Reflections on 9/11
UFT members work every day to make a difference in people's lives. On September 11, 2001, in the face of horror and uncertainty, we were there to make a crucial and, in many cases, a life-saving difference. Teachers, nurses, school counselors, paraprofessionals and others led their charges out of danger, made sure students across the city were cared for while communication and transportation systems were frozen, and calmed the fears of hundreds of thousands of other children. They set a shining example of courage and inspiration.
This feature is filled with a few of the many heartfelt stories that we have gathered from members about that horrendous day and its aftermath. They reflect the best in all of us.
— Michael Mulgrew, President UFT
The stories below were submitted by UFT members. Versions of some of these stories appear in a commemorative book published by the UFT in September 2011; others are exclusive to this online archive.
I was presenting a library orientation lesson to a 2nd grade class, when another teacher came in and asked me to turn on the TV because "something terrible was happening in Manhattan." I turned on the TV and turned it away from the class and watched the horrible events out of the corner of my eye while giving a cheerful lesson to the children, as other teachers came in.
Nancy S. Wahl
September 11, 2001 marked my third day of teaching in a public school. In the beginning days of school, there were many announcements being made over the intercom reminding teachers to begin their lessons, to bring down attendance, and to say goodbye to parents who were still lingering; each announcement was more distracting for me than the previous, none of which I heard because I was battling with my kindergartners for quiet. So when the school secretary came into my room at 9:15 to see if I wanted to call my family, I was, of course, confused. "Why? Did something happen?"
My third graders were working on a writing project when the classroom phone rang. The office said to pack up one of my students because she was going home. I no sooner got her packed up when the phone rang again and two more students were going home. I asked the office why were all these students leaving. "Oh I guess no one came to your classroom. We will send someone up."
We begin the lesson, a short story by Edgar Allen Poe. It is September 11, a Tuesday, 8:45 a.m., the sky is clear and blue, the air crisp and clean, a stellar September morning by all accounts. As we read on, I stand at my desk, textbook in hand, every now and then stealing a glance at the blue sky through a set of four, six foot high windows; just beyond these windows can be seen downtown Brooklyn and the Manhattan skyline.
There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think of "that day." 9/11 forever changed my life.
We came out on Thames Street and made the right towards Greenwich Street. When we got to the corner and looked up, we were almost under the World Trade Center. There were people everywhere; so it was difficult to keep the children in check, but as we walked we just continued to move along, sweeping with us any children that we encountered. Leadership High School, our sister school, is right across the street from us, and they evacuated at the same time we did.
I was a science teacher at the High School for Leadership and Public Service, located less than 500 yards from the South Tower. I was there on 9-11-01 and evacuated kids to Battery Park.
Ellen B. Manigault
In August 2001, I began working as a temporary employee in the Law Department of the Port Authority of NY/NJ in the North Tower on the 66th floor. It was supposed to be an indefinite assignment. I had been there for over a month when on Monday, September 10 at 6 p.m. as I was ready to leave the office, something kept telling me to take everything with me.
Calm and Collected
Gail F. Burrows
I will always be very proud of everyone who was working at P.S. 128 that day on 9/11. It showed the true character of those who went into teaching and stayed in it with a true commitment to the children and the broader community.
It was surreal to be teaching my regular lesson after what I had just seen. My thoughts were: protect them; they're in a different world; be in their world with them; one that's happy, free and without a care.
Norka M. Freyre Garcia
The fear on the children's faces, the concern etched on the teachers' faces. All day long we heard the sound of sirens, fire engines, patrol cars and ambulances, along with the announcements over the public address system of the names of the children lucky enough to be going home with their anxious parents.
Everyone in school banded together to be sure that our children were safe and well taken care of until they could be picked up by their parent or guardian.
Realization of what was happening took several minutes. Cognizance of the magnitude of the death and destruction took hours. Understanding? Who knows? Maybe never. But move on we must.
Roberta Ann Afflitto
Parents were running into the building, crying, demanding to get their children. We had to quickly organize ourselves, calm the parents, try not to alarm the children and release children to parents in an organized fashion.
On that fateful day I was awakened by a phone call. At the time I had just gotten my bachelors degree in Production Management from Tisch School of the Arts at NYU.
By the time the second tower was hit, parents were streaming to the school to pick up their children.
