A 9/11 vow: I will become a teacher

On Sept. 10, 2001, Marilyn Anderson Rhames flew home to New York City, pas the Twin Towers. The next day, as she interviewed the grief-stricken for her newspaper, she decided to become a teacher, she writes in Ed Week.

. . . the shock and devastation of the terrorist attacks exposed the shallowness of everybody’s excuses for not pursuing their passions. . . .  When I die, I remember thinking, I want to be around the people I love, doing the work that I love.

She returned to Chicago, earned a master’s degree in education and began her second career as a science teacher.

As we near the 10-year commemoration of the terrorist attacks, I am reminded of all those loved ones who died too soon, many still waiting to achieve their dreams. . . . I teach because I love children. I teach because I want to serve my country. I teach because I want my fragile, little life to somehow continue to have meaning when I am dead.

In shaping the minds of the next generation, “I honor the victims of the terror attacks each day I enter the classroom.”

About Joanne


  1. Richard Aubrey says:

    Great motivation.
    But the last line disturbs me. She thinks her job is “shaping the minds…” If that’s the case, as opposed to imparting education, we have a problem, which is to say, what shape and who decides.

  2. What a great piece to share in remembrance of 9/11–thanks.

  3. Thinly Veiled Anonymity says:

    I teach because I love children. I teach because I want to serve my country. I teach because I want my fragile, little life to somehow continue to have meaning when I am dead.

    Oh please, go work out your existential angst on someone else; there’s no reason to bother students with it. That has to be the most self-absorbed, cluelessly melodramatic string of sentences that I’ve heard in weeks. Does she actually read the things she writes? Does she think she’s writing for the “teary-eyed intimate closeup” portion of some bottom-tier reality TV program?

    Frankly, Ms. Rhames, I’d be a lot happier if you taught just because you enjoy it, or because you thought you had something useful to impart. Your work isn’t some grand, solemn calling. It’s a job that people want done, and they want it done well, preferably by people who like doing it. It’s not a chance for you to be around people you love; while it’s possible to have very strong emotional ties to one’s students, they are no substitute for friends and/or family.

    And it’s definitely not a chance for you to find immortality.

    Look: the odds are very, very strong that 200 years from now, your students will be dead, their children and students will be dead, and no one will remember either of our names. And even if they do remember our names because we managed to make it into the .0000001% of people whose names endure, it’s unlikely they’ll remember much about what made our lives meaningful anyway.

    No, if you want meaning for your fragile little life after you die, you have to come to terms with the fact that either you achieve it every day with every little act you perform in whatever job you’re working, or you have to resign yourself to the fact that it’s pretty much a futile pursuit.

    Teach because you like teaching — or even better, because you’re good at it.

    Spare us the Oprah confessional.

  4. Deirdre Mundy says:

    Funny–most of the men and women I know who made life changing vows after 9/11 ended up in the US military.

    And what is it with teaching being this form of martyrdom for the greater good? It’s a perfectly decent, if challenging middle class career. Why is it considered more noble than “steel worker” or “nurse” or even “bank teller?”

    Most jobs, done well, have the opportunity to influence people’s lives for the better. Teaching really doesn’t deserve this special pedestal, especially when you take into account the excellent benefits and job security…..

  5. People enter the profession for a variety of reasons.

    Some are missionaries. Some love their subject. Some love children. Some look to relive the positive experience when they had when they were students. Some are looking for love.

    It’s hard to judge which reasons aren’t good ones because good teachers are a varied group.

    Deirdre, yes, I have job security, but I’ve paid for it with a lower salary. As for excellent benefits, that used to be true 20 or 30 years ago, but it’s not true now.

  6. Deirdre Mundy says:

    Robert– have you compared them to OTHER people with Master’s job security, benefits, and pay? If you’re not in a STEM field, teaching looks pretty good. (Now, it’s harder than some other jobs too–but when you calculate out the pay/vacation/health benefits/ security—- it pays about right— it’s not a martyrdom– it may not be “easy street” but one thing I’ve learned over the years is that there’s no such thing as easy money…..)

  7. Deirdre Mundy says:

    For example, our family pays $10,000 a year for our health insurance–the teachers complain when they have to pay 3000 for the same level of coverage……. So, while the benefits aren’t as “excellent” as they once were, they still are in comparison to what NON teachers are coping with…..

  8. J. D. Salinger says:

    Spare us the Oprah confessional.

    And spare us your Simon Cowell imitation.

  9. Deirdre, I was comparing the health benefits and retirement benefits with what other public sector employees get.

    We used to get equal to or better than municipal employees. Now, we get a lot less.

    I’m not just talking about police and firefighters. The secretaries and file clerks at city hall have been health and retirement benefits. Waiters at Morton’s Steak House have been health benefits.

    Our health benefits used to be excellent. Now they are far behind just about everybody in the public sector.

  10. I, for one, have grown weary of the martyr theme that runs through so much pro-teaching rhetoric. There is a fine line between martyrdom and sanctification, and both can be used to inflict guilt, impose silence, or set up impossible odds that lead to burnout..

  11. Michael E. Lopez says:

    People tell all sorts of stories about their lives, crafting narratives that position and explain their choices. I do it, and everyone I know does it. It seems to be a human thing.

    I think that this teacher is probably rationalizing after the fact, and that the attacks were more of a pretext than a real reason for her career switch. People get subjected to all sorts of pressures not to switch careers, not to walk away from things they’ve built up and established. But sometimes events conspire to let you hit the “reset” button that you’ve been wanting to hit anyway, but to do so without any of the negative social fallout. Being able to wrap yourself in the flag about your choice to teach gives you a LOT of cover.

    But I’m a cynic, and the fact is that we all have to construct narratives that we can live with. Whatever floats your boat.

  12. Richard Aubrey says:

    I suppose somebody saying that 9-11 caused him to finally get the CCW he’d been thinking about would generate about the same ratio of favorable comments? I.E. practically zero.

  13. Personally, I’d rather work with teachers who entered the field for summers off and the benefits than idealists like Rhames. Idealists seem to be more holier-than-thou and are more likely to embrace ridiculous educational fads.

  14. Lightly Seasoned says:

    Well, the kids *are* the coolest part of the job.

  15. …and that’s why we become a teacher – TO INSPIRE. A world event like 9/11 can do it as well as something else in one’s life.

    Thank you for the great post.