My worst lesson so far; not-so-perfect perfect tenses.

Disclaimer: This is a boring rant about a grammar disaster, I wouldn’t be offended if no one read it!

I pride myself on keeping up the appearance of a teacher who knows what she’s doing, whilst quietly panicking on the inside. I like to think of it more as acting than teaching. This has been working pretty well for me until tonight.

I have two classes of quite high level, older teenagers. With one of the classes I am teaching them the Present Perfect tense, so things like ‘I have been to france’ or ‘She has drunk beer’. It’s different to the normal Past Simple tense, where you’d just say ‘I went to France’ or ‘She drank beer’. There are various reasons it’s different and intricate rules for when you use it, but I won’t bore you with that (I’ve done enough of boring my classes with it)

It’s my least favourite tense, yes, that’s right I have a least favourite tense. Saddo I know. It’s a stupid tense and confusing because it’s called ‘present’ but it’s about things in the past. There are other stupid rules that go with it too. Vietnamese people find it really hard because no such tense exists in their language.

With the other class, the one I had tonight, I am teaching them Past Perfect Continuous (I had been going to France or She had been drinking her beer) which is different to normal Past Continuous (I was going to France or She was drinking beer). The vast majority of English speakers won’t even know what these tenses are, hands up if you knew? I didn’t until I became an English Language teacher. So, I know the difference instinctively but had to explain to a class of clever teenagers why they are different and when to use one and not the other. Usually when you explain complicated tenses you draw timelines like these crazily exciting things:

But, I got so confused with what I’d been teaching the other class and then mixed up both these tenses and then for laughs also threw in some confusion with normal Past Continuous. I told them we were doing Present Perfect Continuous, wrote it on the board, then went on to talk about Past Perfect Continuous, drew the wrong timeline and it was a massive, confusing disaster. The end result was me essentially losing the plot.

The students are amazing at grammar, it’s all they learn at their normal schools. They can roll the forms off with ease. “Tell me the form of the present perfect” I’ll say, in unison they will reply “S + have + past participle/v3” Grammar is essentially like mathematical formulas, you have a subject, a verb and some words in between and voila, once you know these building blocks you can form sentences. They are the experts, much better than native speakers. So, they knew I was wrong. I’m usually good at thinking on the spot but I was a flustered mess.

I ended up having our midway break early, going to the staff room, having a mini break down and then returning, admitting I was wrong and retaught it, probably still quite badly. The second half of the lesson was much better, I made them write funny news stories and one group wrote about me having a pet tiger which improved my mood a lot.

But I’m still annoyed at myself and am now taking out my frustration by angrily hollowing out a coconut with a soup spoon.


2 thoughts on “My worst lesson so far; not-so-perfect perfect tenses.

  1. Don’t fret about it! You’re still doing a lot better than the majority of people would. And the best teachers are the ones that can admit they were wrong and then teach it right anyway 🙂

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