Tag Archives: 9/11

2,996? Really?

25 Oct

The other night, Necole was telling me how proud she is that I am a teacher and talked about all of the people I have influenced through the years. Sometimes, we teachers need such encouragement. During the daily grind, our motivation tends to get overwhelmed by grading papers and seeing people nod off in class.

As she talked about all of the people I have taught, I began to wonder something. How many students have ventured into my classes? It would be easy to figure out. Just go back and count. I started teaching in the summer of 2001, when my university needed someone to cover a night class that had three students. Since that summer, I have taught history to 2,996 people.2996

Honestly, many of them have faded from my memory. Others I can still visualize sitting in the room. Some were great students who excelled. Others only showed up half of the time and did not stay in school very long. Sometimes, I wonder where they are and what they are doing. Do they have families? Do they have good jobs? Have their lives gone according to plan? Do they remember anything that they heard in my class? Did I really influence some of them?

Those are questions for which I have few answers, but there are some things for which I am certain.

Certainly, I am glad that I became a history teacher. Sometimes, I feel like an old Rock band playing the same songs over and over. The stories I tell can get monotonous. However, those bands probably like the songs and know that each audience may be hearing them for the first time. I like the stories I tell and get satisfaction in knowing that the students have never heard many of them.

Certainly, I am glad that I became a history teacher because I like the subject. The people. The events. They all interest me. If nothing else happens, then I want the students to realize that the people actually lived. They are not characters in a book. They were happy and mad. They fell in and out of love. They were people just like us. They lived. They died. Somewhere along the way, they made it into my history class.

Certainly, teachers age while the students never do. I started teaching when I was 32 years old. That wasn’t much older than the students. I even had one student who went to high school with my older brother. Back then, I connect through popular culture. We listened to some of the same music and grew up with similar experiences. We could remember many of the same major events.

However, students cycle out, and a new group comes in. Every year, I get older, but the students always stayed in the same age group. They grew up with different experiences and remembering different events. The fall of 2001 was my first full semester, and I can remember being in class on 9/11. The freshmen I am now teaching were just starting elementary school that year.

In essence, I could have been considered part of the same generation with my early students, but I am in a different one from my current students. That’s a big difference. Sometimes, being around a lot of young people makes teachers feel young. At other times, it makes us feel old. In other words, it makes us feel like part of history.

I am not sure what I meant to write in this post, but it is hard to believe that I have taught 2,996 people. It’s also hard to realize that some of them may be out there retelling some of the things I told them, but I hope they are. I hope I have had some influence.

The Life and Times of Brother Baker

10 Aug

On August 3rd, our community lost one of its finest citizens. W.L. Baker, a Baptist preacher known to everyone as Brother Baker, passed away on his 105th birthday. He was truly a great man who lived by his convictions and helped everyone who he came across. In fact, he was a pastor who inspired me each time I heard him speak.Brother Baker

Brother Baker’s specialty was reciting the Sermon on the Mount by memory. As he got older, he did it less and less. However, I was lucky enough to hear it. He was a great preacher and a greater man. Everyone who knew Brother Baker will say the same thing. A lot of people also have a favorite story about Brother Baker, but this post isn’t one of the stories.

When I heard about his passing, I thought about all of the things he saw during his lifetime. Imagine how much the world has change since 1908, and Brother Baker witnessed it all. He was born in the latter days of Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency. That means that he lived during the administrations of 19 presidents. Considering that there have been 44, that means Brother Baker was around for 43% of our nation’s leaders.

Some other things that happened during Brother Baker’s lifetime.

He was a few months old when the Chicago Cubs last won the World Series.

The United States entered World War I when Brother Baker was 8 years old.

He was 18 years old when Charles Lindbergh flew solo across the Atlantic Ocean.

Japan attacked Pearl Harbor when Brother Baker was 33 years old.

The United States dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima when he was 37 years old.

Brother Baker was 52 years old when the Berlin Wall went up and was 81 years old when it came down.

He was 55 years old when John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon when Brother Baker was 60 years old.

When Ronald Reagan was shot, Brother Baker was 72 years old.

He was 93 years old on September 11, 2001.

Brother Baker saw a lot of events and a lot of changes in the world. Through it all, he held firm to his beliefs and shared good will with everyone. That’s something that everyone should strive for.

Memories of a Day in September

11 Sep

Early in this foray into blogging, I wrote a post about collective memory – those moments in time when most people remember where they were and what they were doing when events happened. The attack on Pearl Harbor. The assassination of John F. Kennedy. The explosion of the Challenger. All of these are examples of moments of collective memory in American history. Obviously, today marks the anniversary of another time most people remember – the attacks on 9/11.

We all have memories, but it is difficult to hold on to them. Over time, we hear other people talk about their memories. We watch television reports over and over. Before we know it, that information gets combined with information we already have. For historians, memory is a tricky aspect of research. Obviously, it is important to hear the stories of people who took part in an event. However, those stories should be told as soon as possible because none of us are immune to hindsight.

I know where I was when the attacks on the World Trade Center took place. I was in my first semester of teaching, and, as the new kid on the block, I was volunteered to teach an off campus class. This meant getting up super early and driving to a police station in Nashville. There I would teach government employees who were working on their degrees.

On September 11, 2001, I was showing a video about Hernan Cortez conquering the Aztec. At some point during the movie, there was activity in the hallway, and one of the students, an employee of the FBI, kept checking his pager. Other than that, I sensed nothing going on.

When class was over, I walked through the hallway and passed an office with a television. It showed one of the towers with smoke coming out of it. I watched for a while before getting in my car and driving to school. I turned on the radio and called my girlfriend to see if she had heard. But, the call really wasn’t about what was happening in New York. She had broken up with me, and I was looking for any excuse to call her. I don’t remember much about the conversation, but I know it was one of the last conversations we had.

This is where my memory begins to fade. On that day, I knew that I would not forget anything that was going on, but that didn’t happen. As time passes some details begin to alter themselves. Did I call my parents to see if they were watching? I’m not sure. What did I do when I got to campus? I’m not sure about that, either.

I know that classes were cancelled not long after I arrived, and most people were watching television in the student lounge. Was I watching television in the lounge when the second plane hit, or did that happen while I was in the car? Did I watch as the towers fell? I honestly can’t tell you. I have seen those images so many times that it all gets jumbled up in my mind.

I am a historian, and this was a historic event. As it was all happening, I made a mental note to keep these moments clearly in my brain, but that hasn’t happened. I remember how I felt, but the details are slowly escaping me.

As a historian, I know that memoirs and interviews need to be studied carefully. As a person who experienced 9/11, it is difficult for me to explain to people that their memories may not be as accurate as they think. I’m not saying that memories are invalid. I’m saying that memories evolve through the years.

All of that was rambling, and I am not sure where I was headed when this post began. Posts about 9/11 will be all over the internet, and this is just one by a person who was in the middle of Tennessee when it happened. My memories aren’t important in the scope of that huge event. They are one part of a huge collection of memories – a collection that is changing all of the time.