What I was doing on 9/11/2001…

Remembering 9/11/01This day is an emotional rollercoaster for so many. My heart go out to the families and loved ones effected by the traumatic events of this day 10 years ago.

You know, as a student going to school to become a teacher, we never dreamed we would ever have to face something like what happened 9/11 with our students.  While I was in school, the Columbine inncident occurred and the 7-8 college students that sat in my Senior Seminar just couldn’t grasp how in the world we would discuss or try to keep unbiased opinions on that event. We also still wished to remain true to our students and allow them the freedom to grieve, be angry, and have the ability to share those feelings in meaningful, and non-hurtful, ways.

Imagine what I was thinking on this day as I walked into the school office where I had just begun my first full year as a high school special education teacher. I had known the staff there for quite awhile, as I had subbed in that same position for the last quarter of the previous school year.  I arrived extra early most days so I could pull my crap together before the students got there. It was amazing how high my anxiety was in standing in front of students, even then. The principal, and several secretaries were looking at the tv in the office, which was on. This was not a normal occurrence.

All I saw was a building, a tall one at that, with smoke coming out of it. Several of the ladies were crying. I asked, “What is going on?”  The news had only stated that a plane had crashed.  We actually saw human beings jumping from that burning building and that was when the horror struck me. While we stood there, we saw the second plane hit the other building. That is when it all hit us that the first plane was NOT a random incident.  What we didn’t know, as the school bells began to ring and I knew I needed to head to class, was why these events occurred.

We all had t.v.’s in our classrooms, and we all watched as these events unfolded throughout the day. My students, on Mondays, were to watch the news and then write a short paragraph summarizing a particular story that was spoken about, that mattered to them. It was heart wrenching. Many of the students had family over there. In fact I specifically remember a young girl whose Uncle was one of the firefighters who did not make it out of building one.

What I didn’t expect, or really know how to handle, was all the anger. The hatred, bred from mistrust, lack of knowledge, and so on…. well. That anger was directed/misdirected at whomever they/we could hold accountable for such actions, and for who didn’t do their jobs. How do you let your kids know that it was okay to feel anger, and how to work through it? So many didn’t have positive role models or parents at home that could help them work through this, or wouldn’t even take the time to do so.

Actually, the anger,  became so harsh that I chose to turn off the tv. My focus was to teach these high school students who 1) could only read at the 5th grade level or lower 2) hated to write 3) trusted very few teachers, that they had a voice and were able to learn despite their limitations. I encouraged them to come and speak to me, after school, if they wished and we could talk about how they were feeling. Otherwise, I chose to focus on whatever positives we could throughout the day.  My students, who had varying disabilities, already had it super tough each day.  I did not wish to compound it.  The most important issue was actually that the news didn’t have all the answers yet. It was too new, too raw, and speculation abounded. I chose to let the news hash it out, and let the students express in writing how they felt.

I never expected to see the amazing feelings that poured out that day. Nor did I expect the many students who stayed after school to talk about how they were feeling about these events. Their writings were some of the most powerful these kids had ever done. They felt powerful emotions, so therefore what they had to say mattered to them, and to each other. It brought many (not all) of the students together and they realized they had struggled with some of the same issues and they were not alone in the world.  Perhaps that was the lesson I needed to learn?  That we all need to learn?

I have no say as to how extremists come to the conclusions that they do which lead them to act out and hurt others. I can’t even imagine having hate so strong that I would ever hurt another human being. But perhaps 9/11 brought many of us closer. Taught us to reach out, and help our fellow humans around us.

This event illustrated something to me: I would never be able to encourage my students to write as well as they did that day, not without the force of opinion that it generated within them.  It taught me that what they had to be able to write about what really mattered to them, or they may very well choose not to write at all.   September 11, 2001 changed the way I taught and interacted with my students, for the better.

Ten years later: I no longer teach, but I practice how I taught  when I interact with others. People are not truly tied to, or committed, to helping themselves or others unless they feel passionate about it. I can only hope that in memory of that fateful day, that we continue to help those around us and live life to the fullest. For those that lost their lives, for those that sacrificed their lives, and for those that continue to protect us today.

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