After viewing hours of television coverage of the September 11 attack on
America, I had to gather myself and enter my classroom the next day. Secretly, I was hoping for a late-night phone call informing me that the schools would be closed September 12. That phone call never came. So life in my classroom had to continue.
Somehow, the thought of plunging back into twelfth-grade medieval literature, tenth grade short stories, or ninth-grade grammar seemed quite irrelevant when fathers, sons, brothers, mothers, daughters, and sisters were missing from the fabric of
America's home sweet home. With first period fast approaching, I decided that my students would begin each class with a journal writing. Their journal topic for September 12: In light of yesterday's events in America, write down the thoughts and emotions that you are feeling at this moment.
Little did I know how effective this activity would be in generating a dialogue among my students. While my fellow teachers chose to get back to the normal routine, I allowed my students to express their thoughts, feelings, and emotions in a classroom that has always been an open forum.
As students arrived in class on September 12, 2001, I wrote their journal topic on the topic chart: In light of yesterday's events in
America, write down the thoughts and emotions that you are feeling at this moment. I continued with my daily routine of taking roll, signing absentee slips, basically getting the day organized while my students wrote. Usually students are given about ten minutes to journal write, but this day was different. As I walked around the room, I noticed that after ten minutes most of my students still had pen to paper and did not appear to be close to stopping. Finally, I proceeded to begin our discussion (as normally done after journal writing), allowing students to share their thoughts and feelings. We did not solve any problems that day, but we did begin the healing process.
It happened the day before my birthday,
What's it called, KAMAKAZIE?
My dad is in Boston for two weeks,
A week later—there.
More deaths in one day than
Pearl Harbor & Oklahoma City Bombing.
Our military is crippled from
events now, and in the past (cuts, etc.)
Japan once said, “Don’t wake the sleeping giant.”
What?—“You're messing with the wrong people.”
I've been to New York and seen the two towers.
First shocked, then angered
Statue of Liberty still there
The radio said AMERICAN flags were all sold out.
No planes over
Biggest, worst event in my life and my parents' lives.
Never happened before—
Yeah, they're messing with the wrong people.
Jaime’s impromptu poem captures her thoughts and fears, but also captures her American pride. And it's that American pride that stunned and fueled the American people as we began to heal. When I read Jaime’s journal entry and realized that she had written a poem, I was amazed. I had only been teaching her for one month when the September 11 tragedy occurred, and all I knew about her was that she was studious and quiet. Not shy, but would only speak when spoken to. Her poem from September 12 encompasses that American cockiness that keeps this country going. As the poem closes, don't miss her final message, “Yeah, they’re messing with the wrong people.”
From this activity, I learned that no matter what my lesson plan is supposed to be, local, state, national, and world events shape my students, and we, as educators, should never miss the opportunity to allow our students to think, write, and discuss those events. As painful as September 11 was and still is, our students cannot be expected to come into the classroom and shut out what is happening in the world. Until I read Jaime's poem, I had no clue that her father was in Boston on that tragic day. And she was supposed to continue like nothing was happening? Yeah, right. Journal writing in any discipline is a tool that all teachers need to use. Whether you grade them or not, it allows students time to think, write, and discuss.
Suggestions on how you might adapt this lesson for a different classroom setting
► Journal prompts to invite student dialogue about a world event work in any classroom, at any level, in any setting. While Linda’s prompt was directed at ninth-graders, an elementary teacher might ask students to write down one or two words or draw a picture of their feelings in response to such an event.
► Linda used her prompt to help students articulate their emotional response to a national disaster. Consider beginning class with a journal prompt to connect students to local, national, or international events. They might write about their feelings about a local store opening, tree planting, or weather event, e.g. the tornadoes that swept through Oklahoma in the ‘90s. They might write about a national event that is not a disaster, but an accomplishment—the launching of a space shuttle. Writing about an international event connects American students to world events.
► History, science, language arts, foreign language, or math classes could begin with journal writes as responses to significant events and then invite the students to understand the consequences within the language of that particular discipline.
-- Linda Stewart
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