September 13, 2001: Back-to-School Night
Sitting alone in my elementary school classroom I was reviewing some notes for the full evening ahead. But it was impossible to concentrate since my mind couldn’t think about anything other than the devastating events that took place in our country two days prior.
My stomach hurt.
I still couldn’t eat.
And I was desperately trying to find the right words to say to the parents of the children that I stand before every single day.
I knew that night was about to be so much more than providing information regarding the curriculum, test scores and classroom expectations. Instead, it was going to be about humanity, our children and our community.
Parents soon arrived and filed into my classroom. One by one they entered and quietly took their seats. Usually there is a buzz of excitement surrounding this evening, the idea of embarking on a new school year…but, that was not the case on September 13, 2001.
For the first time in my life I wasn’t sure how to begin that presentation. I’ve done it for a few years very successfully but I was standing before a very emotionally charged classroom full of parents who were all trying to fight back tears – and so was I.
We were a nation at war; a country devastated.
We were a heartbroken community and school-district in mourning, having lost many parents…
I looked around my classroom at every face staring back at me and I saw their own children in their eyes. Mothers were crying and fathers were somber, still in a state of shock.
Wearing my new black suit, I slowly moved toward the PowerPoint and turned it off. I folded the note cards that were in my hands on the desk in front of me and began to speak the only way I knew how – from my heart.
To this day, I couldn’t tell you exactly what I said – but what I do remember is that I connected with every parent in that classroom that night. I spoke the truth – honestly telling them that I was also having a difficult time grappling with how to answer the many questions that the children were asking me.
I couldn’t fully explain to third graders why other human beings would want to fly planes and crash them into buildings. I couldn’t find the right words to comfort a 9 year-old girl who didn’t understand why her best friend’s father didn’t come home that day.
I couldn’t answer many of the questions they were asking because I didn’t have the answers myself.
But what I did know was that part of my job was to ensure that they felt SAFE in my classroom; that they felt comfortable enough to know that we could talk about anything that was on their mind because this was our new reality and we would be exploring this new landscape, together.
Fast forward to February 2011 as I stand not before a classroom full of parents but in front of a sink full of dishes when my five year-old son approached me.
Holding SpongeBob in one hand and a juice box in the other he asked,
“Mommy…what’s a terrorist?”
That question brought me right back to the days of trying to find the right words to help a classroom full of young children understand this very complex issue.
I answered it the only way I know how – again, from my heart.
I want what we all want for our kids – for them to be productive citizens of this country; to have an appreciation for our freedoms and gratitude for the men and women who risk their own lives to keep us safe; and an understanding, awareness and respect for other cultures so that we can live together happily, peacefully.
As devastating and at times scary as this post 9/11 world has become, I am comforted in knowing that my son is part of a new generation – hopefully, one that will get this thing right.