The teachers at Ground Zero on 9/11 were newly into their school year.
Some were so young, it takes your breath away to imagine their courage. Many were first-year teachers. All were barely into the school year, just matching faces to names and mastering desk cubby assignments. Some were at rug time, some were reading to their students, and some were teaching math. Others led music or browsed the school library with students on 9/11. Then there were all the aides and clerical staff. There were OT and PT specialists working with special needs students and administrators in the wheelhouse. They all held a different role for each select group of students.
They quickly switched role from teachers to saviors of their students on 9/11.
Suddenly, they were all remarkable, caring adults who — without having a choice to consent or decline — became the saviors of their students on 9/11. They pulled down shades to draw attention away from the burning towers. They brought students into the hallways so they couldn’t see what fell past the windows. And when they realized that everything was tumbling down around them, these teachers responded courageously.
Teachers, administrators, therapists, secretaries … all set out into the war zone of falling fire and debris, hand-in-hand with their students. They counted them at the end of every block to ensure they were all still together. Bits of burning plastic melted to their clothing. Toxic dust covered their bodies.
All students on 9/11 were delivered safely to friends and family.
Most headed north, but some loaded students onto boats that left for unknown locations. Students went to Stanton Island and students to New Jersey. Angels of mercy cared for each and every one as they arrived. They brought comfort and warmth to them in gymnasiums and churches, and protected these New York’s students on 9/11 until they could reunite with family.
We know the stories of many brave, strong protectors on 9/11. But the teachers in Lower Manhattan also did what no one ever drilled for them to do. They saved every single one of their students on 9/11, all without any major injuries.
Fire fighters are rightfully honored in the 9/11 legacy. But we must also pause to recognize the miracle of school staff. From Vesey Street and Liberty, to Church Street as well. On this day, all left the positions for which they’d been trained and became saviors and guardian angels of the youngest among us.
If there was a miracle amid the horror, it was that every child made it out. All by virtue of the remarkable souls who happened to be the teachers and staff of Lower Manhattan.