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Becoming a Learning Instigator

After a restful summer vacation, I was a fourth-year English Language Arts teacher eager to begin my second year at Thomas A. Edison CTE High School, a career and technical education high school in Jamaica, Queens. I was overjoyed to be back at a school championed by the New York Department of Education's chancellor. I couldn’t wait to meet my students and start the 2014-2015 school year. This year would be different from the year before, as I was assigned two integrated co-teaching (ICT) sophomore ELA classes and a first-year co-teacher. Never having taught ICT before and coming off of a year where only two of my 175 students had IEPs, I was a little nervous about stepping into uncharted territory. I wasn’t sure how I would have to modify my instruction to meet the needs of my students or how to work collaboratively with another teacher. I knew it would be a challenge, but I was up for it. 
After a few weeks of teaching, my amazing co-teacher and I began our Shakespeare unit. We were pretty successful. The students were engaged and interested. Teaching Shakespeare is my passion, so I was prepared. Then we finished Macbeth and began Lord of the Flies. Suddenly, my classroom seemed like the end of a Shakespearean tragedy: Everyone was dead. The students went from being engaged, interested, and successful to being a hot mess. I knew I couldn’t teach and expect my students to buy in just because they were sitting in my classroom for 45 minutes a day, and it was a huge challenge for me because I went from teaching something I loved to teaching a book that I have always described as “the worst book I read in my entire high school career.” But I am a teacher. I had 105 sophomores for whom I was responsible. I realized I had to instigate learning. I had to make my students choose to buy in, not force them to. I had to incite them to take part in their own education and own their successes and their failure. I’d already joined the Teachers College Inclusive Classrooms Project, but it was at this moment that my journey to becoming a learning instigator began.