New Teacher Help: Curriculum Concerns

You have a brand, spanking new teaching license, and now you’re wondering (or perhaps stressing) about planning lessons. You might be tempted to plan everything as far in advance as possible because you want to make sure you’re prepared. After all, lessons are the core of your job. But there are so many unknowns. Where do you start? What do you teach, and when, and how fast, and with what worksheets, activities, graphic organizers, anchor charts, partner texts, formative assessments, summative assessments, 21st century skills, AAAAARRRGGGHHH!

Okay, like I said in the “Realistic Expectations” article, it can seem like taking a drink through a fire hose. The trick in your first year is not to get too ambitious and burn yourself out trying to do All The Things perfectly. That includes not trying to have curriculum “figured out” before you’ve even met with your department. Take a deep breath. And another. Here are some things you DON’T want to do:

DON’T Plan Too Soon

Avoid doing a bunch of work you might wind up throwing it in the trash can later. Some schools hand you a curriculum (or like my first year, a textbook and the state standards) and say, “Good luck! There’s a test in the spring!” – in which case yes, you can sit down with a planning book and map things out to your heart’s delight. Other schools might have a collaborative planning period build into your schedule, during which you’ll meet with other members of your team every day or two in order to plan lessons. Some districts adopt a canned curriculum that you’re expected to use. Find out what the case is for your new school and proceed accordingly.

DON’T Make Waves Too Soon

Curriculum is a very, very sensitive subject. Everyone has his or her own ideas about what should be taught and how and when, and some of your colleagues, unbeknownst to you, might have had a hand in selecting the textbook or writing the curriculum that you’re tempted to criticize publicly. Listen, watch, form your opinions privately, and if absolutely necessary, nod in agreement before shutting your classroom door and doing it your way. (But please don’t disregard actual mandates!) The time to be a crusader is after you’ve gained experience, a good reputation, and most importantly, some political savvy specific to education.

DON’T Plan Too Far Ahead

The best-laid plans, etc. Even after ten years in the classroom, I wouldn’t presume to write all my lesson plans for the year, or even map out what I want to do each week for the year. There are just too many things that can disrupt those plans, not to mention workshops you go to that revolutionize your ideas for literature circles or the writing process.


That isn’t to say you shouldn’t think ahead at all – far from it! Just be smart about how you do it so that you aren’t wasting your valuable time and energy. Here are some long-range planning tips that are likely to pay off.

Plan to Prepare Students for Assessments

  • There’s something to the concern about “teaching to the test.” However, we don’t do our students justice if they’re seeing a concept for the very first time on a test.
  • Find out what mandated assessments there are, and when: state standardized tests, district tests and benchmarks, SAT/PSAT, AP tests, etc.
  • Spend some time studying them so that you know what your students will be expected to do. In fact, I’d go so far as to say print out a released version of each test and take it yourself under the time limits the students face. Too many teachers don’t do this, and I think it keeps them from understanding how to prepare their students.
  • Find out what your department usually does to prepare students.
  • If possible, get your hands on data that show which skills students historically struggle with most. These are your main targets.
  • Figure out what you personally should do to prepare students for these assessments.
  • If you don’t have actual lesson slots available to work on these things, figure out how to fit it in anyway – bell ringers, homework, extra credit, optional study groups, whatever it takes.

Plan to Prepare Students for College

  • Think about what skills you needed in college, or that would have helped you a lot: reading, writing, time management, note-taking, etc.
  • Figure out how to weave those skills into the way you teach.
  • Take class time to talk about college, answer their questions, talk about getting scholarships, picking the right school, the difference between in-state and out-of-state, public versus private, etc. Also be ready to talk to them about alternatives, like internships and trade schools. It’s not technically your job, but counselors don’t always have time to talk to students about this stuff, and when they do, often it’s a huge assembly. And it doesn’t hurt to hear it from more than one source. Having a goal for higher education will help motivate students more in your class.

Study the Standards

  • More than likely, your state has either published its own standards for your subject or has adopted the Common Core standards. Those standards exist to show you what your students are expected to learn. Become intimately familiar with these standards and think about how you’d teach each one. Maybe even print the standards at 75% and jot down ideas in the margins.
  • Make sure every lesson addresses at least one of these standards to the depth and rigor indicated. If your students aren’t prepared to perform at that level, figure out how to do some remediation.

Take Another Deep Breath

If the suggestions above are overwhelming, don’t worry about them! Remember, they’re just for the people who are pacing the room wanting to get some kind of planning done in the summer. Wait until your department meets and talks about lesson planning. And then plan at a survival rate until you’re comfortable enough with the basics to branch out.

This article focuses on what not to do with curriculum in the summer before your first year. Looking for help actually writing lessons? I’ll get to that ASAP. Subscribe to my blog so you’ll be notified when I post new blog articles and instructional videos!

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