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Spring Thaw May 5, 2011

Posted by Matt Miller in Fulbright, Korea, Undergraduate.
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Somber. Mellow. Complacent. Quiet. Reserved. Sober. Expectant. Scholarly. The attitude that pervaded the student body here at Neungin Middle School in Daegu, Korea in the first days of the new school year was different from the fiery and energetic one that I had seen in the fall. To be sure, some students brought that familiar energy with them to school, but the norm in the new school year was more subdued.

Middle school students

Students at Neungin Middle School return for the new school year.

The first grade middle school students, newly matriculated from their elementary schools were a bit scared and adrift in this big new sea. The second graders quietly realized their niche in the middle. And the third graders, the newly minted elders of the student body, conducted themselves with unexpected dignity and grace.

This would not last.

As spring broke, so too did the dam holding back the natural excitement of twelve-hundred teenage boys. In the second week of school, on a crystal clear early spring morning, I had my first period with class 2-7. I slid open the heavy wooden door of their homeroom. After a brief pause in the between-classes excitement, bedlam descended. A few students joined their fellows who were already standing on desks and chairs. Some changed their Korean language yelling to English pleasantries: “Good morning gentleman!” “Nice to meet you!” Others hit their climbing and shouting classmates, attempting to quell the chaos so that they all could see what I had in store for them that day. One student made his way out of the tumult and gave me a hug.

It is often a great challenge to teach such enthusiastic students. But like the energy of the brilliant sun, the drive of these students can be captured and used to power our lessons. (Not to mention that hallway metal cup soccer, umbrella and shuttlecock baseball, and English word association screaming are really funny to behold.) The boys want to go, to move, to see, to do, to learn. They are often almost frantic with anticipation and excitement. When my lessons work, it’s like a baseball bat connecting with a hundred mile an hour fastball and driving it four-hundred feet to left-center for a home run.

School has changed a bit in the new school year. I have a new desk in the main teacher’s office. My schedule suffers from fewer last minute changes. But the timeless, boundless energy of these students is still here.

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