I’ve had to field this question countless times in my nearing-a-decade as a teacher. When students are absent, they’ll approach me some time later with almost resentful half-hearted interest (fulfilling a known duty as they are) and seek the quickest answer possible. What did you miss? Sadly, I meet them with due dull diligence, listing off the various things we covered and leaving it at that. This adds up to me effectively communicating, “you didn’t miss anything.”
But, of course, this isn’t true. Ideally, students miss a shared experience, never again (because it’s impossible) to be replicated. They miss joyful communion, present engagement, the spirit of dialogue, interconnectedness. And please don’t mistake all these terms – feeble attempts to capture authentic relationship – for their mediated forms as reductive, laughable, easy-to-dismiss stigmas. I mean this sincerely. If a class is full of care and guided by love, where everyone feels welcome and practices self-acceptance (in the sense that they accept whoever they might become as an ongoing creative process, which then translates into accepting similar dynamic fluidity in others), then what students miss can never be retrieved.
Because there’s nothing external or tangible towards which students are striving in an ideal learning environment, which isn’t to dismiss content or knowledge or anything like that, all learners must be present. The greatest stake we have is the reminder that we’re alive, that our time is limited, and that what we miss when we don’t show up to be fully present with people can never be realized.
So forget what you missed. Don’t miss what’s happening right now.