On 20th anniversary, educators talk about 9/11 teaching – Connecticut Education Association
Many educators remember September 11, 2001 in detail, but for their students the events of that day are history. ACE members say it is all the more important to teach about terrorist attacks and to help today’s students understand the impact of the attacks.
This is LeAnn Cassidy’s 34th year in the classroom, and on September 11, she was teaching sixth grade at Meriden. “We learned that something had hit the first tower,” she said. “TVs in classrooms were new back then and a lot of people turned them on. I turned it on and then off because I didn’t want the kids to see.
The Area 15 college teacher has two brothers, one who worked in Manhattan’s financial district and the other who was supposed to be on a flight out of Boston that day. Fortunately, she later found out that the two were safe, but she remembers the uncertainty that reigned for so many Connecticut residents that day. A school counselor she knows had a daughter who was attending school in Manhattan at the time. When he couldn’t reach her, he drove as close to town as possible and walked the rest of the way to make sure she was safe.
Berlin High School teacher David Bosso was in his fourth year as a social studies teacher and says he remembers many details from that day. “There was a point where I had to turn to my class and take a moment to collect myself.”
He had taught the students the balance of power between nations and how the relative strength of the United States made it unlikely that we would be attacked by another country. “I was thinking of an attack from another nation, a more conventional attack,” he said.
With monumental events, the big question becomes “Why?” Said Bosso. “That day, we weren’t equipped to explain why. The long-term causes and effects have become clearer over the years. Over the next few days, we watched how things unfolded in New York City, DC and elsewhere – there was a general element of fear. No one was sure what would happen next.
Bosso remembers that the invasion of Afghanistan came soon after. “I felt like things were going really fast. Social science teachers were trying to put everything together.
Like his colleagues, Michael Sobolewski was in class on September 11; however, he was a second grade student at Norton Elementary School in Cheshire on the day of the attacks.
The Berlin high school social studies teacher says he tells his students that he doesn’t have many vivid memories of elementary school, but he remembers that day quite clearly. “Another teacher came in and spoke to my teacher. We had an old TV hanging around the corner and I remember my teach turning him to face him. I later found out that it was after the first plane crashed into the tower. She was visibly upset a short time later when she saw the second plane hit.
Sobolweski says seeing a teacher show strong emotion was so unusual that the day stuck with him. It wasn’t until he got home and talked to his parents that he learned why his teacher was so upset.
Teaching September 11 to today’s students
Bosso says teachers generally aim to take an objective view of historical events and place them in a larger historical and political context. While he does when he teaches 9/11, he also works to personalize the event.
“I’m careful not to get too into the classic version of the story and focus on the national, local and personal impact,” says Bosso. “History always seems distant and objective both in time and in space. One of the things I’ve always tried to do with 9/11 – and all I teach – is bond. “
Bosso says he found that talking about his own memories from that day, while not always easy, resonates most with students.
“One of my goals when teaching 9/11 is to help students think about it in a way they’ve never done before,” Sobolewski says. He finds that students have often heard facts or know the timeline of the day, but he wants them to have a new perspective.
This year, he shows students a virtual reality (VR) documentary that shares the story of a 9/11 survivor Genelle Guzman-McMillan, the last person to be rescued from Ground Zero after spending 27 hours trapped under the rubble. The VR experience recreates New York to show what the city looked like before 9/11.
“I want students to see that in the hours leading up to the attacks, 9/11 was a perfectly normal day,” Sobolewski said.
At 27, Sobolewski says he’s a relatively young teacher, but it still shocks him in some ways that it’s hard for his students to see 9/11, as many Americans do, both as the history and a real present event that we always face. .
He finds that linking September 11 to conflicts in the Middle East and the war on terror makes this day more relevant to students. “It clicks more with them since it’s been their entire life – it’s grounded in a reality that they can hold on to.”
Cassidy says she began using carefully selected poetry and imagery to teach 9/11 shortly after the attacks. One image she uses is of a shoe lying in ash, and she encourages students to make connections with the human impact of the event. Now that she has students born almost a decade after the attacks, she also includes an article to explain the events of the day.
This year she uses part of a video of the 9/11 memorial and museum which features first-person accounts of survivors and children of deceased people. “We don’t want it to be just the terrorists, we want it to be about the people and how they were affected and the impact of their suffering on future generations, ”she said. .
A 9/11 first responder featured in the video emphasizes the need to find joy in the moment, and Cassidy says, “He had the courage to find joy, compassion and to help others. This is what I try to convey as a social studies teacher. We“Are interdependent and we rely on each other. “
September 11 has many history lessons to teach, but Cassidy says that in the midst of the pandemic, we need to focus mostly on the social and emotional lessons that students can learn from the resilience of survivors and how the country reunited in the wake of the attacks. “HHow do we as people continue to be the best in ourselves, to help each other and to see the good in the world? Given where we are as a society and in the world right now, we need to focus on what brings us together, how we can help each other.
Cassidy worked for many years with a Para-educator who lost three family members in a jet that day. “She emails me every year asking if I’m going to take the poetry class,” Cassidy says. The woman points out to Cassidy that children need to understand 9/11 and its human impact.
“We learn from the past to build a better future,” says Cassidy. “We watch a horrible experience and think about how we can then teach people to be better, nicer human beings. “
Bosso says most Connecticut educators, not just social studies teachers, find ways to discuss 9/11 and share their experiences with students. “It’s something teachers discuss and students want to learn.
Cassidy says, “At the end of the day, it’s part of our story. For some people, this is part of their trauma. And for everyone, it’s a part of our resilience as a nation. We can never forget.