Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A Haiku Series Advocating Student Diplomacy in the Face of Missing Class

Based on a true evening email exchange between myself and a student:


I have been absent--
Did I miss anything that was
important today?

Can you find a way
to ask without implying
my class wastes your time?

I am off to bed.
In response to your question,
the answer is "yes."

Of course, sometimes I tell these offenders that Beyonce performed for our class. Or that we all took naps. And when the kid gives me the "C'mon, tell me what really happened" face I tell them the truth: I taught my guts out and they can get notes from another kid and hope another person can explain to them what they've missed. 

Sometimes students expect a private tutoring session. Am I a bad teacher for refusing to do that? For refusing to try to encapsulate what took me 55 minutes of extraordinary effort to teach? To recreate for an audience of one what I orchestrated the day before for an audience of 159 in five classes? 

I obviously don't think so. It wasn't the student's fault she was sick, but those sorts of losses are not the kind we can just restore with five minutes and a pat on the head. The losses are real. The book can tell the kids the basics.  The book cannot recreate our conversation, our inquiries, our interactions. The book does not crack dumb jokes or pose useful analogies to help kids make connections the way I do. The book cannot explain what it means the way I do in a class. Insofar as explaining after school something that a student didn't understand in class, that's fine with me, and I am eager to do so--unless the said kid was busy not paying attention. 

Here's another teacher who was moved to write a poem:

Did I Miss Anything?

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
     the hereafter
     This is the last time the class will meet
     before we disperse to bring the good news to all people
          on earth.
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

From Did I Miss Anything? Selected Poems 1973-1993, 1993
Harbour Publishing
Copyright 1993 Tom Wayman.
All rights reserved.