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9/11: A Year After / WHO WE ARE NOW

Vanessa Carruthers

September 11, 2002

Vanessa Carruthers, 22, began her career as a teacher at Lynwood's Washington Elementary School on Sept. 4, 2001. On her fifth day, she tried to explain terrorism, war and death to nearly three dozen fourth-graders.

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"My students knew what had happened, but they didn't really know what was going on. They were asking all types of questions. They were like, 'Did you see the buildings? They blew up!' They were excited about the explosion because they're little kids. They said: 'They fell, Miss Carruthers! They fell! How many people were killed? And who did it? And if we find out who did it, can we do it back to them?' I didn't have answers for them. I just felt hopeless.

That whole day, I had the radio on and off. I didn't want them to hear every single thing. We did a little bit of work. I had them do some spelling words and definitions. I played music too, so they wouldn't worry. I didn't want them to panic.

Anything I tell them, they take to heart. So I knew it was a delicate situation. What can they understand? What should they know? What should I tell them? The next day I didn't tell them anything about what I felt or thought. I told them to tell me how they thought or felt. We spent a lot of the day listening to each other.

I think this made me a better teacher. It just changed a lot of things for me--my whole perspective, my outlook on life, the whole thing about wanting to be successful, wanting to make a lot of money. It doesn't really matter in the end."

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As told to Scott Gold

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