Miss Beadle innocently locks up the schoolhouse, while her horse and buggy sit benignly in the foreground. But disaster strikes! As Miss Beadle situates herself into the buggy, the children's horseplay spooks the real horse, causing it to bolt!
The Bead will be out of teaching commission for a while with a sprained ankle. Doc Baker insists that she stay home from school. Um, whatever. I'm pretty sure that crutches have existed since the beginning of leg injuries. Anyway, it seemed like a good reason for the school board (Doc Baker, Hansen, and the Olesons) to offer Ma the sub job, and hence we have "School Mom".
Ma isn't sure about taking the job, but Harriet Oleson is up to her old bitchery, speculating that Ma will show favouritism for her own daughters in the classroom. That's enough to convince Ma that she has to prove Mrs. Oleson wrong.
The next morning, Nellie and Willie are gossiping. They think Mrs. Ingalls doesn't know the new teaching methods and isn't fit to be a teacher. Ok, for starters, what the hell kind of grade A education do they think they're getting from Beadle? And what kind of kids - then, now, or EVER - give a shit about how qualified their teacher is? Particularly back then. Half the class missed 5 months of school every haying season, or whatever the hell crops they used to grow.
Ma convinces the kids to give her a chance by hitting a ball with the stick.
In the classroom, it's reading lesson time. Ma picks Abel McKay. All the asshole kids in the class start teeheeing in anticipation. Like seriously, the entire class giggling their 5 year old asses off. He hasn't even READ anything yet. Wait for him to screw up, then heckle him with specificity based on his errors. That's how you do it. Punks! Abel runs from the school in humiliation.
Ma feels like a failure. She visits Miss Beadle to get advice. Beadizzle says that Abel isn't "backwards", he just never comes to school. The rest of the conversation - who cares? Where did Miss Beadle, a single schoolteacher, get all this great stuff? She got way nicer shit than - well, the Ingalls family, for one. But also me! Her stuff is way nicer than my shit. And check out that pile of cookies on the left!!! Curtains! Flowers! Doilies! How high maintenance was Miss Beadle that she required such luxuries?!
That night, Ma tells Pa about the situation. Mary and Laura aren't too concerned: it's only "Dumb" Abel. Harsh! Ma threatens the girls with a gobful of soap, and Pa sends them into the house.
The only way to fix the situation is to go to Abel McKay's place and talk to him. Ma meets the father first. The guy is obsessed with savvy. He is a major fan of the savvy. All a man truly needs in life is savvy. Abel's special talent is working with clay. Ma convinces him that if he can do that then he can learn.
Ma plans to get the whole class in on it. They will ALL help Abel to learn. Over the next few days, Ma conducts some very basic lessons to include Abel and not make him feel like such a stupidass.
But Mrs. Oleson is once again up to her old bitchery and busts into the classroom. She bashes Abel and disses Ma for babying him at the expense of the other children's education. Ma is all controlled anger and intact dignity.
The kids don't know the meanings of the words on the board, and Ma doesn't think Mrs. Oleson does either. Ma dismisses school, then quits.
That evening, the school board shows up at the little house, begging Ma to continue teaching. There are conflicting reports. Ma uses an analogy to explain the situation. She asks Hansen to imagine that he is working in the mill making flour when someone comes in to the grinding room. Hansen cannot imagine it: "I do not allow anyone in the grinding room while I am working. It is a rule", but goes along with the scenario anyway. This uninvited person throws a rock into the millstones and screws everything up. What does Hansen do? His reaction is to toss the person into the street by the collar and ass of their pants. Well, Ma's a lady and Mrs. Oleson's twice her size, so that wasn't a legitimate option. Maybe if Abel woulda stuck around to help.
Hansen accuses Harriet: "You interfered" and asks Ma to come back. Ma can't. She's lost the pupil who needed her the most.
That night, Pa tells Ma that he'd heard that school will continue as planned - with Mrs. Oleson as the teacher! Well, if that doesn't convince Ma to go back...
When Caroline takes the eggs to the mercantile in the morning, she sees Harriet haplessly ringing the school bell. Yeah, Nellie and Willie kinda let it slip that she was going to be teaching. Hence, no students.
On the way back to the little house, Ma meets Abel. He's shaped letters A to F out of clay to give to Ma. They talk about how Ma felt she wasn't fit as a teacher and Abel felt he wasn't fit as a student, and they both agree that maybe they don't suck as much as they thought they did.
Unreal as it is, Miss Beadle's sprain still isn't healed, and there's enough time for Ma to go back to teaching. And even Abel returns and makes some major headway learning geography. ("The capital of the United States is Washington, DC, but New York has more peop - population.")
Miss Beadle is fina-freaking-lly ready to get back to her job, and Abel reads a thank you letter to Ma, while the class applauds. No more drama.
And we'll never see (optional moniker: "Dumb") Abel McKay again.