusual since fillies were often naturally better at penponyship, but not totally unexpected either.

The clock on the wall chimed as it struck ten, and Cheerilee practically leapt from her seat at the signal that she could go home for the day. She raised her forelegs over her head in a stretch, a quiet yawn escaping as she released the tension in her back. It had been a long day, and there were still four more to go before the the weekend rolled around. A good night’s sleep was in order, lest she be in bad shape for class tomorrow.

In much the same fashion as when she left the room at the end of the school day, Cheerilee retrieved her saddlebags from the bottom right drawer of the desk. She sauntered across the front of the room, stifling yet another yawn as she pulled the door open. She stepped through the doorway and stopped and turned to click the lights off. Before she flipped the switch, she took a look around the room. The two chairs that had been pulled over for the conferences would need to be moved in the morning, but aside from that, everything was spic and span. The art projects were still there, and the foals would be finishing those in the morning. Satisfied, she turned out the lights and grabbed the doorknob, only to hesitate.

Despite the fact that the art projects were unfinished, Cheerilee was curious as to what the foals were drawing. She hadn’t looked at any of them besides the one on top of the stack, and that was just in passing since it was visible. She had been planning to read another chapter from Windfall before bed, but looking over the art projects was a more non-committal and appealing choice. The book had lengthy chapters anyway, so this would be quicker and she could go to bed a little earlier. She didn’t bother powering up the lights again, since the enchantment-powered fixtures took a few seconds to warm up to full brightness. She took the stack in her teeth carefully and slid them down into her waiting saddlebag. With a gentle tug, she fastened the cover and again made for the door. This time, she pushed it closed and locked it from the outside before trotting back down the earthen path to Ponyville, this time headed home.



Cheerilee settled into her bed and pulled the covers over herself. Her room was slowly coming along, but it was still quite plain as with the rest of the house. A throw rug now lay between the bed and the door, and a couple of picture frames were hanging on the wall to her right; one a photo of her and two of her friends from Bridleway, the other a hoof-stitched cloth bearing her mother’s favorite quote: “In all things, give thanks.”

Leaning over, she fished the stack of papers out of her saddlebags, which were propped against the bed on the floor. Since she hadn’t remembered to go to the store for construction paper, the projects were done on ordinary white sheets of letter paper. It hadn’t been a big deal, but Cheerilee bit her lip in annoyance at her slip-up.

The assignment had been to draw something that was special; nothing too difficult, it was mainly an effort to get a little bit more information on the students’ personalities. The top of the stack was Apple Bloom’s, and her work was nothing unexpected. Two little caricatures of trees with red dots signifying apples sat near the center of the page, and a stick figure in orange crayon with the back legs bucked out on one of the trees signified Applejack. She pulled that one out from the stack and placed it off to one side, this time revealing Twist’s work.

Despite the fact that the little curly-maned filly was the egghead of the class, her sketch was much harder to make out than Apple Bloom’s. If it weren’t for the red and white coloring, she wouldn’t have been able to tell that the drawing was of peppermint candies. Again, she set that page aside, forming a new stack of pictures on top of the comforter.

She made her way through the stack fairly quickly, taking note of the many different things each student drew. Sweetie Belle seemed to have drawn herself singing, through her art skills made that difficult to discern. Snips, Snails, Diamond Tiara, Silver Spoon, Piña Colada, Scootaloo, and Featherweight all seemed to be coming along fine as well, though with varying degrees of success in their depictions. As she set aside Featherweight’s work, she settled her gaze on the next one.

On reflex, her jaw dropped. In her hooves sat a crayon-and-pencil drawing, as with all of the others before it. It showed a little pony sitting at an easel with a paintbrush in her mouth, but that wasn’t the shocking part about it.

It was the detail.

It was only half finished, but it was still every bit as stunning to see the amount of technique being used by such a young filly. The filly within was fully drawn, even with several flaws. The easel was comprised of straight, even lines. A window in the background showed that there was going to be a wall there tomorrow, and there were even a few sloppy attempts at shading on both of the figures. In addition to that, the viewpoint was at least decently consistent. It was by far the best picture from the entire class, and it was much better than anything Cheerilee could have done herself. And amidst all that, the real surprise lurked unassumingly in the bottom right-hoof corner. In extremely sloppy mouthwriting, the artist’s name identified the picture’s owner.

Aura.

