Thursday, September 11, 2014

A Day of Service Beyond All Others!

There are days in our personal and professional lives that leave indelible marks on our hearts forever. The marriage to our soul mate. The birth of our children.  The day that we begin our careers and actively start making a productive contribution to our society. These days are special and embedded deep in our memories. We can easily recall the details and vivid images that were present on those days as a result of their significance. Life is constantly producing days that are worthy of celebration. Unfortunately life also produces days of a tragic magnitude that eventually live in our memories and our souls, that stir a host of painful emotions.

 Professionally I have celebrated the opening of the doors of the middle school where I currently work, attended multiple commencement ceremonies and bore witness to the transformation and maturation of countless adolescents. The day to day opportunity to witness the academic and social growth of  today's youth is a joy everyone should have the opportunity to experience at least for one year of their adult life.  The confident smiles that surface when students realize that special achievements have in fact taken place, provide goose bumps for even the most experienced teacher. Although ours is a profession that provides daily challenges, it is also one that provides daily rewards. The potential rewards albeit unknown at the years beginning is what brings us back re-energized every September.

Early in September of 2001 relationships and routines were being established just as they had at the start of each school year since I started my career in 1995. The sun was high in the sky on this particular day and I remember it as a beautiful, even picturesque, fall day. Emotionally I was feeling some anxiety as that evening we expected to welcome our parents in for our annual Back to School visitation. All and all though it was a day like any other, but that would dramatically change within the first hour since our arrival that day. What was a normal day began to take on the appearance as anything but normal.  A visit from a close friend and colleague informed me that one of the towers in New York City was down and that details were still emerging. After teaching another class and a visit to the media center (where we had access to cable television), I was able to begin to gather the information that would haunt our nation for the next several days and months. Terrorists had flown two planes into the Twin Towers and thousands were dead. A terrorist attack had been inflicted on the United States. My wife and young children were in various places throughout the community and we would not be reunited until later that afternoon. This day was quickly becoming emotionally challenging on a personal and a professional level.

Temporarily myself and my colleagues were the only things protecting our students from the knowledge of these horrific events. A directive was issued to not turn on the television or the computer, or talk about the events in front of our students.  We were asked to keep our own emotional reactions in check and retain some sense of normalcy temporarily to maintain the security of our students. In other words, do what we always do, act in the best interest of our students.

Looking back I am sure there has never been a more difficult request of myself or our staff in order to protect the emotional security of our students. As the day wore on we learned of the attack on the Pentagon and the plane that crashed near Pittsburgh, all part of a terrorist plot planned by Osama Bin Laden. Parents began to arrive early and sign their children out of school,  as genuine concern brought the need for our families to be together at this time of national crisis.  As a staff we continued to perform our duties and kept close attention to the events as the day unfolded. Eventually instructions came from our administration that just after 1:00 in the afternoon we would read a prepared statement revealing to our students what had taken place during the morning hours of that day.

With great effort to not betray my fears and painful emotions I read the statement and provided my sixth grade students with the knowledge that their nation and its citizens, had been the victim of an attack.  In an instant their stable and secure lives changed forever. Questions emerged but were difficult to answer, as we still did not have many answers of our own. We did our best to allay their fears and address their concerns.  Eventually the hour arrived where we were all able to return home to the comfort of our families and begin to unpack the significance of the day's events.

Without question September 11, 2001 was the most challenging day of my teaching career for so many reasons. As professionals within the educational community we needed to put our personal and emotional concerns on hold throughout the course of the day and protect the emotional stability and security of our students. I was and still am extremely proud of my colleagues for their heroic efforts in maintaining some sense of normalcy on that day and continuing on in the best interest of our students. To accomplish this while being separated from our own families was indeed a personal struggle and a challenge.  Ultimately though, we are teachers and instinctively we will always provide love, care and service for our students, even under the most challenging conditions.

Today as I consider the enormous loss of human life and the widespread destruction of property at the hands of terrorists that day,  I am still filled with sadness. Watching the havoc that was wrought on that day was heartbreaking and the recall of it still stirs a great deal of heartache upon reflection.  However, what cannot be lost during this time of reflection is the strength provided by the many heroes that day which included the thousands of educators that stood tall and protected what was immediately in front of them that day. We must never forget them. We must never forget the heroic efforts of all of those that sacrificed in an effort to provide peace during a time of unspeakable terror.

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