Loss & Renewal
Someone from the office came to the classroom door, and told me that the World Trade Center was on fire, and not to let the children look out the window. Knowing that my son Keith, a medic with New York Hospital would be there, I was concerned, but not overly so at the time. I went on with the first period lesson, and at the beginning of the second period, someone else came to the door and asked if I needed to make a phone call. I went into the library across the hall and used the phone to call my son's cell. I left a message.
Francine Skye Morales Lentini
I loved my common-law husband very much. His name was John Andreacchio.
September 11, 2001 started out as a beautiful day and it ended as the worst day of my life. I was a senior in high school when word came that a plane went into the World Trade Center. As the day went on rumors were going through the school and I couldn't wait to go home.
My sister-in-law Susan Ann Ruggiero died in the towers on 9/11 (96th fl). I went to look for her on 9/12. My family and hers never cried so much or so hard. We expected to sort through injured victims to find her. There were none. This was very hard to understand. We went from Hospital to hospital looking for her. The Red Cross was amazing, so caring, so compassionate.
There was a family in my school with four daughters. I taught two of the girls. When I found out that the child I had was giving up basketball, her love for the Yankees, and all of the things she did with her dad, because he had been killed in the World Trade Center, I went over to visit her.
I was, at that time, the orchestra director for I.S. 96. We then had the largest I.S. string program in the city. We were scheduled to play at the Dial-a-Teacher event at the Sheraton on October 20. All trips were cancelled following 9/11. Somehow, inexplicably, we were given a bus and on a crisp October Saturday morning headed for Manhattan.
Patrick J. McAvey
A week earlier I had introduced my students to writing a journal. Give details, I told them. Let readers see and feel what you describe. One student volunteered to read aloud her first entry. She wrote of a trip taken with her family to Connecticut. On the way her father had driven through lower Manhattan to let the children see the Twin Towers up close. The girl described deserted streets that almost seemed ghostly on an early Sunday morning and she mentioned the massive walls that had seemed so small when viewed from Brooklyn. She read this to the class on the Friday before the Towers fell.
I was not yet teaching on 9/11...but it is how I found my way to teaching. I was a Broadway and touring company manager for shows. As I drove down the west side highway to rehearsal I saw the planes hit the World Trade Center and heard the event unfold on the radio as I was watching it live from my car.
Lending A Hand
In the days that followed, my leadership students collected $5,000 and donated the money to a city fund.
Jennifer L. Semlies
We made it a class project to do "something" that would help. I allowed the class to discuss ideas with each other, and find a way that we could raise money for the families of firefighters who had perished in the attack.
I was part of a group of UFT Teacher Center colleagues who opened and categorized the outpourings of gifts and supporting messages from students from all over the country, who had sent books, original drawings, lovely, sensitive letters, etc. for the school children of New York.
We collected food, water, gloves, sterile eye drops, bandages etc. for relief sites (around the city). Since my daughter and I worked at the Staten Island Richmond Stadium center every day and night after school, I would bring back lists of items needed and let the students know of the general events taking place and how much their donations were appreciated.
Reflections & Hope
The wounds of that horrible day in our city have forever changed the skyline, but not our spirit!
I pray every day that the youngest of this generation will be spared the trauma and enjoy the beautiful life that this country offers.
I literally saw the students age that day. They saw history unfold before their eyes and learned that it is real.
I looked up at the sky, peaceful and blue, all that would soon change, but no one knew.
I’m a New York City teacher working and living in Manhattan. On the morning of 9/11/01, I did ordinary things and had ordinary thoughts. I went to vote and remembered how worried I was that I was going to be late for a meeting I had to attend. Traffic was heavy and I was getting anxious.
Mary Dixon Lake
Beautiful skyline, sunny day. Everyone scurrying on their way. Twin Towers standing tall and erect. Representing much of what we respect.
I could not be prouder of the grace, calm, unity, decisiveness, and courage shown by our administrative and mental health staff that day and the days and weeks that followed.
I wish that day had never occurred, but the beauty of a nation standing together in the name of peace is how I will remember that dreadful day.
On September 11, 2011 terrorists struck the city's twin towers. Who dared to do this, who thought they had the powers? Our incredible skyline of New York city will never be the same. The senseless destruction, shows only steel and ashes remain.
We all came together as a family. This is one of the many times I was proud to be a New York City teacher.
Sarah Brown Weitzman
We watched them rise block upon block of glass and steel into long bands of light transforming the silhouette of New York with their triumphant brilliance of height.
I woke up at 6 a.m. on this late summer morning, listening to Curtis and Kuby, a talk show on 770 AM radio. I forced myself up out of bed to walk the dog. My wife, Susan, was already awake getting her daily consumption of public radio while scrambling for missing glasses, misplaced fanny pack and those purloined work keys. She had to be at her job by 8:00 a.m., while I had to be at work at 9:30.
