20 YEARS LATER: EDUCATORS ON TEACHING 9/11 This year marked the 20th

“On that day, we were not equipped to explain why. The causes and long-term effects became clearer over the years. Over the next days, we watched how things were unfolding in New York City, D.C., and elsewhere. There was a general element of fear. No one was sure what was going to happen next.” Bosso remembers that the invasion of Afghanistan came not long after. “It felt like things were happening really fast. Social studies teachers were trying to piece everything together.” Like his colleagues, Berlin High School social studies teacher Michael Sobolewski was in the classroom on 9/11; however, he was a second- grader at Cheshire’s Norton Elementary School. Sobolewski tells his students he doesn’t have many vivid memories from elementary school, but he remembers that day quite clearly. “Another teacher came into our classroom. We had an old TV that hung in the corner, and I remember my teacher turning it to face her. I found out later that this was after the first plane crashed into the tower. She was visibly upset soon after, when she saw the second plane hit.” Sobolewski says that seeing a teacher show a strong emotion was so unusual; that moment has stayed with him. It wasn’t until he got home and talked to his parents that he learned why his teacher had been so distressed. Teaching 9/11 to the students of today Bosso points out that teachers usually aim to take an objective view of historical events and put them in a broader historical and political context. While he does that when teaching 9/11, he also works to personalize the experience. Talking about his own memories from that day, he says, is what resonates most with students. “I’m mindful not to get too into the textbook version of history and focus instead on the national, local, and personal impact,” he says. “History always seems distant and objective, both in time and space. One of the things I’ve always tried to do with 9/11—and everything I teach—is to make connections.” “One of my goals when teaching 9/11 is to

anniversary of the September 11 attacks, prompting educators to reflect on their experiences and consider their significance for students today. While many teachers remember the events of that day in great detail, for today’s students, 9/11 is a moment in history that predates them. CEA members say that makes teaching about the terrorist attacks and helping students understand the impact all the more important. Recalling that day This is LéAnn Murphy Cassidy’s 34th year in the classroom. In 2001, she was teaching sixth grade in Meriden. “We got word that something had hit the first tower,” she says. “TVs in classrooms were new then, and a lot of people were turning them on. I turned ours on—and then right off, because I didn’t want the kids to see.” The Region 15 middle school teacher has two brothers—one who worked in Manhattan’s financial district and another who was supposed to be on a flight out of Boston that day. Fortunately, both were safe, but Cassidy remembers the uncertainty so many families faced that day. A school counselor, she recalls, couldn’t reach his daughter who was attending school in Manhattan that day. He drove as close to the city as possible and walked the rest of the way to make sure she was safe. Berlin High School teacher David Bosso, in his fourth year as a social studies teacher at the time, had been teaching students about 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 in terms of an attack by another nation, a more conventional attack.” When he learned what had happened on 9/11, he says, “There was a moment when I had to collect myself.” With monumental events, he adds, the big question becomes, “Why?”

Michael Sobolewski and David Bosso are colleagues in the social studies department at Berlin High School. On September 11, 2001, Bosso was a fourth- year teacher; Sobolweski was a second-grade student.

connecting 9/11 to conflicts in the Middle East and the war on terror makes that day more relevant to students. “That clicks with them, since that has been their whole lives—it’s grounded in a reality they can hold on to.” Cassidy, now a social studies teacher in Middlebury, began to use poetry and carefully selected images to teach 9/11 not long after the attacks. One image is a shoe lying in the ashes, and she encourages students to make connections to the human impact of the event. Now that she has students who were born almost a decade after the attacks, she also includes a piece to explain the events of the day. This year she used part of a video from the 9/11 Memorial and Museum that features first-person accounts from survivors and the children of people who perished. A 9/11 first responder who is featured in the video stresses the need to find joy and have compassion for others. 9/11 has many history lessons to teach, but Cassidy believes that in the middle of the pandemic we most need to focus on the social emotional lessons students can learn from the resilience of survivors and the way the country came together in the wake of the attacks.

“How do we continue to be our best selves and see the good in the world?” she asks. “Given where we are as a society and the world right now, we need to focus on what brings us together and how we can help one another.” Cassidy worked for many years with a paraeducator who lost three family members on a plane that day. “She emails me every year to ask if I’m going to do the poetry lesson,” she says. The woman stresses to Cassidy that children need to understand 9/11 and its human impact. “We learn from the past to make a better future,” Cassidy says. “We look at a horrible experience and think about how we can then teach people to be better, kinder human beings.” Bosso notes that 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 want students to learn about.” “At the end of the day, it’s a part of our history,” says Cassidy. “For some people, it’s part of their trauma. And for everyone, it’s a piece of our resilience as a nation. We can’t ever forget.”

help students think about it in ways they haven’t before,” Sobolewski adds. He finds students have often heard facts or know about the timeline of the day, but he wants them to have a new perspective. This year he showed students a virtual reality documentary that shares the story of 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. He also finds that


You can help alleviate the growing problem of childhood hunger by holding a Working Together to Feed Families food drive in your local union. CEA will provide you with publicity materials and other information you need to run a successful food drive. Contact joez@cea.org or brendanm@cea.org for information.

LéAnn Murphy Cassidy, a teacher at Memorial Middle School in Region 15, goes over an assignment with a student. She uses poetry and images to encourage students to make connections to the human impact of 9/11.

Made with FlippingBook - Online Brochure Maker