Unfortunately for Scout, she is punished for actions that she thinks are harmless or even helpful. Three actions for which Miss Caroline chastises her are the following:
1. Reading - After Miss Caroline reads an "imaginative story" to the children that they really do not relate to, she prints the alphabet in large letters on the blackboard, asking anyone recognizes what she has written. Then, she calls on Scout to read the letters, which she does with efficiency. So, to determine what Scout does know, Miss Caroline tests Scout's reading skills and discovers that she is a proficient reader. When she asks Scout who has taught her to read, Scout is rather baffled since she has simply acquired the skill from sitting on her father's lap while he reads the Mobile Register.
...she discovered that I was literate and looked at me with more than faint distaste. Miss Caroline told me to tell my father not to teach me any more, it would interfere with my reading.
2. Cursive writing - When Miss Caroline begins to teach reading according to the John Dewey method of beginning with sight words, Scout becomes disinterested and narrates that she starts a letter to Dill because she is bored. Observing Scout's inattention, Miss Caroline notices that Scout is writing. Angered that such handwriting is not age appropriate, she scolds Scout first for not paying attention, and then for handwriting her note.
“Besides,” she said. “We don’t write in the first grade, we print. You won’t learn to write until you’re in the third grade.”
Again, Scout has learned a skill at home; this time Calpurnia has relieved the boredom of rainy days by writing the alphabet at the top of a sheet of paper and having Scout copy a page from the Bible.
3. Lunch procedures - Miss Caroline asks students who have brought their lunches to place them upon their desks. When she walks down the aisles, she checks the lunches; at Walter Cunningham's desk, she stops and asks him if he has forgotten his lunch. Walter mumbles what she takes for a "No." So, Miss Caroline pulls out a quarter and instructs Walter to go downtown and buy his lunch, telling him he can reimburse her the next day. But, Walter refuses with a "No thank you, ma'am" and shakes his head three times before Scout intercedes on Walter's behalf, explaining to Miss Caroline that Walter is a Cunningham.
“I beg your pardon, Jean Louise?”
“That’s okay, ma’am, you’ll get to know all the county folks after a while. The Cunninghams never took anything they can’t pay back—no church baskets and no scrip stamps. They never took anything off of anybody, they get along on what they have. They don’t have much, but they get along on it.”
But, Miss Caroline still does not comprehend Scout's implications. So she adds more,
"You're shamin‘ him, Miss Caroline. Walter hasn’t got a quarter at home to bring you, and you can’t use any stovewood.”
Insulted by Scout's further explanations, Miss Caroline finds Scout impudent and says, “Jean Louise, I’ve had about enough of you this morning....You’re starting off on the wrong foot in every way, my dear. Hold out your hand.” And, she strikes Scout's hand with a ruler, humiliating her.