Anna Costa Tesoriero
Lord, let me sleep peacefully this night. / Save from the terrorist site / of seeing bodies. seeing bones, / Evil has buried beneath the stones.
oh, what did you see on the news today, dear little friends of mine? / I saw there are people, oh, so mean. / Doing things I’d never seen. / Ending lives… murdering. / A world grey and dark — ’stead of blue and green. / That’s what I saw on the news today. Yes, that’s what I saw on the news.
I was working as a school secretary in PS 104. Our principal, Ms. Marie DiBella, became the captain of the ship. She put all of us in specific locations with specific jobs. I was amazed how everyone in the school came together to help each other.
PS 79 is a five-story school one block from the Grand Concourse on East 181st Street. The building towers over the surrounding structures and has a clear view into Manhattan. September 11, 2001, was a New York City primary day. I was in my office at 8:55 a.m. or so preparing for the day’s gym classes when the principal called me to her office. I did not know it then but that day became the biggest emergency in my thirty-nine year career.
On the morning of September 11th, I was teaching my freshman art class at LaGuardia HS of Music & Art and Performing Arts. When I arrived at school, everything seemed normal — a beautiful day and a class of adorable, enthusiastic young people. A short while after I began my lesson, a woman charged into the room saying she's taking her son and his friend with her now. She was extremely agitated. When I asked her why, she seemed incredulous that I had no idea of what just happened.
I am a guidance counselor at a high school in Brooklyn. I had a student whose mother was also at the WTC when it was attacked in 1993. He said that he begged her to quit then, and was both scared and angry on 9/11. The entire day he was with me alternating between crying and yelling.
I was rushing that morning to get out of the house, jump in my car to drive to NY Transit Tech High School for a school visit. I would have driven down the West Side Highway to the Battery Tunnel and pass the World Trade Center. When I first heard the news that there was some kind of a plane accident at the Trade Center. I thought I'd better wait to hear traffic updates before I left. I had no idea then about the horrors and calamities that were about to unfold.
I was the UFT rep at JHS 185Q when I was summoned to the principal's office and informed that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. I thought at first that it was a small, private plane when the principal explained that it was a commercial airliner. She thought it would be a good idea, being the union rep, if I went to all of the teachers' rooms and discreetly inform them of what was taking place.
Hernan Poza III
It's Tuesday morning and I'm interviewing one of my children. He has scratches on his face and it's my responsibility as this boy's therapist/ Social Worker, to make an initial determination as to the seriousness of his injuries. He describes falling off his bike, how his mother handled the situation, the injuries seem consistent with his explanation. The interview concludes abruptly as the Assistant Principal rushes into my office.
Julie Beatrice and Pat Prusak
As we wrap up another school year and begin also to plan for the upcoming one, school social workers across the nation, and certainly within New York State, cannot avoid addressing the recent developments in the nation’s "war on terrorism." The death of Osama Bin Laden, the president’s recent visit to Ground Zero, and the upcoming tenth anniversary all bring us to a time of personal and professional reflection.
The Greatest City in the World / Was Today attacked, bruised, and scorned / Lives were lost, jobs no longer exist / Feelings of pain, fear and anger persist
It was the most beautiful Tuesday morning and I when I had gotten out of bed I thought that it was just too nice to go to work. Then I remembered that everyone in my company was going to the Yankee game that night. I knew that I definitely wanted to go to the game so I got dressed in jeans, a fatigue colored Tommy Hilfiger shirt and sneakers. I remember as I was leaving the house my mother noticed the sneakers and asked me why I was wearing them; it was unusual for me to wear them to work.
As a teacher of English as a second language, I listened as teenagers asked questions about the tragedy as it unfolded before them — and I struggled to provide them with answers. This is my story.
deep inside the darkest moment / there is a sudden burst of light movement / that illuminates ignorance beyond disbelief / at the same time / the sky breaks its promise to heaven / and falls
It was a clear morning of possibilities, a primary election day. The day itself was one of those brilliant pre-autumnal gifts that late summer offers in the weeks following Labor Day, meant to make people feel good as they went about their ordinary work routines. I left my Staten Island home to drive to the Brooklyn Borough Hall area where I would meet Randi Weingarten, Maureen Salter and others in a campaign activity with our UFT-endorsed candidate for mayor, Alan Hevesi.