Julie Vincentsen

September 5, 2001: I was on top of the world. After having just recently graduated with my Masters in Education I was starting my first ever teaching job. American History was my passion and I was so excited to share my passion and love for this country with my 8th grade students. I was excited to be a part of developing their patriotism while, at the same time, being honest about our country’s mistakes.


September 11, 2001: I remember it like it was yesterday.

My well thought out lesson to generate discussion.

The thought bubble in the middle of the board.

The boy who raised his hand.

His response:

“So we can learn why so many people in other countries hate us.”

The knock at the door.

The guidance counselor who I barely knew.

She poked her head in and asked me to come in the hall.

She was deliberate about making sure my back was to the students.

I wondered why.

Now I know why.

To this day, I will never forget what she said: “Two planes have struck the Twin Towers. We’re not yet sure why or what is going on. It might not be an accident. We’re not going to tell the kids yet.”

Silence…I couldn’t respond.

My mind went straight to Kiri. My cousin. My best friend. She lives in Manhattan.

What time is it? Oh my G-d. Has she left for work yet?

What’s happening?

I wanted to scream.

I wanted to cry.

I wanted to run to the nearest phone.

“Julie, I know you have family and friends in and near Manhattan. Are you ok? Can you go back in and teach your class?”

Silence…I couldn’t respond.


“I’ll be ok. I have prep soon. I’ll call them then. I have to get back to my kids.”

My kids. I barely even knew them yet but somehow my young heart knew that this class would be something more than just my first class. These would be my 9/11 kids and they deserved my best self at that moment.

I walked back in to the room. The kids knew nothing. Their worlds had not yet been shattered. They did not know that their beloved country was under attack just four hours away. They did not know that the world would soon be different for them. In that moment I understood the gravity of my responsibility as a teacher of young children.

I turned to the boy who had last responded and said, “Tell me more. What are you thinking?”

At the end of the day we assembled by homeroom.

I looked out across my classroom and saw innocence.

My heart broke as I read the prepared statement to my class.

I shattered their innocence.

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