Did I Miss Anything Important (in class) Today?

We’ve all had that question… A student is absent from class and comes up to you to ask, “Did I miss anything?” or “Did you do anything important in class today?” The following poem by Tom Wayman illustrates the various thoughts that have come to mind as I struggle to politely respond…

Question frequently asked by students after missing a class

Possible Answers:
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 per cent

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 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 gathered but it was one place.

And you weren’t here…

*Taken from “Difficult students” by Tom Wayman

Here’s a professor’s perspective on this question:
This question is an example of student-teacher miscommunication. Professors get annoyed by these questions because for many of us, most, if not all of our classes are important.

Why do we spend time preparing lectures? The answer to the question can almost always be found in the syllabus. So you should know that the reason this question bothers us is because we believe that a student should already know what happened in class.

It seems like the student expects the professor to give a blow-by-blow description of everything that happened for the entire class session.

My problem with asking me this question is that most students will either wait until just before class starts to talk to me, or they send me an e-mail wanting me to detail the day’s events.

Bottom line: it seems pretty clear that they don’t want the long answer because it is obvious that 5 minutes before class starts or responding to an e-mail does not provide enough time to answer the question.

Here’s how I interpret that question: “I didn’t care enough about your course to show up yesterday, but I’m sure that in the next few seconds or even in this e-mail you can teach me everything that I would have learned if I decided to show up for your 50-minute class-the class that you spent hours preparing.” Sounds crazy, I know, but I want to be honest and tell you that this is how I “hear”/interpret that question for sure!

What almost seems to be a pattern is this: the student that asks the question is often times the student that demonstrates other “disrespectful classroom behaviors” (i.e., talking during lecture, leaving early, chronic skipping, using the computer to surf the net, sleeping, reading the paper, etc)

So, should you just avoid asking your professor what happens when you’ve miss class? No, but think about how you ask the question first. That’s all I am saying.

Here’s how you should handle a missed class:
1) Figure out what information you already have. Read the syllabus (especially my syllabus. It is 24-pages long! Obviously I tell students everything they need to know in those 24 pages)

2) Read the textbook chapter that was assigned that day.

3) If you know that your professor gives a lot of notes, make arrangements to get the notes from another student in the class (I not only mention this in my syllabus, but go over this policy several times during the first week of classes).

4) Then, ask your instructor what you missed in a way that indicates that you’ve already done everything that you can do on your own. For example: “Dr. Frisby, I had to miss class on Friday. I read the chapter on media planning and I’m getting the notes from Katie. Did we go over anything else that I should know about?”

Now, I can’t speak for all of my colleagues, teachers, and professors, but I know that will stop me from interpreting the “did I miss anything important” question in the wrong way. When you state it to me in this way, it shows me that you are a serious, dedicated student.

Perhaps you did not intend to miss class. Perhaps something serious came up. Nonetheless, asking the question in this way is a much more positive way to solve the problem of missing work.

Just never, ever ask a professor if you missed “anything important.” Remember, what you are really saying is that “this class really doesn’t matter to me at all. But, I was wondering, was Friday an exception?”

I can say this (and my students will attest to it), Everything I teach is important to me; that’s why I teach. I spend hours working on power point presentations, finding great examples, multi-media uses, etc to make each and every class interesting and IMPORTANT.

About the Author

Cynthia Frisby, Ph.D, is the Associate Professor of Advertising at the University of Missouri at Columbia.

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