Design Teaching

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Apr 06 2012

New Teachers Should Not be in the Business of Creating Curriculum

One of the most surprising conclusions I’ve come to as a new teacher is that new teachers should not be in the business of creating curriculum. We should not be creating or even searching for unit plans, tests, power points, labs, worksheets, guided notes, or activities day in and day out.


One, we suck at it.

Two, it takes too much time.

Three, there are better things that we could be doing.

Here’s the pitch. Given that there are already experts who love curriculum design, who have the time, experience, and research, to have created units that already anticipate student misunderstandings and that already align state and national standards to assessments to activities, a new teacher’s value added is not in designing the curriculum, but in doing all the things that the curriculum designers can not do because they are not there, with our students, in those precious moments of learning.

A new teacher should be spending his or her time modifying the curriculum for his or her unique situation and unique kids, in tutoring and in giving feedback, and in supplementing the curriculum when he or she discovers gaps in the students’ understanding that are not adequately addressed by the curriculum. Perhaps even more importantly, a new teacher should be calling home to connect with families, going to sudent sports games and music recitals and dance showcases to build relationships, to growing as a teacher professionally by observing master teachers, reading, and planning new techniques to try. Finally, a new teacher should be exercising, and sleeping, both things that often drop by the wayside those first few years.

Far from being confining, I think a rich curriculum which maps out an entire year’s worth of assessments and activities, would be empowering, giving me back hours of my day, every day, so that I can be awake, refreshed, and ready to interact with my kids and respond to their needs, instead of being buried in work on my computer screen, only guessing at what might or might not work. And slowly, as I grow as a professional, I can then move into curriculm design myself, but just like my students, I need time, and I need support, in order to get there.

What would you be doing with your time if you weren’t creating curriculum?


Curricula that I admire because they are true to the idea that students are active learners who create their own understanding of the world include:

Reading Like a Historian from the Stanford History Education Group, which teaches high school history through diving deep into primary documents:

Investigating and Questioning our World Through Science and Technology from the University of Michigan and Northwestern University, which teaches middle school science through inquiry-based units which build deep conceptual understanding:

The Inquiry Project by TERC, which guides third to fifth graders on a journey of discovery about the particle model of matter:

15 Responses

  1. Exactly! There are many people with degrees in curriculum and instruction, where are they? There’s absolutely no reason in this technological age that new teachers are forced to reinvent the wheel. It’s absolutely ridiculous. I think the common core will help alleviate this issue and there are many social entrepreneurs who are seeking to cultivate centralized resources.

    All educators should go to the top performing schools and see what their curriculum is. Chances are good that they’ve used the same set of materials and long term planning for years and it is tried and proven to be successful.

    • debryc

      I am excited to see how the common core will be implemented. I do think the benefits will outweigh some of the risks.

      And, having common standards will help with the centralized resources as well, because now we could tag the resources by the standard instead of searching for vague things like “light reflection” and get everything from a game to play with 3rd graders to a complex lab using venier light probes for high school students.

      This also makes me think that TFA should change its training model so that during institute, we’re not rushing through self created lesson plan after lesson plan, but rather learning how to adjust curriculum while in our placement school, we’re using either a good school curriculum or a curriculum that TFA has purchased for its corps members.

  2. I can only imagine how much time I would have if my state and/or district provided me with more resources. I teach about 30 standards and all I have, really, for curriculum are the standards, the 1 practice test the state releases, an item sampler, and the not-great curriculum map my district provides. It’s aligned more to the book than the standards.

    • debryc

      CY, that’s me, too! I would so love for my district to adopt a rich curriculum like IQWST.

    • Exactly! I teach science to 3 different grade levels. (7th, 8th, and 9th biology) My school had no curriculum… or textbooks… to offer. I know some teachers are frustrated with curriculum they are given by their school which doesn’t align properly to the standards, but a good curriculum could really help out!

  3. els

    Ohmygosh I’m SO sick of coming up with my own stuff from scratch! And the pathetic part is that I KNOW it’s bad, but I can’t do any better. I think TFA almost encourages us to make up our own curriculum; at least, they don’t show us how to adapt others’ curriculum.

  4. T

    I’d strongly recommend going for your Master’s in teaching. Graduate school was phenomenal at helping me develop curricula and adapt others’ sources, and as a result, I absolutely love creating curricula.

  5. I am entering TfA as a ’12 CM and have interviewed with kipp this week! I’m now looking up blogs to learn different insights about kipp. I’ve enjoyed reading your blog! Keep updating, I want to learn more about what it’s really like :)

    • Tee

      Before committing to a Kipp school, you should know that they enroll significantly lower rates of students with disabilities and English language learners. They also have higher rates of attrition, particularly for black males. I’d be glad to talk about just how terrible this is and what the many negative effects are, if you are interested.

      • debryc

        Thanks for the critique, Tee. We need them in order to improve.

    • debryc

      Good luck! Feel free to contact me personally to talk through any questions you have. And, if you’re going to be in Houston, I know all the KIPP schools really well and so can connect you to my friends at those schools.

  6. I was recommended this web site by my cousin. I am not sure whether this post is written by him as no one else know such detailed about my
    difficulty. You’re incredible! Thanks!

    • debryc

      Glad you appreciated it!

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