Can We Open the Door Now?

I can still remember everything that happened when the terrible tragedy of 9/11 happened fourteen years ago.  I was teaching high school mathematics, and one of my students, who had used the restroom pass, walked back in the classroom telling us that a plane hit one of the Twin Towers.  Without knowing what was really happening, I kept teaching the math lesson.  What seemed like a few minutes later, a student walking down the hallway passing my classroom announced another plane hit another building.

Confused, I glanced over at the TV mounted to the wall.  The TV was used for daily video announcements and certain, special events.  We did have access to a few news channels.  What seemed like a hypnotic conversation between the students and me to turn on the TV, I wasn’t sure the protocol in this situation.  Abandon the math lesson, or look for a news station?

After glancing for a moment at the dry-erase board filled with equations and graphs, I walked towards the door and shut it.  The door created a seal between my class and the rest of the building, and an ability to create a perceived distance in my thoughts and actions.  I walked over to the TV and turned it on, so we could watch history unfold of a monumental moment for my life as well as my students.

Looking back now as an educational leader and administrator, I still wonder why I felt the need to pause in that decision to abandon the prepared lesson for a relevant, timely new one.  And, I wonder why I needed to close the door to feel freedom in doing the right thing.

I have a great respect for my Principal at the time, and I think he would have approved my request to watch the news, if asked.  But, I question why I feel like I would have needed to ask.  Why did I feel like I would have needed permission?

Even before the new standards, the increased testing, and the changes in the evaluation system, I didn’t feel we had an overt, open conversation, with permission, to broach relevant topics or issues at that time.

As an administrator know, my hope is to be crystal clear that we not just passively approve requests for teaching relevant lessons, but we proactively encourage, engage, and even recognize opportunities for teachers to share with students, regardless of the lesson.

And, instead of lurking in the shadows or feeling the need to shut the door, we openly shift and adapt our learning in those teachable moments.

What conversations have happened among your staff to support and foster these opportunities?

How have you modeled this behavior among the staff as well as students?

What could you do in the next week to create this culture in your classroom or building?


  1. Fantastic post. I remember a similar situation. I was in high school (student). My high school was large and was set as a campus with 8 buildings. We are located right outside a military base. Unfortunately you question “why shouldn’t I” and I experienced the probable reason you questioned it. My high school and all of the teachers were put on alert that they were not to turn on the news, students caught turning on or checking their phones would be given an immediate Saturday school, and teachers were told they were not to play the radio, they were not to let us know any information even though all of the students had cell phones and we were receiving it anyway. The idea behind this was because the majority of the students (myself included) had military families and they knew our thoughts would wonder and worry with “where is my dad and is he ok? Will I see him again or is he packing right now for a TDY assignment.” The administration thought they were helping us. They thought and hoped to keep us blissfully ignorant of the situation until we went home and knew the impact. I was lucky though, my Advanced Comp teacher disagreed. She closed and locked the door of our classroom. She turned the radio on low and we spent all of that class listening to what the world was going through. She explained to us that she respected our maturaty and hoped we would respect her enough not to say a word about her breaking the rules. She comforted those in the room that were experiencing emotion or wanted to talk. She allowed us to check our cell phone voice mails and use our phone to call our families (and in some cases get in a quick good bye to family members being deployed). She cared and we held true to her and no one told what she did for us. I obviously wasn’t a teacher then and being all of 16 I didn’t really know what I wanted to be but after Iade that choice to become a teacher I have to admit she turned in to one of my bigger role models of how I wanted to teach and just overall care truly about my students just like she did.

    1. Thanks for your insights and shared story to consider other perspectives. I appreciate your ability to think through the multiple dimensions of the event and the courage of your teacher. Thanks!

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