They Were My Kids by Nora Raleigh Baskin
“I have woven a parachute out of everything broken.”
Each time I write a new novel I am putting something out into the world; and each time I do, I get something back, usually a tenfold return. I began writing as a kid as a way to express myself, to shout out to a world that often seemed not to hear. But as I write more, as I grow older and hopefully wiser, I find that writing has also taught me to listen.
It happens with every book, partly from the extensive research, and then hugely from the reaction of my readers. With my latest Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story the resonance came hard and fast. It was at NerdCampMI that I first began to understand both the impact of my book, and also the impact 9/11 had specifically on teachers.
What other group of people had to sit with only bits and pieces of the horrific news as it was disseminated in live-time—with all the confusion and chaos, panic and fear—and not be able to do anything about it? Who else but teachers had to stay calm and act as if nothing was happening while the world as we knew it was seemingly coming to an end? They had students to take care of, their students, their kids, and those kids had to come first.
On September 11, 2001, I got to stay home, with my husband next to me, both of us glued to the television, overtly horrified. I was free to continually pick up the phone throughout the morning, trying to get through the busy lines to reach my younger sister in NYC. I was able to gather with the other hysterical moms outside my son’s school, speculate, lament, openly weep.
I knew I was not the only one who had been so clueless as to the sacrifice our children’s teachers made that day, so I started a blog “THEY WERE MY KIDS” (http://www.norabaskin.com/blog/) where educators could share their unique 9/11 stories. I did it because I knew writing is a way of being heard, a way to heal. But reading, ah, reading is the path to empathy. Reading is the path to connection.
Reading is humanity, and after 9/11 we need all the humanity we can get.
“We were in the middle of a vocabulary lesson when we were interrupted by an announcement by the principal of our school [. . . ] “Teachers, excuse this interruption. Please turn on your TVs. There is an historic event occurring in our country and it is important that we be aware of what’s happening.” [ . . .]
While my mind began to reel with the implications of what I was seeing the students were reacting to the images being thrust at them from the television screen. [ . . . ] I remember feeling so helpless to explain what was happening (they were asking a million questions by this point) and trying to remain calm myself so as not to make things worse for my students, but honestly I just wanted to call my family and find out if my niece was okay.”
“Shortly after that we got word from our principal that we were going to be sending the children home early and instructed that we could NOT tell them why. This was confusing to children to be sent home on a beautiful autumn day without explanation and I was frustrated that we could not tell them anything.” Maureen R.
“We kept out students inside despite a beautiful day outside. Peter Jennings was reporting possible reports of other planes in the air poised to attack. I wondered if we should be hunkering down in the auditorium.Some parents came and took their children home.” Connie K.
“I work in the library so I turned on the T.V. All day long staff drifted in and out and we watched in horror and disbelief.” Kim K.
“Now it was time for me to teach again and teach I did…at least for a little while, I pretended that everything was normal. I couldn’t do that once parents started showing up. My classroom was by the front doors and we saw lines of parents pouring in to pick up their kids from school. We overheard snippets of conversation until I closed the door. My fifth graders knew something was going on, but they couldn’t figure it out.” Michelle H.
“End of first period – there’s a knock on the door from Sue, one of our assistant principals. She takes me out in the hall to tell me a plane crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers, and do I want her to tell my kids. I say yes, just because I am not honestly sure what is going on here. She walks in, makes the announcement, and leaves. The kids are silent and stunned, asking me “what did she mean?” after she left.” Karen B.
“The morning of September 11, I was sitting in my office at the religious school in Hanover, NH, talking on the phone to a rabbi from Manchester. We were planning a program to make shofars with the students later that afternoon, and he needed directions. It was the first day of “Tuesday School,” and I was excited. It was the first Tuesday school ever in my temple. It was my second day as religious educator for the small community.
I heard someone call to the rabbi, “Rabbi, come quick.”
Moments later, he told me to check my TV. I ran upstairs to find out that the first plane had hit the Tower. My rabbi and I watched in disbelief and horror. Soon after that, the police arrived at the temple and the Torahs were taken away and hidden.” Sarah A.
“As hard as that day was, the 12th of September was even harder. That was the first day we had to talk about September 11th, but nobody really knew what to say. For the next few days, the students, in general, just wanted to get on with the school day. They didn’t want to talk about it anymore or hear about or worry about it. The planes from the Air Force base near us were flying low and it was scary. But with a mixture of avoidance, denial and “pressing forward”, we made it through the first week. And the second. And so on.” Lisa
“The next day we were to keep things as normal as possible. A letter/ email had gone home to the families of our students from the superintendent letting them know what the schools did to keep our children safe. If anything did come up with our students in our classrooms, we were told to point to “the helpers” and to encourage them to check in with their families. It was not discussed within our classrooms, or at least that’s how I remember it. We had to protect the innocence of our children. I wonder if we handled things in the best way. . .” Lesley B.
“It also made me realize that as a future teacher, those kids in that room were my kids, and I would be responsible for leading them in to some scary events with the responsibility to help them feel safe, secure, and develop an understanding of whatever was thrown our way. I think that’s why as a full time teacher now, I always feel that discussion is an integral part of my practice to show kids that even though there are tough issues in front of them, understanding and grappling with those things will make them stronger, more compassionate individuals as they get older. Thanks for letting me share.” Jennifer C.
“Thank you for the opportunity to remember and write about that day. Those feelings of confusion and wondering still lie deep in my soul.” Michelle N.
Nora Raleigh Baskin is the author of thirteen novels for young readers. She has won several awards, including the 2010 ALA Schneider Family Book Award for Anything But Typical. Ruby on the Outside, her latest middle grade novel, was recently awarded the International Literacy Association’s 2016 Notable Books for a Global Society. Nine/Ten: A September 11 Story has received a starred review from Kirkus. You can see more about Nora’s titles at norabaskin.com or follow her on Twitter @noraraleighb.