Sunday, September 11, 2011


by Noah Geisel

Today marks the 10 year anniversary of one of the most important moments in our nation’s history. It also marks the 10 year anniversary of my first day of teaching.

To turn on the television during the last week has been to be confronted with the networks’ attempts to help us figure out what 9/11 meant and what it continues to mean. I heard a story on Colorado Public Radio this week about a history teacher’s recollection of that day, companioned with his former student’s version. The former student was so inspired that ten years later he is a teaching candidate, enrolled in his former teacher’s methods class. Touching and inspiring stuff.

9/11 was my generation’s Kennedy assassination: we all remember where we were, what we were doing, what we were thinking and how we coped. All of us who were in the classroom that day dealt with something for which we were not prepared.

I had first period planning and spent the hour before the first class of my career starring bewildered at the television while my coffee got cold. I tried to get more information on the internet but every news site had crashed from the traffic of a world full of people trying to do the same. I checked my email and saw a message from administration explaining that something had happened in New York City (We still didn’t know what...) and to please not alarm the students, several of whom had relatives who worked in or near the World Trade Center. I marched upstairs to my 9th grade World Literature class, guarding this enormous secret, and began my life as a teacher by posing my first essential question: What is art?

With each anniversary, I think back and try to reflect on what happened that day. For me, the confusion and sadness of the attacks are inseparable from the fulfillment and inspiration I felt as I began teaching. While I cried every night as the details emerged and we learned that what had happened was no accident, I spent my days elated by the new experiences I found in education.

In the Jewish faith, we celebrate a new experience by saying a prayer called the Shehekianu. It is our way of commemorating doing something for the first time. It is in this tradition that I memorialize September 11th each year. I seize onto all of the firsts, remembering them and being grateful for them. The first day of school. The first eager student to raise her hand, ask a follow-up question or show self-advocacy. The first activity that seems to engage the whole class. The first student to walk in after the bell or to use profanity. The first phone call to a parent.

Whether it lifts your spirit or frustrates your soul, it is valuable at this time to honor and celebrate the firsts and to appreciate them for the meaning they provide us.

Please leave a note in the comments. What firsts do you celebrate each new year?


  1. Very touching Noah and as you said, 9/11 was my generation’s Kennedy assassination; I remember every detail. But what I remember the most is getting home and asking my mom were my dad was. That anxiety of coming home and knowing that my father wasn’t there was too much and then hearing him walk in 10 minutes later….I’m so thankful.

  2. I was in Mrs. Fisher's 8th grade social studies class when Kennedy was assassinated. I wasn't old or aware enough to know what that might mean for the rest of us and the future.
    I was working at a community social and educational services agency when the World Trade Center was attacked. A co-worker had a radio on in the food pantry, and we listened to the first reports. I felt immediate deep sadness and discouragement not only for the horrors experienced directly by the victims of the attack, but also for what the attackers were doing indirectly to the rest of us- turning us over to the war-makers again.
    I don't watch television, so I didn't see film images of the Sept. 11 attacks until several days later. I didn't want or need more reminders of the horror on which my country was likely to embark. The Vietnam War was my formative historical "event", rather than the Kennedy assassination.
    Now, as a high school Spanish teacher, I briefly introduce my students to the Chilean 9/11 of 1973, just to broaden their 9/11 thinking a little.


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