9/11 in my Classroom

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.

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About shoes

I am an elementary school teacher, a former microbiologist, a mom to a herd of two boys, and a grilled cheese sandwich and beer connoisseur.
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10 Responses to 9/11 in my Classroom

  1. Mary Ann says:

    You did a good job of teaching your students today even though the lesson wasn’t an easy one. That’s what great teachers do! The kids are lucky to have you for their teacher.

    • shoes says:

      Thank you. It was a tough 45 minutes with the kids and I was shocked at the heaviness they have experienced in their short lives. I was touched that they wanted to share with me and the class.

  2. I’m glad you decided address the subject with your kids. It’s a difficult part of history, but they need to know about it.
    The fact that your kids then proceeded to open up to you about all these other issues is a measure of how they feel about you and how much they trust you, so congratulations

    • shoes says:

      I am glad I decided to discuss the subject with my kids too, there is the good and the bad and together it makes up our history, our nation, and us as people.

      The whole experience felt a bit out of control – especially since I am a first year teacher and I am constantly questioning my abilities – but emotions are sometimes not suppose to be easily controlled but shared and embraced.

      I feel lucky that they trust me and feel comfortable to open up so freely as a class.

  3. Amazing! Those are the moments that make teaching so poignant. We don’t just teach; we connect, and sometimes, we can be a part of something truly magical. They will likely always remember you because of that conversation!

    • shoes says:

      You are so right – that connection was incredible and left quite the impact upon me and hopefully the students too. I was emotionally drained at the end of the day!

  4. Rondy says:

    Going to these dark places with anyone and especially children can be scary. Yet it is so essential. In creating that safe place for them to share their hard moments & their deepest fears and sorrows, you gave them such a gift…. The knowledge that even in the hard times, we are not alone…. That in a caring community, we can be vulnerable… That in sharing our sorrow and fears, we can be loved and safe. And that it’s okay to visit those hard times.
    This deep building of trust & community may not have been where you meant to go, but it is what they will carry with them… We are safe and cared for here.
    Your kids are blessed to have you with them this year.

    • shoes says:

      Thank you for your comment. I actually had a student today ask me if I remembered the day when we shared some “sad stories and cried” – as if it was so long ago. It stuck with him and he wanted to talk about it a bit more with me. I have NO idea what I was getting into that day, what discussions were going to have, but I am very glad I took that leap and that we went in that direction. Memorable and powerful. Although I still feel that I was a bit out of my depth, I feel good about doing it.

  5. Hetterbell says:

    It sounds like one of those times when spontaneity was the right thing. By sharing such personal and poignant stories, I imagine the children have the empathy to have a greater understanding about what happened on 9/11 thirteen years ago. It can seem incomprehensible to anyone, but I guess it is more incomprehensible to people who weren’t born then. Credit to you for sharing about your father in the way that you did. Hopefully, it will increase your students’ trust in you even more.

  6. amomnextdoor says:

    I was teaching second grade on 9/11. I had been listening to music on my commute into work, and didn’t know what had happened until in walked my second and third graders, talking about the footage on the news that they’d seen, of people falling out of buildings over and over. We dedicated months of classroom time to processing that event. One of the things I did was allow my students to build LEGO towers, which they used to reenact everything that they’d seen and heard about the attacks. I worried about parents’ politics and how that might lead them to misinterpret things I said and did. But my most important role was to listen, deeply and hard, to the fears and worries and concerns and experiences of my students. Thirteen years later, it’s still what kids need, and what you have given them.

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