September 11, 2001 was a Tuesday. I had just woken up and started getting ready for work when my phone rang. A call at 6:00 am is never good news. And this was as bad as news gets. My friend Brenda told me to turn on the TV immediately. What I saw was horrifying.
The drive to work was strange. The roads were empty and I wanted to turn around and go home. But I couldn't. I needed to be there for a class of fifth graders whose parents might or might not have told them what was going on before dropping them off at school. When I got to work, we had strict instructions not to talk about what was going on, to offer brief reassurances only as needed, and to keep the day as normal as possible. It was very difficult for me to stay in the cocoon of my classroom with absolutely no information about what was going on beyond those walls. We had no internet in the classrooms and this was long before smart phones, so we teachers had to wait until recess and lunch to learn anything.
The drive home was even stranger than the drive to work.
The following day at school was even more difficult. By then, all the students knew what had happened. Many had seen graphic images over and over on TV. They were scared, they were upset, and they had a thousand questions. There was no hope of having anything approaching a normal school day. To complicate matters, each Wednesday we got a class set of newspapers. The kids and their parents knew that Wednesdays meant newspapers and current events homework. I couldn't just casually send home these papers with their screaming headlines and disturbing photos, expecting them to pick an article and summarize it.
During my lunch break, I used the paper to make this found poem.
At the end of the day, I read my poem to them. I announced that homework was canceled, then invited only those students who wanted to take a paper to do so. I gave them an optional homework assignment to create their own found poem, ideally working with parents and older siblings. I received five poems, all beautiful.
It's hard to believe 20 years have passed. I have not forgotten.