I had not planned to talk about it and actually felt some guilt about this decision as I pulled into the parking lot this morning. I did have an end of the day activity involving a discussion on the history of the flag, what it means to be patriotic, and a color the flag/fill in the missing stars sheet planned for them.
Then I got an email from one of the other second grade teachers with a suggested Brain Pop video about 9/11. I previewed it and admitted to myself that this topic, this piece of our history was something I could not overlook. I would find a way to talk about it with my second grade students.
The day went by – typical day. We finished our math block and I called them to the rug to start the discussion, to give a little back story before playing the short six minute video. There was forty-five minutes left to our day. I figured we could briefly discuss, watch the video and then do the flag activity. Easy peasy.
Not. At. All.
I chose my words carefully, keeping details vague but letting them know there were people in a different part of the world who did not like Americans and wanted to do harm. I told them it happened 13 years ago. I explained that we were going to watch a short video that was not scary but explained what happened on that day in our country’s history.
Then one little boy raised his hand. I called on him and he spoke solemnly. “My step-father died in Afghanistan. He was a good soldier.” Tears sprung to his eyes and almost immediately overflowed onto his cheeks.
It was as if a floodgate had been opened. Students all around the room raised their hands. It was one story after another: a father that died, a grandfather that drowned in a swimming pool, a sister, aunts, nanas, and pets too. One boy told me he hears gunshots in his neighborhood at night (and in the area where I work and where most of my students live, I fully believe him) and he worries about the safely of his family. I did my best to navigate each and every story and to comfort them as they spoke.
But I was not prepared for this. I spoke of our emotions and how natural it was to feel these things. I commented on how much I appreciated each and every one of them for being brave and sharing their stories.
And then, not really meaning to, I shared mine. I spoke of my father and of his death. Of how I miss him everyday. My throat closed up and it was my turn to tear up. I think they were shocked to see me show such emotion.
We were a wreck. But we were a wreck together.
I did, eventually show the video. There were questions. There were more tears. There were concerns that it would happen again. We talked through them and then I simply gave them time to read quietly from their book tubs, or to talk quietly with friends. Little clusters of kids formed. One boy walked around with a Disney Princess Kleenex box, handing out tissues in fistfuls.
In the end, their papers were handed out and their backpacks were readied. Book boxes got stowed and we met on the rug for our final end of the day good-bye. One student suggested a Cat in the Hat book. It was a nice, comforting way to end the experience we had just shared. The silly and predictable rhymes of that hat wearing cat dried tears and brought forth smiles.
9/11 in my classroom will be one day I will not soon forget.