DEAR MISS MANNERS: In my work as a college professor, it is a joy to see the students learn and grow, and I love having a small part in their stories. But there are two related queries to which I have yet to identify a gracious response. Both come, whether via email or face-to-face, from students who have missed class for any of a wide variety of reasons.
Question 1: ”What did I miss?” I’m uncertain how to politely explain that I’m not able to offer a condensed version of the class to the student.
Question 2: ”Did I miss anything important?” Almost anything I can think of to say sounds either sarcastic or as if I were hurt, and neither is what I would want to convey, for the inquirer generally means well.
GENTLE READER: The words of your answer will be straightforward if we can first agree on delivery. The tone you are looking for is “professorial,” itself a variation on “serious.”
As a nation of people hoping to someday be on a television comedy series, we have forgotten that not all responses can, or should, be sarcastic (or what passes for witty banter). Miss Manners herself has, on occasion, shockingly been known to lighten a difficult situation with humor.
For those needing a refresher, serious statements are direct and unequivocal, said without the wry smile, the look away or a roll of the eyes. Neutral, in other words:
“We covered the causes of the Spanish Civil War, which are in chapters five through eight in the textbook.” This is the pattern for answers to both questions, as you will want to leave any determination of the importance of the lecture as an exercise for the student.