Teaching Profession Opinion

I Became a Teacher on September 11th

By Marilyn Rhames — September 07, 2011 3 min read
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We were making our final descent toward LaGuardia airport in New York when my husband nudged me from his window seat.

“Look at the Twin Towers,” he said in awe. “They look so eerie from up here.”

I had taken the trip from Chicago to New York dozens of times and the aerial view of the vertical landscape had lost its luster. I awkwardly peered over at the mighty chrome and glass pillars, glistening in the still rising sun, trying to see what he saw. The World Trade Center was my absolute favorite place to take family and friends when they came to visit. It seemed we were flying parallel to the top floors of the buildings and would have seen people standing on the roof-top observation deck had it not been so early in the morning. My husband remained fixated on the strangely majestic towers, repeating the word “eerie.”

“Not to me,” I said, sitting back into my chair. I had other things—bigger things—on my mind. We were returning from our baby shower, and my seven-month old unborn baby was restless in my overstretched womb. I had constant heartburn and swollen ankles. And I just wanted to get back into my bed. The towers didn’t look eerie. They were a generous welcome home banner.

That was on September 10, 2001.

Twenty-four hours later, my editor at The Journal News was waking me up. He called to tell me to report to work immediately. When I asked why, he said somberly, “Turn on the TV.”

Like most Americans, I will never forget where I was when I learned of the terrorist attacks ten years ago on September 11th. But I will never forget where I was the day before, either. I was on an American Airlines jet crossing over the Twin Towers. I was young, pregnant, and just a few days past my one-year wedding anniversary. Though I felt I had narrowly avoided being on the doomed planes, I assumed the role of a reporter charged with helping to cover event’s aftermath. I interviewed grieving family members and attended 9/11 victims’ funerals.

You may be wondering, what does any of this have to do with education? I willed myself to one day become a teacher on September 11th. I had taught children for years in Sunday school at my church and loved it. But I could only entertain the thought of teaching professionally for about two minutes. I’d have to take a serious pay cut. I’d have to go back to school to get certified. I’d have to give up all my years of hard work trying to prove myself in the highly competitive world of journalism. What would all my reporter friends say? What would my mother say?

But the shock and devastation of the terrorist attacks exposed the shallowness of everybody’s reasons for not pursuing their passions. I had accomplished my goal of being a big city news reporter and it was time to move on to the next mission. I determined that at the next available opportunity, I would quit my job, return to my hometown of Chicago, and become a teacher. When I die, I remember thinking, I want to be around the people I love, doing the work that I love.

When my daughter was three months old, I quit my job. A month later, I relocated to Chicago. Two years after that, I had earned a masters degree in education and was working as a teacher. My work as a journalist had been a career I enjoyed, but my work as a teacher was a calling. This is why—despite frustrations with the system—I have never left the classroom.

As we near the 10-year commemoration of the terrorist attacks, I am reminded of all those loved ones who died too soon, many still waiting to achieve their dreams. I am also made to remember why I chose to teach. I teach because I love children. I teach because I want to serve my country. I teach because I want my fragile, little life to somehow continue to have meaning when I am dead. And I cannot think of a better way to express those beliefs than to work to shape the minds of the next generation. In so doing, I honor the victims of the terror attacks each and every day I enter the classroom.

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The opinions expressed in Charting My Own Course are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.