Randi Weingarten: “The Teacher Held My Hand”
My letter to members of the United Federation of Teachers in September of 2001, reposted today in memory of their heroism, and the of those we lost.
It was Primary Day. I was leafleting near Brooklyn Borough Hall with Alan Hevesi. Rush hour was nearly over. Suddenly, we heard an explosion. Smoke rose on the eastern horizon. We stopped campaigning and headed for the promenade. There the sight of one of the towers burning stopped us cold. Transfixed with disbelief, we watched a plane approach and then penetrate the second tower. A communal gasp, some screams, then silent horror swept through the growing crowd.
The rest of the day — I’ve never spent so much time at 110 Livingston — was spent in a blur of meetings, phone calls and huddles, gathering information on the state of the schools, making tough decisions on how to proceed, anxiously locating family and friends, sighing each time someone was safe, and crying each time someone was not.
As the towers collapsed, the mayor understandably wanted to evacuate all the schools, send every child home immediately. Chancellor Levy was ready to go along, but I strongly urged them to reconsider.
How could we send the children into the streets, into the unknown? What if they couldn’t get home? What if no one was home? What if there were more attacks? There were all kinds of ‘what ifs,’ some too terrible to think about.
Wouldn’t they be safer in the schools?
Convinced, the chancellor ordered the schools locked down. Together we developed a dismissal plan.
As evening approached, we needed to make a decision about the next day. Again understandably, the mayor’s office pressed for a return to normalcy as soon as possible. The schools should open, they argued. But again I differed. And again the mayor listened. Families would be able to spend Wednesday together, absorbing what had happened, explaining it to the children, helping them feel safe in this new, scary world.
Tuesday night, walking in my Brooklyn neighborhood, hearing the sirens and smelling the smoke, I gave thanks that there had been not a single report of a child hurt or missing in the day’s chaos. I knew our members were also safe, though three supervisors of school safety were injured. But I worried about you, especially about those of you in lower Manhattan and those whose loved ones were there.
I could only imagine what you had gone through. It was not until later that I “The Teacher Held My Hand” – Medium: