Ten years ago today I awoke in Arizona to the news that the towers had been hit. I stayed in my house watching TV, a mere 6 blocks from school, until the last possible minute. When I arrived at school the bus drivers were desperate to know any information I had as they had been collecting students all morning and didn’t have any news. I shared what I knew. It wasn’t much.
When I came in the door we were asked not to talk to the kids about it. I paid as much attention to that directive as I did most directives. Walking to my room I was trying to figure out how to rig up an antenna on my school TV that had no cable access. Another teacher loaned me a wire hanger. With a shut door and fuzzy reception, my new class of 7th graders and I tried to piece together what was happening. The internet had information, but it was 2001, not exactly the type of access we have today. After 5 classes of 7th grade geography, I went home. I called my family while glued to the TV for the rest of the evening.
That was the last day that I watched any footage of the towers falling. I listened to the radio from there on. To this day I do not ever need to see the footage of the towers falling. The image is forever saved in my memory, seeing it again and again is not going to do any good. I share that with my students when they ask why we don’t watch footage on the anniversary. There are few things I can’t rally for in the classroom, put on repeat and watch over and over with each subsequent class. The 9/11 footage is in that unique category. I just can’t do it.
My life has changed dramatically since 9/11/01 – I moved from rural Arizona to Center City, Philadelphia – I was a 7th grade teacher and now am teaching 11th/12th grade – the man I was living with at the time moved on as did I – my siblings went from having 1 child to 7 – my parents went from working to retirement. I still have the same car, 2 days old on 9/11. It might be the only outwardly similar piece of my life then to my life now.
My day was not that interesting. But like so many days, I shared it learning with the students in my charge. The lesson on 9/11/01 was a tough one. They were simultaneously curious and scared and so was I. I worried about them as they walked out the door at 2:20pm, many of them to empty houses to watch the footage on repeat. By themselves. We processed much of the information over the next few days. I shifted our focus on Africa to hone in on the history of Afghanistan, trying to build background. When their parents sat in their seats two nights later for Open House, there wasn’t one question about the syllabus. They wanted a lesson. On Afghanistan. On the news. On the world. It was the most unique open house night of my career, when being a parent at open house meant getting informed about the content and not just about the late work policy.
I wonder what should be a ‘good’ lesson on 9/11 for classes. Telling the stories, seeing the pictures, hearing the reports – is this it? Do we just teach it like anything else? It feels so much more personal, relevant, big. I’m not sure what is the right answer, but tomorrow I will once again ask students what they remember of the day, what they think about the nation today and where we will head in the future.
We will speak of courage and loss and grief, but also of hope and resiliency and tenacity. We will remember.