The plight of the secret teacher's pet

SF has a lot of tropes, that is, standard plot devices, character types, or backgrounds that are used to move stories forward.

A genre is itself just a trope writ large, so it should come as no surprise to find that SF is completely trope-ridden. It's not a bug, its an exoskeletal alien.

I've been trying to read more SF, particularly in its short forms, than I usually do. The result is a kind of queasy feeling of getting overstuffed with tropes.

One I've encountered a couple of times recently is what I call the "secret teacher's pet". You can read that as the pet of the secret teacher, or the teacher's pet who is a secret. It works either way, or, rather, both are true simultaneously.

This is how it works. The protagonist is in a school or other training situation. Since the vast majority of the readership is still in school, this is a background with some emotional heft. The protagonist is too smart, too mercurial, too virtuous, or too dedicated to fit into the normal training program. After various dramatic failures, protagonist is going to wash out and have to leave in disgrace.

Only, guess what? The protagonist's very failure to master the approved curriculum of the school is what marks him or her as someone appropriate for a higher level of training. The ugly duckling becomes a swan.The class clown becomes the teacher's pet.

To me there is something unsastisfying in the idea that the point is to appeal to a level of administration above the one you normally encounter. But appealing to the administration is still the point of the exercise. As in Gnostic sects of Late Antiquity, outer practices delude the untrained, and only initiates understand the inner truth. Gnostics were a lot more like cliques of high school mean girls than most people who idealize them as an alternative to Christianity are willing to admit.

The story gets extra points if the protagonist is young, and manages to get the crusty old instructor to throw her head back and laugh at the protagonist's impudence, just as the protagonist is sure he is going to be thrown out of school. Just getting her to laugh isn't enough. Head back, or no points. I'm a tough grader.

I suppose now that I've gone off on it, I'm going to have to write a story using this particular trope. That's a way of learning where it gets its power, and maybe putting a bit of a spin on it. But I'm not making any promises.