secret (adj./noun): kept from the knowledge of any but the initiated or privileged; a mystery.



November 17, 16:42 CST

Another C.

After a beat of hesitation, nimble fingers entered the grade into the online gradebook before rubbing the frustrated face of one chemistry teacher, Tish Hasbrouck. A long sigh drew from her lips, the spreadsheet of results on the screen in front of her dragging up those clichéd questions of, Are the students confused, misinformed, or just thick? Or is it me? Is it my fault? Am I a bad teacher?

Am I even meant for this career?

Granted, acid-base equilibrium and proton concentration had proven to be a tough unit every year for the past nine years Tish had been teaching. Few students nailed the concepts on the first try, let alone did well on the exam.

She mapped a bell curve – the swooping, arching line across the spectrum of grades and data points that represented the class as a whole.

She could curve the grades up a bit. It's what any… fair teacher would do.

(Although that word was on Tish's list of pet peeves, a word thrown around the teacher lounge all too easily during breaks.)

Of course, the bell curve encapsulated the full spectrum of the students – both good and bad. Three or four kids, true to form, formed the caboose of the education train, clearly slacking on the necessary homework and practice to successfully pull off the demands of the test. Then there was Josh Nogra, who unsurprisingly neglected to show up for the test – or any of the makeup sessions.

This was Tish's third year teaching the student, and judging by the trends of his performance and effort? She anticipated a fourth.

But then, at the opposite end of the spectrum, there was the outlier.

The uppermost tip of the bell curve.

Wallace Rudolph West.

Tish pulled up Wally's full progress report to fill the screen of her monitor and simply stared at the numbers for a full minute, shaking her head. You'd think he was cheating. But no, teachers had been monitoring Wally for any academic dishonesty since the fourth grade.

He was clean.

How could it be that Wally was the only student to earn perfect marks on her tests, including the near-impossible bonus questions? Every. Single. Time. This. Year. How was it possible?

Simple. He was good.

Very good.

The kid was tardy almost every day. He always had to "go to the bathroom" in the middle of class, and he fell asleep mid-lecture at least twice a week. Perhaps he spent all night studying, which would explain those perpetual bags under his eyes… But if that were the case, Wally would at least take notes to study from, which he never did. He'd never checked out a textbook at the start of the year, according to the librarians, so Tish couldn't fathom the boy studying anything. Not without materials.

Of course, any teacher worth their salt knew how to deal with "talented and gifted" students, young teens so far advanced in the coursework that they felt they didn't need to pay attention in class. There were methods of working with these students, upper-college level supplementary work to challenge them.

But Wally was, again, an outlier. Ignoring the fact that he was a sophomore in a senior-level advanced chemistry course, no matter how difficult or high-level the material was, he slept through what Tish taught until exam time, and then aced the tests to prove he knew his stuff.

He was never exactly cocky, simply matter-of-fact and… correct.

The only explanation, however improbable it seemed, was that Wally had already learned all of the material before. That he possessed an advanced, college-level understanding of chemistry before setting foot in a single course.

He was aggravating. And more importantly, he was screwing up her bell curve.

So, just as with every test she had passed out this year, Tish painstakingly typed in the student's perfect test score, then manually deleted his grade from the class bell curve, normalizing the class to the mean and median. There we go.

She couldn't have one freak-of-nature, scientific genius, child prodigy ruining her remedy for the other students' GPAs. That would be… unfair.

Tish closed her computer for the night with a note of finality, gathering the test into a file to be handed back the next day. Bundling up in her coat and gloves, the science instructor frowned at the thought of the outlier in her classroom, and ultimately decided that Wally would turn out to be the next Einstein.

And all of the grief he'd caused her would be worth it when he one day attributed his Nobel Prize to her hard work and patience.

After all, outliers were destined for greatness.

(A.N. October 3, 2016) In the process of revising chapters as I go, while simultaneously working on Chapter 20. To read "Outlier" in full, check out my account on Archive of Our Own ("CallMeIronWoobie"). Thanks for reading! :)