Teaching 9/11

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It comes around every year but every year it seems to get harder for me to teach the September 11th story. I remember that day very well but my students do not comprehend what that day meant to their country. They were merely babies and don't remember the shock, fear, grief, & patriotism that gripped this nation on that day and the days after.

When I first started teaching, my students were much more aware of what happened that day because they remembered it but now, my current students know very little about that unbelievable day that changed our nation forever. Years ago, I was able to make it a very somber day and have students discuss and write about what they remembered. This was a great way to discuss "history in the making" and how our nation can be changed with one major event. But now, it takes much more to get my students to feel a connection to this day. For adults, we connect to this day so easily because we remember exactly where we were and what we were doing when we heard the news. Unless you were living under a rock, you spent the day glued to the television and calling your loved ones to check in, just like I did. However, our students don't have this connection, so we have to MAKE this connection for them.


In recent years, I have done a few things to help my students connect to this day & help them to understand the impact of this event. Here are just a few things I have done:

1. I always tell them my story. I was in my first semester of college when September 11, 2001 happened. For my seniors, they seem to appreciate this story because they realize they are about the same age I was. I tell my story as heart-felt as I can. I talk to them about the feelings of being on a college campus during the weeks after, especially since I was a history major. I tell them about how many people around me were talking about our nation going to war and the fear that young men my age had about a potential draft. I talk to them about how my professors had us watching the footage and the ceremonies in class for about a week afterwards. I then tell them about how I felt the first time I heard the Alan Jackson song, "Where Were You When The World Stopped Turning." I remember just crying and thinking how true the lyrics to this song were. Then I tell them about hearing the Toby Keith song, "Courtesy of the Red, White, & Blue," for the first time. I remember being so angry about what had happened to my country and feeling so strong about needing to defend our precious freedom. I talk to the students about how despite the fact that I didn't know anyone that was in New York or on a plane that day, 9-11 still had an impact on me. I talk to them about how before this day, I didn't remember terrorist being a common term and now it is a word that is used daily. I do all of this to get the students to feel a personal connection to the events.

2. I play at least 1-2 songs that talk about 9-11. I use several of the ones listed HERE and have the students close their eyes and imagine what it was like to hear these songs after experiencing 9-11.

3. I encourage students to watch documentaries that usually air around this time. I will typically show them some basic footage (here is ABC's footage from that morning) but there are normally some great documentaries that explain what happened very well.

4. I have my students check out the 9/11 Memorial Timeline. This interactive timeline is so great and keeps my students so engaged that I don't even have to give them an assignment. I have students that will even go home & look at it some more. It is FANTASTIC!

5. I will have my students interview someone at least 15 years older than they are to ask them about their own 9/11 experience. I love giving students the opportunity to connect what we talk about in the classroom with experiences in their own life or the lives of others. This gives them an opportunity to interview a family member or older friend and understand how this event impacted them.

6. This year, I decided to interview several of the teachers at my school and have them tell their story. I am very excited to see how well this goes over. I tried to pick a variety of teachers that are a variety of different ages so they can see the different perspectives. I liked this idea because it enables the students to see that 9/11 impacted EVERYONE, not just the people in New York, Washington, D.C., etc. I want them to see that after 9/11, the world was never the same again!

I encourage you to check out a couple of the following resources.

I would love to hear how YOU teach or IF you teach 9/11 to your classes? What are some the strategies you use? Have you noticed them being more or less receptive over the years? Comment below.

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