From now on, we start to meet the students on the thirtieth floor, one by one. Our first new friend is Joe, who has curly hair, but he's got no idea how much. This is Joe's main challenge at school: "he couldn't count at all" (3.1).
Mrs. Jewls keeps Joe inside at recess to give him extra help with his counting. She asks him to count to ten. His problem is obvious—he counts to ten, and says ten different numbers along the way, but the numbers aren't in any kind of order, and some of them are even higher than ten. Good grief.
Mrs. Jewls tries to teach Joe to count correctly by counting pencils, books, and potatoes, but this doesn't help Joe at all. He keeps counting randomly, but always stops at the right quantity. "You got the right answer, but you counted the wrong way" (3.18), Mrs. Jewls says. (Incidentally, what is a teacher doing with a bunch of potatoes in her desk?)
Mrs. Jewls tries a new tactic—she has Joe count from one to ten, repeating after her. But this doesn't help either. Instead he just keeps counting to ten, even if there aren't ten objects. "When I count the wrong way I get the right answer, and when I count the right way I get the wrong answer," Joe complains.
Poor Mrs. Jewls does what we all might do in this situation—she hits her head against the wall. Joe tries to count how many times she does it… and yet again, he gets the right answer by counting wrong.
By the end of recess Joe has failed to make progress; the other children return to the class and tease him for not being able to count. Mrs. Jewls writes Maurecia's name on the blackboard under the word discipline for teasing Joe.
Mrs. Jewls comforts Joe by telling him he'll get it someday. "One day it will just come to you," she says. "You'll wake up one morning and suddenly be able to count" (3.57).
Joe wonders what he's doing in school if all he has to do is wake up one morning to understand something. It's a very good question. Mrs. Jewls gives an even better answer: "School just speeds things up" (3.59), she says. Isn't that school in a nutshell?
True to Mrs. Jewls' word, Joe wakes up the very next day and knows how to count, right down to every curly hair on his head, all fifty-five thousand and six of them. Nice work, Mrs. Jewls.