“Good morning everyone. The office would like to let you all know that there had been an explosion in New York near the World Trade Center. If you’ve got time, you might want to turn your TVs on. Thanks.” It was the second day of school for the year. We’d had a late start because there was construction on the school that had been delayed. I was teaching in South Jersey – almost in the exact middle between the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. I think everyone of the 20 classrooms in my building had a television turned on within minutes. After all, this wasn’t the first time there had been a bomb at the World Trade Center. Not that many years before, a truck had exploded in the underground parking garage. This was an historical event, right? For days people criticized the principal for telling us to turn the televisions on, but he didn’t know. None of us had any idea what was happening.
Within a few minutes, it was clear that I didn’t want my 5th grade students watching this. I didn’t know my students yet. Many people in our community actually commuted daily to work in the city. I didn’t know yet if any of my students might have parents sitting at the World Trade Center at that exact moment. I hurriedly turned the TV off, and had them all get back to work on the math game they were playing.
All day long we tried to pretend there was nothing going on, but we, the adults, couldn’t stop watching the TV for updates. More people we knew were hearing from more people they knew that were at Ground Zero, or near Ground Zero, or just trapped in Manhattan because the bridges were closed. We didn’t know when it was going to end.
As hard as that day was, the 12th of September was even harder. That was the first day we had to talk about September 11th, but nobody really knew what to say. For the next few days, the students, in general, just wanted to get on with the school day. They didn’t want to talk about it anymore or hear about or worry about it. The planes from the Air Force base near us were flying low and it was scary. But with a mixture of avoidance, denial and “pressing forward”, we made it through the first week. And the second. And so on.