10 Years…

I was 21 when the World Trade Center was attacked.  I had been a teacher for about 3 weeks.  Three months after graduating college with a two month intensive teacher boot-camp, I found myself in Brownsville, Texas teaching 9th grade geography. I was a member of the Alliance for Catholic Education*, a Catholic school version of Teach For America.    I was still at the point that I was offended when my students called me “Ma’am”, had no idea what I was doing, and getting used to life in South Texas**.  I was overwhelmed, exhausted, and loving my life.  Then, I found myself in my classroom on September 11th, watching Mexican TV with my students, and trying not to cry as I tried to process what was going on and be strong for these young people I was in charge of.  As of much of my first year of teaching, I closed my eyes, took a breath and did the best I could.

The rest of the school year was a blur.  We prayed a lot.  My students lead prayers for the people of Afghanistan, the people lost on 9/11, for peace,  for grace, for hope, for justice, and for love.  Eight years after leaving Catholic schools, I still consider myself blessed to be in a place where we could pray and view the world through a lens of social justice and empathy when the worst happened.  We studied a lot.  I created geography lessons around Afghanistan, compared Catholicism with Islam, reviewed just-war theory, and studied the cost US dependence on foreign oil. Looking back, I am incredibly proud of what my classroom looked like in my two years in Brownsville.

The past 10 years have also been blur.  I have lived in Washington DC, teaching in a school with kids from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Eritrea, El Salvador and dozens of other countries.  I have lived overseas for the past three years, keeping my eyes on State Department warnings and maintaining a faith in the kindness of strangers. I believe the world is small, karma is real, and sharing good food can lead to friendship in most places.  I have moved on, as have my students.  But we have lived in the shadow of 9/11 for ten years.

When they caught Osama bin Laden last week, I was hurtled back to my classroom in Saint Joseph Academy. My students from 2001 are now 23-24, older than I was when I started teaching.  There is no doubt that something was taken from them on 9/11.  And the past 10 years have not been kind to anyone, regardless of country of origin or political belief. I saw a lot of young people celebrating in DC and New York after the death of Osama.  There is a chance some of my students would have been in this crowd. While I wouldn’t choose to chant U-S-A in front of the White House, I understand why they yell. I just hope they remember some of the lessons I struggled to teach ten years ago.


* Calling the Alliance for Catholic Education the “Catholic Version of Teach for American” is a beat of cheat.  It is a two-year service program/Masters Degree program run through the University of Notre Dame.  It was much, much more for me and deserves it’s own post.

** Speaking of difficult to summarize, Brownsville Texas is impossible to explain.  A border town on the southern tip of Texas, the only job you could do without speaking Spanish was teaching.  About 1/3 of my students lived in Mexico and crossed over every day to go to school.  Border culture is much more fluid than you think. And incredibly special.

About Rebekah Madrid

MYP Humanities Instructor. International School Teacher in Japan. Google Certified Teacher. Apple Distinguished Educator. National Board Certified Teacher. Traveler & TV Watcher. This is where I write my thoughts about all of the above.
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4 Responses to 10 Years…

  1. Brian Farrell says:

    The upcoming anniversary is probably even more bizarre for you now when you think about your current students. For them, 9/11 is a historical concept rather than a defining moment as it is for us.

    • Tell me about it. The kids I teach now didn’t even know who Osama was. And while 9/11 won’t be forgotten, I liked the idea he could end up a small footnote of history.

  2. Alex G. says:

    The weird thing for me about all this is that, while I mentally feel like it’s around 1994, and while I clearly remember partying like it was 1999 in the US during the Newmanium, this forces me to realize that I’ve been living abroad for over a decade, because I was working at a German publishing house on 9/11. Oh dear. Anyway, if you haven’t seen it, “Kids React to Osama Bin Laden’s Death”:

    The best line is probably the utterly sincere “My dad lost a lot of friends to 9/11”.

  3. Pingback: Then and Now: Project Based Learning | Rebekah Madrid

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