The lesson started innocently enough. They were my adult starter class and we had just learned the present perfect last week. This lesson was to reinforce it and to do that I invented a little “have you ever?” game.

have you ever Image Credit: BlendSpace

Students had to pick a card, put the verb in the right tense and ask other students the question. The questions were easy, lighthearted and fun: Have you ever won a competition? Have you ever skipped class?  Have you ever lost something really important?

It was this last question when the atmosphere in the class changed. You could cut it with a knife. “Yes, I have” the student said “my husband”.

“Oh no”, I thought, “the answer I wanted was ‘I have lost my keys’, or ‘I have lost my passport’. It’s a lighthearted game, please don’t”.

“What?” The other students in the group asked, they had obviously thought she meant she had lost her husband in the physical sense. She had misplaced him.

Here she reverted back to her native language, Spanish. All the class are Spanish and I’m fluent. So it really didn’t matter.

“Yes I have lost my husband. They came for him in the night. They kidnapped him then they shot him. Very bad people. I lost my husband that night”.

The hair on my arms stood on end and I could feel my eyes going (I cry at everything).

She continued explaining that this was back home in Colombia. That she had two young children at the time. That they came for him in the night because the family owed money. That this was the reason she moved to Spain. She concluded her monologue in English: “Colombia is very, very dangerous. Many bad people”, she then corrected herself “lots of bad people”.

As a teacher, where do you go from there?

I honestly didn’t know what to do. my lighthearted, fun activity now seemed so frivolous. Can you really just go on to the next card after that revelation? The entire class atmosphere changed.

I looked at the student and I said “I’m sorry”. It’s one of those pointless things you say when you can’t say anything at all. There are no words. I couldn’t think of anything else to say.

“Shall we move on to the next question?” I asked her. She said yes. I couldn’t decide if she was happy with this or not. The game finished with “have you ever been on TV?” and one of the students had, as an extra in a TV show.  This lightened the mood a bit, but the atmosphere never really returned to normal.

I’m pleased she felt comfortable enough to share this secret with the class, but part of me feels that it was inappropriate on her behalf to unburden it on the other students. Just what do you say to that? I don’t know. I don’t know how I feel. Just awkward. The other students felt awkward.

I keep replaying it in my mind. Did I do the right thing by moving onto the next question or should I have asked her more information about her husband? I just don’t know.

So I ask you, what would you have done in this situation?