by Heidi Molbak
I’m excited about being in your class this year. I love it when you smile at all of us, when you read us stories, and when you give us interesting projects to do. I love going to the library with everyone in our class, and I look forward to our class parties. I’m trying really hard this year to make a lot of friends, and to have fun in school.
I’m writing you because I want to tell you a secret about me. My mom and dad are thinking they need to tell you about me, but they can’t agree on when or how to do it. Mom wants to give you a month or two to get to know me on your own. I think the school principal told mom to wait like that. Dad thinks the school should have given you information about my secret before the first day of school. At the very least, dad says, my teacher from last year should have told you my secret.
Because the adults can’t agree on where and how to tell you, I figure it’s best if I just tell you myself. Maybe together we can come up with a plan to keep all the adults happy. I really don’t want mom or dad or the principal to worry about me this year, and I really don’t want anyone to be sad or angry or envious or mad or embarrassed about my secret.
What is my secret? My secret is that I’ve been reading books by myself since I was three or four years old, and I’ve already figured out how to do multiplication, and I’ve figured out that division is just the opposite of multiplication, and I love fractions. And I can write letters, like this one. In other words, I know things. And I’m always learning new things because I read a lot of books and remember a lot about what I’ve read. I heard my mom and dad say that I already know most of what I’m supposed to learn this year.
Yes, I make mistakes sometimes. Although I can do simple papers quickly, my mind likes to wander to more complicated things. Remember last week when I had trouble sitting still in the circle on the floor? I was squirming because I had trouble listening to you explain place value in math. I’ve known almost since I was born that one group of ten pencils is the same as ten pencils. I know that we do math in tens because we have ten fingers.
I would have paid attention, I promise, if you had told the story that my Aunt Martha, the math teacher, invented for me about the seven-fingered aliens who came to earth 7,000 years ago and, probably because they had seven fingers, did math with groups of seven, rather than groups of ten. The aliens’ math is called base seven math. It’s cool. There’s also computer math—base two—because computers have only electricity as their “fingers,” and they have only two electricity “fingers”—on and off.
I know you’re very busy. I don’t expect you to make special lessons for me. That’s ok. Once I overheard my Aunt Martha say that I’m autopedantic. “Auto” means “self”—as in an automobile moves by itself rather than by horses. “Pedantic” has something to do with learning. Aunt Martha, when she called me autopedantic, meant that I learn a lot by myself. I even learned the word “autopedantic” by myself—I looked it up!
So, can we come up with a plan to keep everyone happy? Maybe the school librarian will let me check out harder books, and I can learn from them. Maybe you can let me make your assignments harder. For instance, maybe I can do my math assignments in base seven rather than base ten. That would make mom happy, especially if Aunt Martha tells mom about the seven-fingered aliens.
Or if we’re writing poems in class, maybe I can write one without using the letter “e” or with using a simile or metaphor or zeugma (which is not an animal, but sounds like it should be!). Or if we’re doing spelling word sentences, I can let my sentences run together into a story that includes the ten words everyone else is learning *and* ten harder words.
And it would be *really* cool if sometime, somewhere, maybe once a week, I could spend time with some older kids who read the same books I read, or if I could study fun math with some other kids who love math as much as I do. Although my classmates are all very nice so far, sometimes I get lonely when people around me don’t understand what’s happening in my head.
I know that you need to pretend that everyone in our class is the same so you can give us all the same worksheets and we can all be in the same grade and we can all be friends. Yes, I want friends. Or at least I don’t want enemies. I don’t want to be teased on the playground for being different, or for answering all your questions in class. Please excuse me if I sometimes don’t raise my hand when I know the answer, or if I raise it more than you want me to raise it. It’s hard for me to figure out what everyone expects of me.
But I really want to learn things I don’t already know. And I want you to understand me. I want to be able to talk to you about my secret and how I feel about it. I want you and mom and dad to understand that I’ll do my best to make friends in our class, but I need to have other friends, too—friends who can play chess with me and talk about interesting books with me.
I promise that if I’m busy learning, I’ll be able to pay attention much better. If I learn more, my parents will be happy and my mom will relax. If I learn more, I’ll have more fun. Please, let’s try and figure out something, ok? Thanks.
P.S. I think my mind operates in base two—either it’s learning or it’s not.
Wenda Sheard, J.D., Ph.D. is a SENG board member who currently lives in Connecticut. She thanks the three anonymous reviewers for their comments and suggestions.