Thursday, April 25, 2013

What Did We Do Yesterday? A Question I Hear too Often

Taking attendance today in my 5th period speech class,
I paused to count the number of absent students.

At 2:28 I marked 13 students absent with a / in my records,
An archaic slice on a green and white checked paper grade book form.
I use to track excused absences by transforming the / into a X.
I marked missing students with a . under the capital A in the computerized grade book.
Nine had been marked for me...

Two included the rational "SOFTBALL."
Two included the explanation "GOLF"
Two included the excuse "TRACK."
Three included the reason "TENNIS."
Two others offered the tag "MOM CALLED."

ALL CAPS punctuated the priority status of absence for play.

I wanted to add tags to the other two students' names:
Absent without leave to play a sport or hang with mom.
But the computer won't let me.

Appropriately, today's lesson was poem recitation.
A timid hand accompanied by a volunteer "I'll go next"
Broke the silence.

"Did I Miss Anything" by Tim Wyman

Nothing. When we realized you weren't here
we sat with our hands folded on our desks
in silence,....
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
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...
     And you weren't here

I pondered the poets words and the young woman's pulsing recitation
As she walked to her desk to the rhythmic applause of her peers.

Tomorrow, when students return from
running hurdles, catching flys, returning volleys, and teeing off,
I'll answer their question: "What did we do yesterday? Did I miss anything?" by saying,

"Indeed. You missed the pulse of poetry, the breath of iambs, and the essence of life.
You missed the meeting of ourselves and literature.
You missed poetry. And that's everything."

*I wrote this post after a frustrating day dealing with more than half the class being absent on an assigned speech day. I didn't want to harp about absences and twisted priorities in a traditional sense, so when a student chose to memorize "Did I Miss Anything," the choice begged the question: Why did you choose that poem? She responded, "Because I have a lot of absences, and it seemed to fit me." That made me smile, and I really enjoyed the student's recitation. I made a couple of changes this afternoon to include a sport I inadvertently omitted. (4-26-2013)


  1. I wish I could be there to hear your poetic response.

    1. Ha! No one asked! I think I managed to give them the plan before they trotted off to play. I did read this to the class, however, and added tennis when they mentioned the omission. After I read the post, one of the very smart students raised his hand and teased, "Did I miss anything yesterday"!