September 11 has been declared a day of service, of giving of oneself, of volunteering for a cause we believe in or helping those who cannot help themselves. In many ways every day as an educator is a day of service, but reflecting back on the experiences of teachers who were in the classroom on this day 14 years ago reminds us just how challenging it was to serve our students well in that difficult time.
Vasiliki Antzoulis beautifully illustrates in “Writing to Heal, Understand, and Cope” how on her fourth day of student teaching she had to face unimaginable tragedy as her students ran from Stuyvesant High School watching the Twin Towers fall. She assigned her students various poems of death and loss, suggesting they write poetry to encapsulate their feelings. She ended with John Lennon’s “Imagine,” asking them to envision and describe a world of hope.
In “Sharing Stories and Developing Multiple Perspectives in Post-9/11 Classrooms,” Margo DelliCarpini and Amanda Nicole Gulla offer the unique perspective of ESL students, many of whom witnessed terrorist attacks in their homelands, and the value of respecting and appreciating diverse cultures. Jeannette Toomer, a high school teacher in the Bronx, also captures student voices in “Through Their Eyes: Remembering September 11, 2001.”
NCTE recognized the heroism of all the teachers who were in the classroom that fateful day in its 2001 Resolution on Teaching in a Time of Crisis, noting the importance of literature and writing as vehicles for students to grapple with fear, loss, and grief.
In “Difficult Days and Difficult Texts,” Robert Probst expands the idea of expression to empathy. He acknowledges that reflecting on the events of that terrible day—thinking about the victims, their families, and even the plight of the people of Afghanistan—leads us to go beyond ourselves.
These powerful stories paint a picture of educators rising to a challenge beyond the usual daily requirements of the job. In the face of the unknown they summoned courage and creativity to meet their students’ needs. If there’s something to be gained in recognizing the anniversary of a tragedy, perhaps it’s that we are pushed to remember that we are capable of wondrous things even when tapping into wonder seems impossible.