Ten Years Ago
Our principal rapped on the door and beckoned me to the hall, where she had also summoned the other three teachers on our floor. She explained that two planes had crashed in New York City, and that something seemed to not be quite accidental about the crashes. Promising to keep the teachers posted, she requested that we not share the information with our students.
By lunch, we learned of the crashes in Shanksville, PA and at the Pentagon. Parents had begun calling the school for their children to be released to them, and some were arriving at the school to take their children home. My husband, who was in Michigan, called me and was incredulous that school was not dismissed early. My thought was that when you feel that a plane may drop out of the sky at any time, it made no difference to me if we were in or out of school. It felt unsafe everywhere.
In the afternoon, we still told the children nothing. Our principal felt that the parents would want to explain the events of the day to their children. My remaining students wondered at our dwindling class by the end of the day. "Must be a lot of dentist appointments", a few of them said. Our principal gathered the school near the end of the day for an impromptu rosary for a purpose that the students would understand later.
After dismissal, we went home to the flood of news coverage; planes hit the buildings over and over, dust-covered New Yorkers walking home in hoards, and the first responder's reports of despair. I asked my Grandpa if this day was similar to the attack on Pearl Harbor, and he said it was, but that they had had much less information back then.
The next day and in the days that followed, my students were eager to talk and share their feelings about the event. They were positive that it meant that our country would be at war. As a teacher, I felt unprepared. Reading and math were easy to prepare; this was something different. So many of their questions I couldn't answer, so often I was stumbling for a response to their ideas; it was all uncharted territory. We began some patriotic busywork: painting flag pins to wear (I still have mine and wore it to school Friday, with thoughts of that group of kids, who are currently college freshmen!), making patriotic window displays (they said "Be Brave" and "Be Strong"), and writing letters to the military.
Other teachers that day felt the uncertainty of their convictions. Sometimes situations in teaching can blindside us, and we are left feeling our way through in a fog. Did we do the right thing? I don't know. What could have we done differently? I don't know that either...