Thirteen years ago I was a teacher in a classroom of sixth graders in Culpeper, Virginia, an hour from Washington, D.C. When the first plane flew into the towers, I was notified by the principal, in subdued tones at the classroom doorway, of the unfolding tragedy, our voices lost in the din of migrating desks and exploding backpacks. I was instructed not to inform students of that morning's events. I knew that at least one child had a father working at the Pentagon.
Classes are starting, which means that I’m likely only weeks away from that moment—as inevitable as first-week crushes and pasta-bar hangovers—when a student walks into my office, paper in hand, and says, “I don’t understand. Just tell me what you want.”
Years ago, right before an end-of-the-term field trip, my son brought home a notice from his middle school. The body of the letter included the usual information: dates, cost, arrival and departure times. But, the last line contained an ominous warning.