Voices from the Classroom: Secondary Teachers' Media Use on 9/11

Article excerpt


The events of September 11th (hereafter 9/11) caught many teachers unprepared (Ingenito, 2004; Levesque, 2003). In fact, the enormity of the event, coupled with its timing early in the school day, magnified teachers' lack of preparedness (Berson & Berson, 2001). While many teachers turned to the media and its endless barrage of images and sounds on 9/11, some sought to turn unfolding events into a teachable moment, engaging students in a critical examination of what they were experiencing via the media (Burns & Schaefer, 2002). Still others continued on with the school day as if nothing had happen (Apple, 2002). Even as they struggled with their own feelings of shock, American's teachers served as the "frontline of normalcy" for students on 9/11 (Burns & Schaefer, 2002, p.7).


Because of their close relationship with the children and teens in their care, teachers are on the front line in dealing with profound crises, such as terrorist attacks (Levesque, 2003; Pfefferbaum, Fairbrother, Brandt, Robertson, Gurwitch, Stuber, & Pfefferbaum, 2004). In fact, some experts report that the 9/11 attacks had a significant effect on children and educators (Apple, 2002; Moss & Nichols, 2002; Pfefferbaum, Fairbrother, Brandt, Robertson, Gurwitch, Stuber, & Pfefferbaum, 2004; Schlozman, 2001). Yet, Pfefferbaum, et. al. (2004) report both a scarcity of information relating to "teachers reactions, perceptions.... and understanding of children's issues following large-scale ... traumas" (p. 251) and a lack of information about how terrorist events challenge teachers' ability to handle them. Echoing these concerns, Apple (2002) asserted that "we must pay close attention to the very personal ways in which 9/11 was experienced phenomenologically by teachers ..." (p. 1760). After all, teachers are responsible for maintaining and establishing a sense of order and security even as large scale terror attacks occur during the school day (Moss & Nichols, 2002). Teachers are expected to maintain the classroom environment, assure students' fears, and keep students informed using age appropriate strategies (Bums & Schaefer, 2002; Ingenito, 2004).

Because recent research has associated teachers' reactions to traumatic events to the emergence of post-traumatic disorders in children, these issues are of particular importance to consider (Hoven, 2002; Pfefferbaum, Sconzo, Flynn, Kearns, Doughty, Gurwitch, Nixon, & Nawaz, 2003). However, without the necessary knowledge, skills and commitments, teachers are less likely to be effective when dealing with these types of events (Kennedy Manzo, 2006; Moss & Nichols, 2002).


The study used a qualitative approach to construct a portrait of secondary teachers' media use on 9/11. Specifically, the following research questions were examined: 1) What role did the media play in secondary classrooms on 9/11?, and 2) What, if any, instructional methods did teachers use in conjunction with classroom media consumption? The study also sought to highlight the need for further research on the classroom response to 9/11.

Data come from the September 11 Digital Archive (See web site, http://www.911digitalarchive.org/). The digital archive was developed to collect and preserve the public's response to the 9/11 attacks (Center for History and New Media/American Social History Project, 2002-2004). In particular, the archive sought to collect first-hand accounts of that day's events.

A census was conducted to identify whether any narratives in the archive were written by practicing middle and high school (secondary level) teachers in the United States. Forty-seven entries were identified (See Table 1). Because the examples used come from practicing teachers, no identifying information was collected.

Teachers taught a range of subjects, with social studies (10) and language arts (6) being the most commonly taught topics. …