Cheerilee sat still, unblinking with her mouth hanging open for a long minute, trying to process what she had just seen. The filly who never seemed to pay attention in class; the filly who sat in the back of the room but was always the first to leave in the afternoon; the filly who could hardly write legibly; was responsible for the best piece of artwork she had ever seen out of a primary school classroom. When she finally recovered from the shock, she had to check the project again just to make sure that she had seen it right in her tired state.

It wasn’t a mistake. She carefully lowered the page, sliding it and the final paper that she still hadn’t seen into the stack on the bed. This was… interesting news, to say the least. She had been meaning to talk to Aura since the first day of school, but now she needed to do it as soon as possible. While she felt a sense of elation that her student was so gifted at something, something didn’t seem right. While she would have loved to try to figure out exactly what made her gut instinct cry foul, her heavy eyelids commanded that she let sleeping dogs—or rather sleeping ponies in her case—lie until morning. She picked up the stack of papers and slipped them back into her bag before she turned the bedside lamp out. Sleep did not come as swiftly as it should have, but it didn’t take long for her to fall into slumber.



The next day, class was rather uneventful. Diamond Tiara had noticeably toned her attitude down, but still couldn’t help but cause a few disruptions out of habit. Her father must have given her quite the lecture last night— either that or she was trying to fly under the radar for a bit. Silver Spoon was also quieter, but that was likely because of Diamond’s behavioral shift.

It was fifteen minutes past three, and class would dismiss for the day in fifteen more. As with the day before, the last bit of class had been reserved for the art projects. This time, Cheerilee was keeping a very close eye on Aura as she worked. Now that she focused more on it, she noticed that the filly would occasionally pause to blink hard and look down at the desk for a moment, a dazed expression in her eyes. In every single lesson beforehand, she had barely paid attention and worked even less than that, a bored frown on her face the entire day. However, now she was drawing with fervor, easily working with twice the devotion of the rest of the class. Through Aura was clutching the crayon in her teeth, it was easy to tell that there was a happy little smile there.

Cheerilee, on the other hoof, looked on with an inquisitive frown. There was something about Aura that didn’t quite add up, but she couldn’t tell exactly what. Other than her poor classroom habits, she looked like a completely normal filly. Then again, she had no idea of what Aura was like outside of the classroom, so that wasn’t exactly a solid conclusion. Ten minutes remained, and Cheerilee rose from her desk and walked out into the presentation area.

She cleared her throat, earning attention from several students. “Ten minutes left, everypony! Make your final touches on the drawings and start putting things away so we can leave on time!”

Some quiet commotion followed quickly after Cheerilee finished speaking as some of the foals began to pack up their supplies. While they were finishing, she made a quick loop around the room to get a sneak peek at the foals’ creations, and to whisper something at a certain filly in the back corner desk.

She took the long way around, taking a few passing glances at the students’ desks mainly to not draw too much attention to Aura being asked to stay afterwards. It was a little courtesy she afforded her based on personal experience, memories of how an elementary school class typically reacts to such a thing came to mind first and foremost. Aura didn’t even look up at her as Cheerilee rounded the turn behind her desk, still too lost in her work to notice. Cheerilee tapped a hoof at her shoulder, which made her jump before she looked up at her teacher.

“Would you please stay after class for a few minutes? I need to talk to you,” Cheerilee whispered before she immediately walked back to the front of the room.

Fortunately, none of the other students seemed to notice, and they went about putting things away as if nothing happened. Cleanup went much more smoothly than the previous day, and it didn't take long before the room was tidied up and the foals were sitting in their seats, anxiously awaiting the clock to strike three-thirty. After a few more minutes of silence that seemed to drag on like hours, the bell finally announced the end of class. The foals jumped up and grabbed their art projects, rushing towards Cheerilee’s desk to turn them in in a frenzy.

“Have a good day, everypony! See you tomorrow!” Cheerilee called after the rush of eager students. In seconds, the classroom was empty, save for one seat in the back corner where a little mauve filly with a teal mane sat tensely, looking straight ahead like she had been caught with her hoof in the cookie jar.

Here goes nothing.

Author's Note:

Cliffhanger! Hanging from a cliff!

After I typed that, I just realized how funny of a word "Cliff" is.

Well, it wasn't that dramatic of a cliff, but I'm sure it has a few of you smacking yourselves in frustration because you want to see what happens next.

Anyhoo, what do you think? Are you guys ready to meet Aura properly next chapter? Hit up that comment section and let me know!

Thanks to Lord-Commander and KillerShadow15 for their assistance, and to you readers for sticking around to read our efforts. See you at the next chapter!