Thursday, September 12, 2013

Teaching the Hard Stuff

I teach my students about Sept 11, 2001.

I do not scare my students, and depending on their age, I give more or less details of the actual account on that day, but I do teacher my students about Sept. 11.

Last year, I taught my, then 2nd and 4th graders that firemen are heroes.  I related the concept to when we have fire drills at school.  Both of these students remembered and understood that when there is a fire drill, everyone leaves the building.  I pointed out to them, that even though everyone is leaving the building, the firemen are running inside the building ready to help anyone that might still be in there.

We wrote letters to our local firemen thanking them for everything they do, and I emphasized the point that when everyone runs out, the firemen run in.  One student came back to me the next day, and said that her mom was so impressed that her daughter had written a letter in appreciation of the local fire department, that Mom might send a letter too.

This year, I saw my, now, 5th grader on Sept. 11, and I told her more of the details of why we celebrate and thank firemen on Sept. 11.  I handed her two, pretty small, stacks of post-it notes (about 1" high) and I told her that these two stacks of post-in notes were supposed to represent the size of an average house, or an average school.  When fires start in a home or a school, this is the size of the building that is involved, this is where the firemen go to help people.

Then, I put my tall, 10", 16 oz water bottle next to the two stacks of post-its.  I told her that on Sept 11, there was a fire in a really big, tall building, and firemen had to climb, and climb, and climb to just reach the fire in order to put it out.  And while the firemen were trying to get to the fire, everyone else in the building was evacuating... and not long after the fire began, the entire building crashed (and I smashed the water bottle sideways to the table).  I explained that, some people got out of the building, but the people who were still in there, who the firemen were on their way to help, died in the crash, even if they didn't die in the fire.

I told her that this is a really sad topic, and we don't talk about it very often, because it is a really sad thing to talk about, but we DO talk about it on September 11, because we have to remember all these people who died in this fire, and the crash, and we remember the firemen who ran into the building, when everyone else was trying to run out of the building.

I touched a little bit on terrorism... but I didn't use that word.  I told her that one thing that made these fires so bad was that they weren't an accident.  Some people who hate America started these fires on purpose and were trying to hurt as many people as possible.  These people are from other countries and they hate that we are free, and that we can go to school, and that women can go to school, and that we can go to any church we want to.  I did not tell her that they used airplanes to start the fires, because I do not want her to be afraid to fly -- that piece of information will come in a few years.

Then, I read my student a story about a guide dog that was a hero on Sept. 11.  I told her that firemen and police officers were not that only ones who became heroes just by doing their job.  Although my student does not have a guide dog, she might someday, and I read her about how, after the explosion, no one could see anything, and the blind man, and about 12 other sighted people followed the guide dog safely down 76 flights of stairs, and a safe distance from the building.

Then, I asked my student to think about all the things we had talked about, and write a letter to our local firefighters.

It is not easy to teach students these very hard, sad, tough topics... I cried several times while she and I were talking... but I think it is our responsibility as teachers.  I think it is the role of parents as well, but it is also my job, as a teacher in America.

What good does it do to change my picture on facebook to a picture from the aftermath of 9-11, and say "I have not forgotten," if I am not doing my part to educate the next generation with what happened that day?

It is not my place to scare these students, or give them such a gruesome account that they burst into tears.  It is my job to teach them what happened, in an age-appropriate way, and help our nation create a positive outcome (appreciating our local firemen) from a horrible event.

How do you teach your students, or children about 9-11?

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