9/11 Through the Eyes of Educators

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By David McGuire

Tragedy teaches us that in unity there is strength. Tragedy has a way of making people forget about their differences in the pursuit of a common goal. It was Martin Luther King that said, “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.” Through tragedy we often see the very best in people. 

There are events, especially tragedies, that have a way of leaving a lasting impact on the people’s lives. It is something about tragedies that sticks in your mind and you never forget where you were or what you were doing that day. There is a generation of people who can explain where they were when they heard the news that President Kennedy or Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated. There is another generation who can tell you where they were when they heard the Challenger spacecraft exploded. Then, there is my generation and for us September 11, 2001 is our Kennedy assassination, our King assassination, our Challenger explosion. The events of September 11, 2001 is something we will never forget. 

On the 16th anniversary of September 11, 2001, this blog will share this day through the eyes of the educators who remember where they were and what they were doing.

What I remember... 

I remember that day pretty well. I was in 8th grade at New Augusta North. We were still in our homeroom class and we had a TV in the room. The TV this time was turned to the news and we could see smoke on the screen and a building was on fire. At this time, I had no idea what the Twin Towers were and I had never been to New York City. I just remember my teacher in tears; he turned it off and he explained to us what had happened. I remember in my own 8th grade brain I couldn’t wrap my mind around this tragedy. This was one of the tragedies that didn’t fully impact me until I understood what happened. I then remember going home that day because all after school activities were cancelled and every single channel had coverage of the attacks. It was on the local news channels and sports channels; it was even on the cartoon channels.  Even though then I did not realize it’s historical significance at the time, it was still a day that stuck with me. 

Claudia White, 7th grade teacher in MSD of Wayne Township, Indianapolis, IN

Hearing a teacher screaming and crying in the hallway near the end of the school day was my first experience learning about 9/11. I was in the fourth grade and it was almost time for dismissal. When we were dismissed, I remember a couple teachers being on their phones pacing back and forth in the hallway. I believe they were checking on their loved ones. I still did not know for sure exactly what was going on. I don't believe my teacher told us that an attack had taken place, and being an educator now, I think I understand why. It was not until I walked into the house and saw the planes flying into the buildings on the television that I realized something terrible took place. My mom explained to me what was going on and I honestly don't think I realized the severity until a few years later.

Marcus Bates, high school teacher Detroit, MI

I was in 11th grade the day of the September 11th attacks. The strange thing about that day is I did not go to school because I was home sick. What I can remember is waking up and turning on the TV and the only thing I saw was smoke, fire, and people crying. Every channel I turned to that day was filled with the news. I then remember watching the footage of the plane crashing into the building. I was in my kitchen making breakfast when I saw on TV the first tower just collapse. It was almost 10 a.m. and at that moment I knew this was something serious. I remember going to school the next day and it was all everyone was talking about. Teachers were sharing stories about visiting New York and seeing the towers. I remember learning this was not the first tower attack. Now, as a high school teacher, when Sept. 11 comes back around I always try to share with my students where I was and what I was doing. It amazes me because now I am beginning to get classes that were not even born yet. 

Ronnie Beathea, high school teacher Indianapolis Public Schools, Indianapolis, IN

On the Tuesday morning of September 11, 2001, I was taking a test in language arts when the Principal announced over the PA, "I need all classes to calmly evacuate the building." At that time, my classmates, our teachers and I didn't understand why, but we began to move to our parent building across the street. When we stepped outside airplanes and helicopters were flying like crazy in the air. Sirens were going off. I was scared. My classmates and I ran to our parent building as our teachers yelled, "Keep your heads low!" My school was located ten minutes from downtown Chicago, which was threatened to be the next hit. The country was in a panic to provide enough protection for the largest building The Sears Tower or Willis Tower. Once all students were centrally located, parent phone calls were made and we watched the news literally in tears until our parents came to pick us up.

Shawnta Barnes, high school English/Language Arts coach and teacher, Indianapolis Public Schools, Indianapolis, IN

When 9/11 took place, I had recently turned 18 and was a freshman majoring in Elementary education at Purdue University in West, Lafayette, IN.  Although, I had only been in college for a little over a month, I had earned the nickname, “Mom” because as my dorm mates put it, I had parent-like concern about their choices.  In hopes of shaking this name, I reluctantly attended an event the night of Monday, September 10, 2010 and we didn't get back until early the next day. This led to me sleeping through my first class. When I finally woke up, I remember how my all-female dorm was quiet absent of the country music that was typically blaring. I raced to campus to arrive to my next class, minority leadership, on time.  In class, everyone was somber.  I finally asked a classmate what was going on and he told me about the attacks.  Our professor let us speak freely and discuss the events. Classes were canceled for the rest of the day. When I decided to walk back to my dorm, I remember what I was told during Boiler Gold Rush, a Purdue orientation program, “You are adults now. Welcome to the real world!” At the time, this event made me think I'm not ready for the real world if events like this would be taking place.

Brian Dickens, elementary teacher Dayton Public Schools, Dayton, OH

I was in my 1st period advanced world literature class and we were discussing The Canterbury Tales. The teacher had just asked that we think of a theme. While we were in heavy discussions, the Principal had gotten on the intercom and asked for everyone's attention because something serious had shaken our nation. She announced there had been a hijacking and as a result two planes nosedived into the twin towers and a third plane was headed toward the Pentagon. She concluded the announcement by asking for a moment of silence and to return to teaching and learning. The teacher then dropped everything and she asked that we shift into a discussion of terrorism.

Chioma Oruh, Education Blogger, Washington DC

I spent the night at my best friend's apartment on the campus of George Washington University, which isn't far from the Pentagon. The night before was a going away party for me because I was scheduled to leave for my service with the Peace Corps on September 12, 2001. We woke up to frantic calls by our parents checking to see if we were safe, so we turned on the TV to watch the horrific scenes of the planes crashing. As soon as we also learned of the attack on the Pentagon, we quickly got in my car and headed to my family's home in Maryland. My tour in Peace Corps was postponed to October and I served for two years and three months.

Andrew Pillow, Middle School Teacher, KIPP Indy, Indianapolis, IN

I was still in middle school.  I remember that I came up from chorus class.  I had walked up the steps and people were noticeably quieter than usual.  I went to language arts and there was no work being passed out like usual.  My teacher was just standing at the front and talking to people.  She said, “Okay, let’s talk about it.”  It took a couple of people sharing before I realized what happened, but apparently everyone except the people who were in chorus already knew what happened.  I learned about the attack mid-way through a 30 minute discussion about the attack.

Now What?

It was in an elementary school where President Bush learned about the terror attack of Sept. 11. As the years pass and this day comes and goes, we often forget how that Tuesday morning, 16 years ago, changed everything in our country. As the educators above recalled that day, it is important educators talk about 9/11 in their schools with their students. There are many students who were not born when this event occurred, but there are just as many of us who weren't born during WWI and WWII and we still know about it. Sept. 11, 2001, as tragic as it was, saw the very best of this country unite as Americans.  Now more than ever, with the political landscape in our country, we must teach this history and these lessons must be taught and shared in our schools. 9/11 gives the opportunity for teachers to teach their students about citizenship. It teaches critical thinking skills and allows for discussion that engages students in subjects and allows them to create their own connections to this historic event.  I hope as we remember the lives lost during this tragedy, we also discuss the events of 9/11 in the classroom. 

We would love to hear your story about where you were that day.  Please comment below with your story.