Teachers Remember 9/11

Three stories from that horrific day

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Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The World Trade Center’s south tower burns after being struck in the tragedy that took 2,977 lives.

Twenty years ago, tragedy struck this country in the form of four Boeing 767’s. By 10:30 that morning, the two towers of the World Trade Center had collapsed. By 11:00 a.m., it was apparent that the United States would never be the same.

Americans still remember the shock, terror, and grief from that day. While the majority of SJHHS students were not even alive to have experienced this event, many teachers were.

For most teachers, the day started like any other. “I remember I was getting ready for school,” said physics teacher Lauren Smith. “It was my senior year of high school, so school had just started. The phone rang in our house and it was my grandma calling from New York to say, ‘turn on the TV.’ We sat on the edge of my mom’s bed and watched the first or the second tower falling- I can’t remember which one we saw fall.”

“I remember seeing the first one, and I remember sitting down in my bed and just staring at the TV. It’s like everything ceased for a moment as I questioned- am I watching a movie? Or is this real life?” said French teacher, Linda Keeler. 

AP Macroeconomics and AP Government and Politics teacher Bill Kaiser worked at Bernice Ayer Middle School at the time. “The principal told every teacher that they wanted to keep the televisions off in the classrooms, fearing that the students would be disturbed by the images,” he said. 

“We tried to carry on as though life was normal, but you could just tell that some students were already aware of something big going on.”

I remember seeing the first one, and I remember sitting down in my bed and just staring at the TV. It’s like everything ceased for a moment as I questioned- am I watching a movie? Or is this real life?”

— Linda Keeler

A world of regular people getting ready for school and work stopped, as they all turned on their TVs to watch the events unfold. “You were just praying and hoping that people would survive,” said  Keeler. “Then, to watch the towers collapse was the final straw- there was nothing else to wish for at that point because you knew the horror that had just taken place.”

“I will forever remember that,” said Smith.

Even witnessing it through a TV screen had ramifications on the teachers’ daily lives. 

“It made for not such a good beginning of senior year. I remember at school that day then a lot of the teachers had it on on the TVs. At one point one of the teachers was like ‘we’re going to turn this off now because everybody just needs a moment of not hearing about it’,” said Smith. 

For all witnessing the event, it did not take long for fear and uncertainty to set in. “It’s like, what do you do with this information?” said Keeler. “What does this mean? What’s happening next? Should I take my brand new baby and take her up to my neighbors for daycare and leave her there? Do I take the day off work? I felt really conflicted.”

Still, there was comfort to be found in the shared experience. “In the classroom, we were all in it together,” said Kaiser.

While most were able to move on from the initial terror of that first morning, the effects were felt days, months, and even years after.

“The next day there were students where their parents held them out of school. They were afraid of more airplane attacks-that was a real fear that people had, that it wasn’t just 3 or 4 aircraft. Could it be an ongoing thing?” said Kaiser. 

Due to these fears, the country was on edge for much longer than after the dust had settled around the World Trade Center. “We went on a trip a couple months later,” remembered Smith. “We were flying up to Canada and the airport was empty because everybody was afraid to fly. That’s when they had started their screening to check the bottoms of your shoes because there were at least rumors that people had bombs in the bottoms of their shoes.”

Today, two decades later, the memories of this fateful day are still vivid enough to be recounted in clear detail. Even now, we are still feeling the consequences of the day. They can be seen in TSA security lines and in disasters like the political situation in Afghanistan.

The immense amount of devastation and intense emotions felt that day have Americans, both from past and current generations, still striving to remember and honor the lives lost and forever changed that September morning.