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  1. 1. I've been teaching now going on 13 years and in all honesty there is only one day that stands out for me. There were a lot of little moments here and there that I felt particularly proud or sad, but... day that I can isolate as my best day is also probably my worst day was within my first week in a half of teaching. I had my own classroom. I had 35 kids in my freshman English class. It was a beautiful sunny morning. September 11, 2001. Mary's Best Day
  2. 2. I was teaching at Kellenberg Memorial High School, which is a catholic prepratory high school in Long Island. On a clear day, if you are standing on the roof of the building, you can see a little bit of the New York City skyline. It was a hot day and our principal was very strict about the kids not taking off their blazers. So when the bell for the intercom had rung... ...the kids automaticallly thought that brother Ken, our principal was going to tell us that we could take our blazers off.
  3. 3. And I said, "Wait! Wait! We don't know what the announcement is yet. Brother Ken came on and I could tell that he was struggling to think for himself about what to say. And the announcement was: "two planes have crashed into the World Trade Center. We don't have any other information at this time." And that was the announcement
  4. 4. Andimmediately I thought if it was just one plane I could see how maybe it was anaccident. Maybe some guy in a Cessna went off course and made a grave error. But two planes?...That sounded strange. And the students in my room had facial expressions similar to the one I have now-- just confusion. Sheer confusion.
  5. 5. And there was a moment of silence... And then a couple of kids shouted out: "Two planes? How is that possible?" And the class broke out in a cacophony.. . One girl-- I don't remember her name, but she had brown curly hair and was sitting toward the back of the class said: "Wait! My dad works in the World Trade Center!"
  6. 6. I don't know what happened to me, but in the snap of a finger I was on. I said, "Okay, everybody, sit down, calm down..." I have a radio... And if you are quiet and if you listen and you don't panic, we'll listen to the radio and find out what is going on.
  7. 7. So I turned on the radio and turned to an AM radio station that I knew broadcasted news. And we listened to a reporter for about three minutes. And suddenly he said: "For all intents we do believe this is a terrorist attack." We are under attack.
  8. 8. And at that moment I thought it was a good idea to shut off the radio I didn't havepermissionto turn onthe radio. Idin't know ifit was a good idea. I'd only been teaching for a week. This was not something my teacher preparation program had set me up for. It was all... Instinct.
  9. 9. And so I shut the radio off. The kids were sitting... And because it was a catholic school.... and it seemed appropriate at the time... I said, "All Right, guys, let's...let's pray. Let's say Hail Mary. Let's hope for the best.
  10. 10. And we said a hail mary. And I went through the rest of my lesson until the end of the period. I don't know if that was the right thing to do... but I felt like I had to keep going.
  11. 11. So after the period was over there was 4 minutes of passing time in the hallway. I stepped outside and met with my colleagues, and we all had the same confused look on our faces. I mean, this was 2001. We all had cellphones, but nobody was sending text messages, nobody was on the Intenet. Nobody had looked at a television.
  12. 12. 2nd period came in and we talked briefly about what had happened 1st period. There had been no other announcements at that point. So I proceeded with my lesson for second period. Almost like autopilot, if you will. It was like I knew what I had to do in my head and I just kept going.
  13. 13. 3rd period I had free and that was the first time I saw what was really going on. Images of smoke rising from the tops of the trade center--both buildings. Fire....People falling from the windows... ...Just leaping out of the windows to their death. It was all on camera right in front of us. Confused newscasters narrating through it. It was during that period that the first tower fell.
  14. 14. And I think we were all still really in shock about what was going on. While that faculty room is usually bustling and noisy and everyone is having coffee, chit- chatting, working on lesson plans, grading papers... Everybody was just glued to this tiny TV that we had in the corner.
  15. 15. I didn;t have anybody in the city at that time. Except a few friends from college and I had a feeling that they would have been okay. Nobody worked in the Wrld Trade Center that I knew of But During the period I was summoned down to the main office.
  16. 16. Apparantly, a student who was in my homeroom had his mom come up to school to come pick him up. He had left his soccer gear in my classroom, which was not unusual. I often let them do that. His name was Connor Gergahty.
