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11 April 2008

Poets tell us about nothing, and about everything

Sheridansimon_2 The teacher who is indeed wise does not bid you to enter the house of his wisdom but rather leads you to the threshold of your mind. -Kahlil Gibran

Sheridan Simon, one of my favorite professors of all time--and he would have been your favorite too, had you been lucky enough to meet him--once told me, as we sat eating pizza at Huck's across from the Guilford campus, the things he most hated to hear students say. Sheridan was my physics professor.

Right at the top of the list were: "Did I miss anything?" from students when they returned after skipping class, and "Is this going to be on the test?", his favorite, especially when heard after giving a fantastic lecture, excited to see a hand go up to ask a question, and having "Is this going to be on the test?" be the question asked, his mistaking self-preservation for enthusiasm and intellectual curiosity.

My thanks to Patricia for pointing me to this poem. As a teacher herself, she says, it is one of her favorites. I'm sure Sheridan would agree. And, as you'll see, the message extends far beyond the classroom...

Did I Miss Anything
Nothing.  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 am 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 suddenly 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 his life and
            the hereafter
            This is the last time the class will meet
            before we disperse to bring the good news to all people
                on earth

Nothing.  When you are not present
how could something significant occur?

           Everything. Contained in this classroom
            is a microcosm of human experience
           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

-Tom Wayman

Dear brilliant, funny, wise Sheridan died 14 years ago today, only 46 years old when he left us. In his memory, call up a teacher today who meant the world to you, and tell them they meant everything.


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how in Jesus' name did i get older than sheridan ever was?

That poem is really great.

Awesome thought provoking words! Even nearing 49 I am guilty of saying that from time to time. That put a snap in my shorts...

Thanks for reminding me of this poem, on the eve of our spring break. 30% of my kids were here today, for a glorious discussion of the death penalty with our local DA, County and City Judges. Instead --our kids were "home the tanning salon..or just "chillin" before their incredibly stressful week with the Family on the beaches of the Carolinas..
Thanks for the poem, and for the great story about Sheridan. As teachers we never get to stand back and say "ooh look what I did!? We live our lives in the interstial fluid of the universe..
Cheers from the trenches!


I am loving all the poetry you are gathering...perhaps a new book in the making? I hope?

howard - i know, i know. it's damned hard to imagine, isn't it? so unfair to him, to die so very young.

woodscolt - so glad you liked it!

chris - sometimes we all need a snap in our shorts, don't we? ;-)

Ann - my thanks to you and every teacher who lives in those trenches. you are influencing children in ways you can hardly imagine...

Nancy - so glad you're enjoying it! As with the last poemapalooza, I'll gather them all in a PDF at the end of the month...not quite a new book, but I hope you'll enjoy it nonetheless!

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