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'We all were frightened.' How two teachers help today's students understand the gravity of 9/11

9/11 classroom
David Goldman
/
The Associated Press file
In this Wednesday, May 4, 2011 file photo, Ivy Preparatory Academy sixth-graders Simin Savani, left, and Hannah Baker, right, watch a news reel of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in school in Norcross, Ga. Educators are finding it more difficult each year to teach about Sept. 11, 2001, as students remember less and less, or nothing at all, about the terrorist attacks.

Sept. 11, 2001, was one of Scott Darby’s first days teaching students at Shining Mountain Elementary in Spanaway. It was the only year he taught sixth-graders before transitioning into a long career teaching high school government in the Bethel School District.

Darby says the biggest challenge that day was helping his students — many who had military parents — understand what was happening without scaring them.

“It certainly was hard not to give off the vibes of fear to the younger kids,” he told KNKX Public Radio two days before the 20th anniversary of 9/11. “We all were frightened of what was going to happen next. Part of the frightening nature of it was that we didn’t know.”

One of Darby’s former students, Daniel Price, is grappling with some of the same challenges 20 years later. Price now teaches history at Cougar Mountain Middle School in Graham, down the road where he learned about post-9/11 issues in Darby’s Advanced Placement government class at Graham-Kapowsin High School a decade ago.

“My family’s from New York. Every year when I see some of the videos and the pictures that I go through and prepare my lessons, I just feel the 8-year-old in me coming out again,” Price said. “I feel like that’s something that’s going to carry on with me forever.”

Now, Darby and Price both say that teaching 9/11 has the added challenge of helping students understand the magnitude of an event they don’t have a personal connection to because they weren’t born when it happened.

“There really is a separation between the event and the kids that we are now teaching, much like in my generation learning about World War II,” Darby said.

Both teachers say to help bridge that gap, they teach the events of that day and what happened in the months and years that followed with the same emotion they were feeling back then.

“Honestly, I couldn’t imagine being a teacher in 2001,” Price said. “You had to think right there on your feet. And that’s huge. That says a lot about the teachers we have from the past.”