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Spitting the Dummy in China - My Tantrum with my Students
originally posted December 11, 2010

I try to keep this site upbeat and positive, and to make teaching in China sound like one fun class after another.  But of course there are ups and downs.  Last Wednesday I "spat the dummy" at my 1:30 Oral English Class.  I threw a temper tantrum, announced that I hadn't come fifteen thousand miles to waste my time trying to get students who are not interested in making any progress to participate in the class and that I was going to go back to Canada. That's it.  下课 (xi k get out of class; finish class)  Class over. A mere thirty minutes into the first period I stomped out of the classroom.  In short, I handled a moment of frustration very badly.

     To "spit the dummy" is Australian idiom I learned last year when I was asking about tickets to the Nigel Kennedy violin concert in Melbourne. "He spat the dummy the last time he was here, you know." the man in the tourist information center told me.  I had to ask our host what he meant, and it seems that the thing Canadians call a soother, they call a dummy.  To spit the dummy is to act like a baby and spit out your soother in a fit of temper.  What a wonderful image, and, sadly, what a great description of what I did.

Picture:  What the Australians call a dummy, we call a soother.

     Why did it happen?  I'm still not sure.  Of course I have no intention of quitting, or of going back to Canada just yet.  I'll have to apologize and try to repair the relationship with my students.  According to what I've heard, they thought the class was like every other class they've had, and didn't understand why I got so angry.  Exactly.  That class was like every other class we've had - always very frustrating. On Wednesday I just wasn't in the emotional shape to handle it any longer.
     What is it with that class?  They should be like all the other classes.  But their body language suggests that their dog just died, and any request for participation is met by bowed heads and a general refusal to make eye contact.  I can't figure out why the classes can be so different. 
     One thing I know is that it is my failure.  I have not engaged those students.  Maybe something I said in an earlier class has been taken the wrong way, or turned them off.  Maybe they just don't like me.  I may think I'm a likeable guy, but that is a real possibility.  I need a new approach.  I'm going to come up with something by this coming Wednesday.
     After throwing my temper tantrum, I could really feel the tension in my neck and shoulders and the bad adrenalin roaring through my head. I went home to a comforting hug from Ruth, then spent a hard ten minutes on the exercise machine, sweating out the toxins, followed by a shower.  My next class, the 3:25 Oral English class, was just wonderful.  Students were participating, having fun, making speeches, volunteering when asked, cracking jokes and laughing at and with each other.  I got a round of applause when the class ended, which is not unusual with that group of students.  What a contrast to the 1:30 class.

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