Back to School: September 11th

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Today is September 11th, a day that has gone down in history and not only changed the world but helped defined my interests in politics and world news. For the past two decades of this millennium, anyone who was alive on September 11, 2001 remembers where they were when they heard about the tragedies in New York City, Washington D.C. and Shanksville, PA.

On my way to work to teach seventh and eighth grade Social Studies today, I could not help but reminisce. Eighteen years ago, I was in 7th grade PE class and had no idea what a World Trade Center was. But Coach Speck had said they were two towers in New York City and a plane hit one of them. Afterwards, I got to Social Studies class and the Mrs. Hunt was frazzled and watching the news. As my classmates arrived, everyone gathered around the TV in confusion watching as the second twin tower burned. Eventually the principal appeared in the doorway, firmly ordering Mrs. Hunt to turn off the TV. I thought he was a prick for doing that because I didn’t understand why he didn’t want us seeing the news. In hindsight, I guess he was trying to protect us from those images which we would later see when we got home and for years to come.

I really didn’t know what was going on but after The Pentagon was blasted, it was determined that the students would leave school early. On the school bus, everyone was speculating who the terrorists were. I had recently begun researching Pearl Harbor after, coincidentally, seeing trailers for the movie earlier that year. Therefore, my newly acquired knowledge and logic led me to convince myself that the Japanese had attacked the U.S. again. I later learned the truth – at least a version of the truth. I remember calling Washington D. C. when I got home, trying to reach my aunt who worked close to the Pentagon at the time. All lines were busy for hours but I eventually confirmed her safety.

My students were born in 2006 and 2007. To add some perspective to the nostalgia and how old I feel teaching them at times, I graduated from high school in 2006. Though, the mere fact that black don’t crack works both for me and against me. At 31 years old, I’ve retained the youthfulness of my 20s and as a result many students see me as a peer more so than an authority figure. I also relate to them in ways the older teachers may not. My formulative purpose is to teach them autonomy and how to become better writers.

Today, I had hall monitoring duties and one of my students began to chat me up. He surprised me by asking about blackface and how people in America feel about it. I told him it’s offensive to many black people because it makes a mockery of their physical features and exaggerates their behavior. He told me he had asked because one of the artists he listens to mentioned it in their song. It hadn’t been the first time he told me but he began to tell me that although he is Colombian, he feels he knows more about the United States than his own country. I asked if he had ever been and he hadn’t but has always been interested in the United States. He was once a high performing student but now finds distractions more often in class. I told him if he focuses on his work and performs at his best in school that he may have the opportunity to live and study in the States one day.

He became timid then asked me about his English production. I told him it was excellent. Then in very clear English, he changed the subject and began to tell me about the fact that he likes old music because the music today is garbage and began to name artists in the likes of Billie Holiday and The Ink Spots. Even I had never heard of the Ink Spots. I admit I was impressed by his self-acquired knowledge. I thought to myself, this is an old soul who, indeed, seems to know a lot about the United States.

“Do you know what today is?“ He gave a blank stare. “September 11th….”, I hinted. He told me he didn’t know so I gave him homework, “Go home and research the significance of 9/11 and let me know what you find.”