by Hilary Czaplicki
One of my favorite poems to use near the start of National Poetry Month is “Did I Miss Anything?” by Tom Wayman. As literature, the poem is a great study in voice, tone, and hyperbole. The visual structure of the poem makes it easier for students to understand the pendulum-like sarcasm of the teacher as he informs a student of what was missed during an absence. I often ask students to tell me what they notice and annotate the poem. Also, I insist that noticing everything is essential. In other words, they can’t assume that something is not important. This type of close reading builds great reading skills. Eventually, we find the tone, speaker, sarcasm, and message implied.
I usually ask students to consider the following three big questions as they read and annotate (I read once aloud, then they read to themselves and analyze):
1. What do you think the poem means? (or what’s at the heart of the poem?)
2. What makes you think that? (cite some specific ideas or reasons)
3. How does the author point you to your conclusions about the poem? (I ask students to use the language of literature and point out specific terms, elements, and devices)
As a way of connecting with students through humor, the lesson of the poem works as the concluding lines imply that something was missed (because of the absence), and that something can never be “made-up.” This is not my way of shaming students into better attendance. It is a way to send a clever and subtle message about the importance of being present, not only physically, but mentally and emotionally as well, a message that becomes an important intangible rule in the learning process. The poem then goes on to serve as a running joke for the rest of the year, whenever someone asks “Did I miss anything?"
Hilary Czaplicki is an English teacher and supervisor in Bucks County, PA. Follow him on Twitter @CzapHil.