A fantastic professor at Carleton University passed along this response by Tom Wayman, a poet and professor who teaches creative writing and contemporary literature at the University of Calgary.
Though Wayman’s poetic response to this question was first published in 1994, I’m sure many teachers would still find it interesting.
DID I MISS ANYTHING?
By Tom Wayman
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 per cent 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 descended and an angel
or other heavenly being appeared
and revealed to us what each woman or man must do
to attain divine wisdom in this life and
This is the last time the class will meet
before we disperse to bring this good news to all people
Nothing. When you are not present
how could something significant occur?
Everything. Contained in this classroom
is a microcosm of human existence
assembled for you to query and examine and ponder
This is not the only place such an opportunity has been
but it was one place
And you weren’t here
Why did Wayman write this poem? The University of Toronto Libraries has this great FAQ.