Twenty years ago, on 9/11, I was in my fourth year of teaching and I was teaching fourth graders. For the past twenty years I’ve known that my young students don’t have memories of that day. Either they were too young or, as has mostly been true, they weren’t even born yet. So I haven’t made a big deal of the day.
Currently I teach third graders, kids who were born long after those events. However, my third graders are all military kids. They are more likely to have some knowledge of 9/11 than the students I taught for so long. That actually has made me even less interested in wading into this history. My students’ families have either talked with them about 9/11 or they haven’t. Either way, I believe these families have made a thoughtful choice.
This year, on the 20th anniversary and in the midst of a global pandemic, I found myself unwilling to ignore this date. So on Friday we talked about heroes. We’ve been setting up pages in our writers notebooks that we can use to generate writing ideas all year. We’ve created heart maps, pictures that show booboos from our lives (scars and such), places that are special to us, and so on. On Friday we reflected on heroes. I shared that I think parents, authors, and artists are all heroes. My kids got rolling thinking about who they see as heroes. Their lists included family and friends as well as military personnel, gardeners, Jesus, the president, doctors, and more.
Then we read LeUyen Pham’s Outside, Inside.
It is a beautiful book about how COVID-19 has changed all of our lives and how we have coped. After reading it, we thought some more about what it meant to be a hero. One student added to his list, “Me.”
For every name or label on their lists there are stories. Compelling stories. Stories I hope they’ll write this year.
I also hope this expanded their idea of what it means to be a hero. As a society we have some set notions about heroes. I think many of our ideas are limited, if not downright wrong. Stretching and revising our ideas about heroes can change the way we see many things.