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My 9-11 Story: I was Teaching Grade Two

Updated on September 17, 2015

Where Were You?

Every generation has its "where were you?" moments. For my mother, it was the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963. She was sixteen. For Generation X, it was the crash of the Challenger in 1986. I was sixteen, too. And for anyone over the age of twenty, it's 9-11.

We all remember what we were doing at that moment that the free world was attacked. Time stood still on that day. It was a nightmare while waking. Part of our culture and part of our humanity is that we like to tell the story of where we were. This is my story. Maybe it will inspire you to tell yours.

How Do I Explain This To A Bunch of Seven Year Olds?

On September 11, I was just in my second week of teaching at Chief Old Sun School at Siksika Nation, Alberta, Canada. My class was a group of eighteen grade-twos and we were just getting to know each other. The staff at COSS were all sitting around in the staff room, lingering for a couple of extra minutes before school started when my sister called me on the school phone. "Did you see the T.V.," she asked? I told her "No," and she proceeded to tell me what was happening. As we spoke, another plane crashed into the World Trade Centre. Like the whole world, I was in shock.

While I was on the phone, some other teachers started to notice the small black and white television in the staff room. We all sat stunned. It was also time to class. We talked briefly about how we would handle the news with our students. We agreed to tell them what was happening but not to overwhelm with too many details. I cringed as I walked down the hall. How would I explain this event to a group of seven and eight year olds, when I did not even comprehend it myself?


Sometimes People Are Mean

I headed into the class, praying for guidance on what to say. It didn't seem real. I couldn't watch T.V. to get more details. School had to go on and these kids needed to be taught.

I told the students that something bad had happened but that they would be okay. I explained that sometimes people are mean and try to hurt other people and that some people had been really mean today and tried to hurt others.

I explained that their parents and other grownups would be upset but that they would be okay. It had happened in New York, which was pretty far from where they were but everyone was still pretty upset.

It didn't seem to have much impact on those little children. When I told them it was going to be okay, they believed me and went on with their day. Some of them were curious but none seemed scared. It hit me that day how important school was.

I was so glad I could be there for them on that day, to make their day normal. And I was amazed that how our day continued in that little safe environment while the sirens raged. They did not know that their world changed that day. As the adult who knew and could not tell them, it was strange, like I was hiding something important from them.

It was strange watching the children and being worried about them, about how this would affect their future, but knowing that they were completely oblivious. And it was my job to keep them that way. They were too young to handle such news, except at a very simplistic level. And so we sheltered the children. As a teacher, it was usually my job to educate. But that day, my job was to shelter.

I don't remember the rest of the day except that we all got through it and lingered in the staff room as long as we could, devouring any news and talking to each other, not wanting to be alone. That night, I went home to an empty apartment and everything in the world seemed different. I remember talking to my Mom on the phone and feeling very depressed.

On this day, I was mourning for a world that didn't seem safe anymore and I couldn't sleep. I had nightmares most of the night.

I Am Overcome

Allan Jackson Said It Best

We Were Living In A Different World

Although I cried all night, the next day, I got up and continued to work with my grade two class, stopping fights on the playground, practicing addition and reading them stories. The next evening, I went to my church Bible study and we talked about what had happened. I needed to be with people that loved me. A few days later, I received news that my former love had made it to Mexico safely. And gotten married. And a few months later, my best friend, my mother died. Life kept going on. And that year I became stronger than I had ever been. I was a different person -- not because I wanted to be but because I had to be.

I will always remember September 11, 2001 and the days that followed. After terrorists attacked North America, killing thousands of innocent people, we would never quite feel safe again. We knew that anything could happen and we were not immune to horror. We were living in a different world. We all used cliches to describe how we were feeling and we still do. That is all we have in the face of war. Cliches and hugs. And tears.

That is where I was on September 11, 2001. I hope my story will help you to remember yours. When we share our stories, we grow closer.


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