DID I MISS ANYTHING?
by Tom Wayman
Nothing. When we realized you weren’t here
we sat with our hands folded on our desks
in silence, for the full two hours
Everything. I gave an exam worth
40 percent of the grade for this term
and assigned some reading due today
on which I’m about to hand out a quiz
worth 50 percent
Nothing. None of the content of this course
has value or meaning
Take as many days off as you like:
any activities we undertake as a class
I assure you will not matter either to you or me
and are without purpose
Everything. A few minutes after we began last time
a shaft of light suddenly descended and an angel
or other heavenly being appeared
and revealed to us what each woman or man must do
to attain divine wisdom in this life and
This is the last time the class will meet
before we disperse to bring the good news to all people
Nothing. When you are not present
how could something significant occur?
Everything. Contained in this classroom
is a microcosm of human experience
assembled for you to query and examine and ponder
This is not the only place such an opportunity has been
but it was one place
And you weren’t here
I know that when I was a student, both in grade school and in college, I must have asked this question to every teacher and professor I ever had. It was innocent enough, I’m sure, and I never meant to offend. But now that I’m a teacher, there is no more annoying and disrespectful question out there (except maybe “can I go to the bathroom” when I’m in the middle of what I thought was an insightful and interesting lesson). Many times have I responded in a sarcastic manner, saying something like, “no, we sat around and discussed our varying degrees of sadness over your absence.” This poem is a much better response.
There are some days when it feels like class has gone so well and the kids are so interested that I really have opened up the secrets of the universe to them. And on those days (which are few and far between, of course) this poem rings so true. The next day is never as effective, despite how much I may try to emulate what worked so well the day before. So when, on that next day, a student asks this question, it is doubly hurtful. What am I supposed to say? “Yeah, you missed a good class, but I know that you’re really just asking if anything is due or any new assignments were given, and since the answer to that is ‘no,’ you’re going to think you didn’t miss anything.” And if I just give in and say “no, you didn’t miss anything,” I’m just giving in and accepting the mindset that every day isn’t important.
So the moral of the story? Rephrase the question! Don’t ask if you missed anything; ask what you missed and what needs to be made up. To all those teachers and professors that I wronged over the years, I truly am sorry. I feel your pain.