September 3, 2014

Did I Miss Anything?

For the past few years, I have used Tom Wayman's poem “Did I Miss Anything?” with students as part of my start to a new semester. It doesn't matter what grade level you teach, the question from the student who missed your class - "Did I miss anything?" -is a painful one. It is not the same as asking "What did I miss?"  It suggests that there is a good possibility that you missed nothing at all.

Tom's poem offers 6 responses.

Did I Miss Anything?

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

The poem is from his Did I Miss Anything?: Selected Poems 1973-1993 (1993, Harbour Publishing)

The poem is also part of Billy Collins' Poetry 180 project with the Library of Congress. A 180-degree turn implies a turning back—in this case, to poetry. For many American teachers, 180 also suggests the 180 day school year and the poem Collins selected for the site and two anthologies are excellent poems to use in the classroom.


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