Last year, I realized that my second-year students did not completely master the present perfect. That same week, I dyed my hair red — which was completely unrelated at the time. When I saw myself in the mirror, I thought, “Gosh, it’s the first time in my life that my hair is red and I love it. I should have done that ages ago.” That’s when the idea popped into my mind: my hair had never been red before. Past perfect. There. I had to make them live something for the first time instead of teaching them grammar.
So I told my students that their assignment, instead of writing an extended essay on a given topic, was to do something they had never done before. I added that there were two rules. The first rule was that whatever they did had to be accounted for in front of the whole group. The second was that it could not be illegal. The exercise went pretty well.
This year, I’ve done it again, with the same rules and instructions. Two students donated blood. One ate Chinese food for the first time. One skydived. One sponsored a child in India. One went to London. Cut her own hair. About four came to school in their pyjamas. One remained silent for twenty-four hours. One avoided social networks for a week, and so on.
But what really struck me was the story that one of them told me. He said, “I had planned to give blood because I had never done it before, but then something happened to me and I think even though it’s not what I had decided to do in the first place, I should tell you about it because it really was the first time something like that happened to me.” I have to say the guy knows how to introduce a narration. He went on, “So I was home alone, watching a movie, when someone knocked at the door. It was a kid who needed help because he had run over his grandmother with her car. Apparently she had told him not to play with it, but he didn’t listen and when she saw him, she ran behind the car to stop him. That’s when she fell and because the garage alley was a slope, the car ran over the old lady before the kid could do anything. And she was stuck under the car. The kid had tried to find help in other houses, but I was the only one to be at home. So I went.”
“I was scared. The woman’s leg was stuck under a wheel and there was no other way to free her than lifting the car and pushing it forward. I don’t know how I managed to do it, but I grabbed the back bumper, lifted the car and helped the woman out. Then we were lucky because her husband had had a heart attack a few weeks before so the nurse came every day and so I had someone to help me with the old lady.”
But here’s the funny bit. He added, “When I came back home, I sat on the couch and I thought, ‘Oh man! Now the movie is over.’”
No one knew what to say.
At the end of the class, the student came up to me and said, “Look, I don’t want you to get me wrong. It was a small car and because the engine was at the front, all I really had to do was to lift it a bit and its weight did the rest. It wasn’t much, really.”
In my opinion, the kid is a goddam superhero — as real as they come.
This post was first published on my previous blog, Confessions of a Random Reader (now offline).