Sunday, September 11, 2011

On September 11, 2001...

...I was a 3rd grade teacher at our local elementary school. Ren was a first-grader at this same school. The day began like all other Tuesdays. Undoubtedly, I was late for work. I have always been late for work. As students began to arrive they put away their personal items, turned work in to the appropriate baskets, and got started on the first assignment of the day. This assignment, you can call it morning work or a bell ringer, is an important component of classroom management and I always tried to have one ready to go. It was 7:35 a.m.

After a few minutes of housekeeping procedures - taking roll, accepting excuses for recent absences, taking up daily folders, and making sure those who failed to turn in their weekly work folder the day before returned it this morning - it was time to officially begin our day. By this point, the first plane, American Airlines Flight 11, had already hit the North Tower (1 WTC), and events were in motion which would forever change our country. But for my group of 8-year-olds, it was time to begin math.

My classroom at the time was just a few steps from the office and I was there turning in my absentee when I first heard the news of the situation in New York. Our bookkeeper had a small television in her office and I remember thinking, during the very brief moment I stood watching it, What a terrible accident! How could you not keep from hitting a building as big as that? I bet the pilot had a heart-attack. For some reason, I walked to the door of a fellow third-grade teacher’s room and told her what had happened.

It was just after 8 and I found myself back in the office. For what, I don’t remember. We had not yet begun math. Something had delayed us. This may have been the reason I was back in the office but, again, I’m not sure why. I do remember walking in just as the second plane, United Airlines Flight 175, crashed into the South Tower (2 WTC).

Knowing something of greater significance than an accident was unfolding, I returned to my class and positioned the t.v. that was mounted in the corner of my room at an angle that was viewable from a certain spot. I went to the front of the class and began math. As trivial as it may seem, I wish I could remember what math skill we worked on that morning.

Once the skill had been taught and the assignment made, it was time to circulate and check for understanding. It was during this time, while walking by the t.v., I saw the news reporting on the attack (yes, it was obvious by now we were under an attack) on the Pentagon using American Airlines Flight 77 as the weapon. Among those aboard this flight were teachers from D.C. area schools accompanying some of their students on the field trip of a lifetime sponsored by the National Geographic Society. Teachers just like me. Students just like mine.

At this point, students, too, understood something big was happening. Usually, the only time the t.v. was ever on in the classroom was when an educational video was being shown for science or social studies or we were having a movie as some type of reward, but never in the morning and never as part of math. Some asked why I had it on and I remember saying that, although I could not be certain, it seemed “some very mean people have taken over some planes and crashed them into a few of our country’s important buildings”. They asked to watch, too, and I obliged. I was a teacher, after all, and this was history unfolding.

There was no fear (had there been, I would certainly not have allowed them to continue watching). My students were rural Tennesseans born and raised. The acts being described on t.v. could not have been more remote and foreign to them had they been happening in Phuket, Thailand. In fact, only minutes after I swiveled the television around so that they could watch, the South Tower began to collapse. One student, a small blond-haired, blue-eyed boy said, “Cool”, as if he had just watched the deliberate implosion of an old Las Vegas hotel. I explained that this was not cool, that several thousand people worked in that building, and that many people were probably just hurt very badly. I also suggested that we should all say a little prayer in our hearts for everyone involved. This act would probably get me fired or, at the very least, reprimanded today. Moments later a fourth plane crash was being reported from the farmland of Pennsylvania.

After a short, impromtu Q & A session it was time to return the focus of my children to their regular routine. This was not hard to do, as our related arts period was coming up shortly and PE was our class for the day.

I don’t remember much else from that school day. I can’t remember the next time I saw Ren, though I do remember feeling ever so fortunate that my little girl was safe and sound and close at hand in a classroom just “up the hill” from my room.

Two things I clearly remember is being transfixed to my television that afternoon (and for many afternoons to come) feeling almost hopeless, with a great need to do something, anything to fill that awful hole and also how the fear of the unknown was palpable, even in our small town. People were lining up at the gas stations filling their vehicles and stocking up on supplies at the grocery store. That evening, John and I, along with Ren, attended a short special called service of prayer and song at a nearby church. This was a much needed start to lifting our worries.

We changed as a country that day. I wasn’t alive when Kennedy was shot, but I understand how my father still remembers, almost half a century later, where he was the moment the news of his president’s assassination came.

Ren is now a junior in high school, my students from class that year graduated this past spring, my little boy (who wasn’t even a blip on the radar screen at the time) is now in first grade just like his sister was ten years ago, and I still remember where I was the moment that change came. I'm sure I always will.

As I live in Tennessee, times listed are in Central Standard.

1 comment:

Farmchick said...

I was teaching a special needs class at the time. Another teacher and I turned a class tv around so we could see the events unfolding. Almost seemed like it couldn't be real.