The first thing we saw was the gash in the side of the tower. In my mind, I was trying to count - how many floors? How many people working per floor? Oh, so early in the morning, maybe some people were not to work yet. How many could be in there?
And then my students started asking questions.
What about the people on the higher levels?
Are they going to get the people out of there?
Who do you think would do this?
Are we safe? Are we going to go to war? Will they draft us?Reality was setting in that this was an American tragedy happening right before our eyes, and there would be consequences. Those consequences, though, could not even be imagined at the time - we were too engrossed in the moments.
The second plane. I stood, tears streaming down my face, my hand over my mouth, trying to choke back the knot in my throat, trying to appear strong and confident in front of my students. But, what else could I do? We watched it hit the tower and every student in the room made sounds that only fear and anxiety could create. I will never forget that moment.
More students started coming into my room. They had questions. They were afraid. They wanted explanations. I tried, but I only teach history; I cannot explain something like this. There is no explanation.
Another student comes into the room, surrounded by friends.
"His parents are there. They are supposed to be visiting the Trade Center this morning. What can we do? He can't get ahold of his mom or dad."
Holding this broken young man, I direct others to collect phone numbers. We write the numbers of every family member on the board, and those of us with phones begin calling. No connections. Phone lines are crashing, just like the planes. We keep trying.
People are jumping from the buildings. The fires are burning and you can see people screaming from the towers, crying for help.
Word of other planes, an attack at the Pentagon...
Finally, one student reaches my young man's aunt and she has received a call from his parents. They woke up late and had not made it to the Trade Center when the first plane hit. They were safe, but watching the tragedy unfold as tourists in the chaos.
We all stayed stationary in the room that day. I do not remember eating lunch, nor do I remember how we all managed to leave at the end of the day. I do however, remember the longing I felt in my stomach the whole day, wanting my own daughter, who was just next door at the middle school, to come be right next to me where I could hold her and protect her. At the end of the school day, I did just that, and I didn't want to let her go.
That day, we had no idea what would happen next. Terror, war, discrimination, economic effects, societal changes, so much more...
And now we are so many years away. Our students now were so young then; they do not see it the same way we do. Some do not even seem to care. Is this the way history has always unfolded?
I will be teaching it as a history lesson in my classes beginning the day before the anniversary. As students view the images and read the quotes and see the statistics, I hope they can understand. I hope they will find empathy for the victims. I hope they will realize the implications of that day, of those 4 planes, of the simple fact that hate can cause such destruction and loss of life.
Will you be teaching about 9/11 in your classes? What will you share with your students about that day? What impact do you hope for in your classroom?
My 9/11 Centers & Response Group Activity
Here is a great service learning project and assessment tool by Tracee Orman on 9/11 that would complement this activity well!
9/11 Service Project & Writing Prompt