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`UM, DID I MISS ANYTHING IMPORTANT?’ IS PROFESSORS’ LEAST FAVORITE QUESTION

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Three conversations make the point. Two are conversations that I overheard this past year between college professors and individual students. My eavesdropping on the two conversations should have prepared me for a later conversation I had with a student. The overheard conversations were troubling enough, but I wasn't sharp enough to let them prepare me for my similar conversation.

The first conversation occurred at BYU. I was waiting for a colleague outside his door while he spoke with a student. I simultaneously tried to hear and not listen, but what I heard was so familiar that I ultimately listened because I wanted to know how a colleague on another campus solved a familiar problem."I'm sorry I haven't been to class the past few weeks. I got a new job and need the money."

"I noticed that you were gone and am worried about how you will do on the final exam since most of it comes from class discussions. There is also a term paper due, which I won't accept late."

"Can you tell me what I missed in class besides the paper?"

Of course there is no way a professor, no matter how sympathetic, can tell a student what was missed in the last two or three class sessions. The professor can't be expected to even try and re-create the dynamic class meetings, even though it may be that without a job this student may not be able to attend any classes. It was, after all, the student who decided, for whatever reason, that something was more important than the class.

I overheard a similar conversation at Snow College. I didn't feel quite so guilty listening to this exchange because the conversation took place in the hall. I knew both the student and the colleague quite well.

"I hope you saved me a place in your Western Lit class."

"I haven't dropped you yet but I noticed you missed the first two classes."

"I couldn't get here until this week because my plane didn't get in until Monday."

"But the class started last Wednesday."

"I know, but my plane didn't get in until today."

"What I'm trying to tell you is that the class started last week."

"Did I miss anything im-por-tant?"

It was the fact that this conversation took place in a public area that prevented a homicide. The subtext is that the student made a choice to come to school late, and the professor was trying to explain that this was a student problem and not a teach-er problem.

The conversation I had was with a student who came by my office to tell me that he had a hard time getting up early in the morning and was sorry he missed my 7:30 a.m. class. He asked if he could come to my afternoon class on the days he couldn't get up for the early class. When I asked him why he hadn't registered for the afternoon class in the first place, he told me that it conflicted with another class that he needed for graduation. I don't understand the reasons, but what I gathered is that the student planned to sleep through my morning class and then cut his afternoon class in order to make up for the class he slept through. Each day the student planned to decide which of two classes he would attend.

I was not kind. "You may not attend the afternoon class, and I will drop you from the morning class after your third absence."

It occurred to me after the student slammed my office door that it would be interesting to listen to a fourth conversation. I'd like to hear the conversation between this student and the teacher whose class he planned to cut to attend my afternoon class to make up for sleeping through my morning class. Perhaps this student could improve his performance in college slightly by at least sleeping in class instead of in bed each morning.

It also occurred to me that I wasn't sure what these three students expected of their teachers. What exactly can a college professor do for a student who misses class for any reason? It seems to me that an analogy may explain the situation. Suppose education were like groceries. Suppose I went to the grocery store and bought a cartful of necessities and they were bagged in three bags. Would I be inclined to reason that I only have two arms and so I will not take the one bag with me. "I know I paid good money for this highly subsidized bag of necessary educational groceries, but three bags is just too much to carry, so I'll leave one in the store even though no one else will claim it and the contents will probably rot."

It seems that the most important first commitment a student should make is to attend the tax-subsidized class for which he registered and paid some tuition. Further, students can do themselves a favor if they recognize the difference between presence and attendance. Attending means listening, taking notes, participating, preparing and passing. Above all it means never asking "Did I miss anything important?"