"BEEEEEP. BEEEEEP. BEEEEEP. Whap!
My alarm went off in my gym locker-scented dorm room at Taft College, meaning that I needed to hurry to my 7:45 class. After all, it was my baseball coach who was my professor - can't be late to his class. The night before was a ton of fun in the dorms. We had returned from a fall baseball trip in the evening and the 4 hour bus ride had gotten to us, so we started a food fight. FOOD. WAS. EVERYWHERE. Knowing that we would be running for HOURS if coach found out, we cleaned up the oranges and spare parts of sandwiches, but the memory was still fresh in my mind. I walked out of my room and headed off to class, stepping over some orange splatter and a sandwich wrapper that must've been overlooked by our cleaning efforts. Oh well, I thought, I'll get it after class. Before I got out of the gate, Manny Rodriguez, the sophomore who we all loved and who was always laughing, yelled out "Hey Stevens, we're going to war!"
"C'mon man, we can't. Coach is already going to be pissed when he finds out about this. Last night was fun, but we gotta stop. I gotta get to class."
"No, get in here. We're going to war."
As soon as I got into his room, I saw the second plane hit the tower. Our lives haven't been the same ever since.
DISCLAIMER: This is from my second year of teaching. There are faults. This is before I was blessed with the know-how to let students run wild with technology. This was before the fads and edutrends of edtech started, at least for me. This is before the iPad existed. This was what I knew to be the best way to teach.
The opening story above was my opening hook to my students on September 11th of 2007, my second year of teaching. The students knew something was up when I started class by talking. Usually it was a video, a picture, or a problem. Today, it was a story. I needed them to feel even the slightest bit of emotion that I did, and still do, even 14 years later. They were floored, the quietest the room had been all two weeks of the school year and probably the rest of the year as well. It was working so far.
Next, I handed the students a sheet of paper and told them to go find the answers:
After that, we watched some videos of the 9/11 media coverage:
"Imagine if one day, everyone at Cathedral City High School was gone. GONE. That's what those families still live with to this day."
Silence. It was working.
I knew some kids would get teary-eyed. I did. Still do. What I wasn't prepared for was Jose, the tough guy in the class who still hadn't figured out how much "I'm a bad ass" he needed to portray in the class that was merely 2 weeks old in the new school year. Jose kept pinching his fresh white Stafford t-shirt to his eyes, looking up in between pinches to reveal ever-reddening eyes, but not wanting to miss another picture, another moment. Something struck him like I never thought it would.
After the videos and the pictures, questions came pouring in, each one showing signs of emotion and desire to learn more, to feel more. They asked if they could look up more videos and I agreed, as long as they knew that there are ton of conspiracy theories that are completely unsubstantiated. Yes. Do it. It was working.
Two nights before this lesson, as it so often happens in my scattered brain, I was trying to fall asleep and a thousand ideas, thoughts, and memories flooded my path to REM status. One of them woke me up to the point of writing down an idea: "Talk to Lowe's giant scale model Twin Towers" was the note to remind me.
The next morning on my prep, I called the local Lowe's to talk to a manager. After explaining my idea to him, Rodrigo was more than happy to help. "Sure", he replied, "We can take care of you!" Wait, it was working?
After school, I went to Lowe's to pick up enough plywood, 2x4's, screws, wood glue, and electrical tape to create a 1:100 scale model of both Tower 1 and Tower 2. The students were tasked with asking their parents to give them aluminum foil. Our goal was to recreate the Twin Towers in a 1:100 ratio and we did. Over the course of 2 weeks following September 11th, 2007, we worked together to build those towers. The only work that I did was the work I was legally required (or was afraid of handing over to the kids) to do: cut and drill. They measured every cut. They held every piece. They carried and organized the entire event. They checked for accuracy. They split electrical tape in half and wrapped it around the towers to represent every floor of Tower 1 and Tower 2. They came in for hours each day after school to build two towers. IT. WORKED.
One of the qualities of a teacher is that, I believe by nature, we are a humble people. We don't seek praise or external affirmation - we get it from our students and our peers when we crave it. However, seeing the work that these kids did made me realize that it would be selfish to let it die there; the general public needed to see this. Being the careless second year teacher that I was, I called the district's PR contact person and told her about the project as it was winding down. She sent out a local newspaper to interview us, but the kids were really stoked to see the news channel come by with cameras and a reporter. IT. WORKED.
DISCLAIMER 2: They say some nice things about me. That's not why I'm sharing the video. At the same time, I'm proud of it. We worked hard and it felt damn good to hear those things come from a reporter. Wouldn't it be nice if more teachers were put in the media spotlight? I agree.