One of the wonderful things about teaching is that you get to expand and develop ideas that you barely fleshed out the year before . . . unlike real life, you get as many chances as you need to get it right; several years ago I extemporaneously introduced this important life rule to my class, but then I forgot about it until last Tuesday, when a number of students who were absent before the holiday weekend came into class and did the typical -- just before class, one at a time, they approached my desk, and asked me "What did I miss?" and once I explained to one student, then another materialized and asked the same question, and this reminded me of my rule, and so I delivered a monologue that I will approximate here:
"I'm going to introduce you to a rule that does not just apply to my class, or education in general; this is a rule that you need to learn if you want to participate in our American educational system, and it is also a rule that you need to learn if you want to participate in our American economy . . . if you wish to move to the woods and live like Thoreau then you don't need to listen this, but everyone else, please pay attention . . . if you are ever absent -- from school, from work, from a team meeting, from a committee -- from any event, and you need to find out what happened at this event from your superior, then when you ask, you must provide some piece of information about what you missed, you need to ascertain some piece of information about what you missed, and include this when you ask your superior what to do about your absence -- and this is to show you care about what you missed, and so you will approach me and say, "I was absent on Friday but I know we had to read an essay and write a page about the theme, and I was wondering if there's anything else I need to make-up?" and if you don't approach me like this, with some piece of information about what happened in class when you were away, then your failure will be epic and monumental, because there has been no generation in the history of mankind that has been more connected technologically then your generation, no generation where information has been more accessible, whether through Facebook or texting or e-mail, and so your neglect in having any idea of what went on in class is both insulting and irresponsible . . . I realize that in past times, when you needed to beat a drum or send smoke signals, in order to communicate that the plague is coming, or some other horror, that it was much more difficult to share information -- but now you have the wherewithal to at least pretend that you care, it's easy to fake it, and I fake it all the time -- I'm a coach, so I get to miss all kinds of meetings, which is one of the things I love about coaching: I get paid to miss meetings and be outside and run soccer drills, but when I meet with my superiors, I pretend that I am interested in what I missed . . . I say, "I know I missed the diabetes presentation, and what can I do to make this up?" even though I don't care about diabetes, because that's what you do in order to pretend to show that you care," and I know my monologue hit home, because the next day, when a girl who was absent for the monologue asked me what she missed in class, the students erupted in a chorus of "Don't say that!" and then they quickly filled her in on the life-lesson from the day before.