  17. 17. Connor was one of my favorite 9th graders. Just bubbly and energetic and cute with freckles. You can tell that he was going to be a, like, a popular kid. Everybody liked him.
  18. 18. Mrs. Gergahty needed to get into the classroom to get connor's things. It wasn't unusual. People were coming to the school to take the kids out. In fact I spent the rest of my prep periods that day running passes. Just hanging out at the main office, getting passes for kids whose parents had come to school to pick them up, getting them out of class and getting thm out of the building.
  19. 19. Mrs. Gergahty came to my home-room with me and she picked up Connor's soccer gear and ... she said : "Connor, go to your locker and get your things, we're going to go home." And she turned to me and I could tell she was also trying to hold it together...
  20. 20. And she said, "My husband is FDNY. Battalion Chief...." Sorry. This part always gets me...I'll be okay. "My husband is a battalion chief and he works down there..." "And his firehouse was the first to respond." And she said, "I heard from him when he was on his way, but I haven't heard from him since." And her face was a little red, and she was trying to hold back tears.
  21. 21. And I could tell that she was trying not to cry in front of her son. And she said, "I don't know what to tell connor." So I told her that I would pray for her and for her husband. And hoped that as the day went on things would get better. At this point we had heard about the pentagon being hit. And we really had no idea what was going on. It was just so frightening.
  22. 22. Mrs. Gergahty Left with connor. He didn't come back to school for quite some time. His father did die on that day. They had never heard from him after that initial phone call.
  23. 23. And when connor didcome back toschool later onin the schoolyear--i think hecame back inoctober--hewasn't the same kid. The best way I can explain it. It's almost as if he came back from war. He wasn't the same bubbly, energetic kid that he was at the beginning of the school year. And he didn't stick around for much longer. He did eventually leave Kellenberg . I think he finished his freshman year in public school
  24. 24. Through the beauty of facebook I've been able to keep in touch with some of my former students And I have since learned that connor has become fdny. I'm proud of him for that.
  25. 25. I've seen pictures. I know that he's involved with the 5K race called Tunnels to Towers race. And they do it for the memorial fund for firfighters and their families. He ran with a friend with some of his father's gear. I think that is really cool. But that was the interaction that stood out for me that day.
  26. 26. At one point the principal broke in again over the loudspeaker during class. And he advised us to turn on the television the kids could watch the news. And I think the rational behind that was that he wanted actual news to come to the kids rather than just rumors. So we did that.
  27. 27. We had televisions because of channel one And we turned on the newsand it was basically the image of the plane crashing into the tower on repeat over and over again. We're watching this. And suddenly it's like... "maybe this isn't such a good idea. Maybe we shouldn't be watching the news." So then another announcement came over the speaker to turn it off.
  28. 28. Finally, when we were dismissed for the day, the faculty congregated in the big room again and we were watching tv. And nobody was in a hurry to get out of there that day. Sports and after school activities had been cancelled . One of my colleagues left early because her husband was in the trade center. And he was able to call her and say: "I'm not going to be able to make it out of here."
  29. 29. And I didn't see this happen... But other teachers had, and they were incredibly emotional as a result. I remember about a week or so later, school was cancelled so we could go to his funeral. And that was a tough moment for me.
  30. 30. It was standing room only at that church and the whole faculty had gone, and it was only just another reason that I felt part of that family at Kellenberg.
  31. 31. I didn't cry all day. I think I was in some kind of state of shock, for the most part. I felt like I was in control all the time. And when I had a chance to reflect on this later on... That' s why I thought that this was my best day so far.
  32. 32. And it's 2013 and I can still look back on that day from 2001 and say that that was my best day so far. That was when instinct kicked in. That was when I had those 35 face in the room who were accountable to me. And I had to do the best I could for them.
  33. 33. I had to keep them calm. I had to give them the information that they needed without giving them so much that they were afraid. I don't know if I did the right thing, but looking back I think I did the best I possible could have. I can't tell you what happened the next day or the day after that or any other day in the following weeks. With the exception of my colleague's husband's funeral. but that day vividly stands out as my best day
  34. 34. Because that was the day I knew I had made the right decision--not necessarily teaching-- but working with kids. I knew I could do it.