Why do the very best teachers ignore/subvert curriculum?

Yesterday I posted a tweet. Today I’m going to comment on it. Sometimes it takes me a while to process my thoughts.

The very best teachers spend every day of their lives ignoring or subverting the curriculum

Now, why is this? Why would people, including myself, think that the best teachers are the ones who ignore what many consider to be the main ‘stuff’ of teaching? My memories of my BEd program are filled with courses on curriculum. Maybe one on Quebec education law. One on learning disabilities. But the rest were courses on curriculum. How to create lesson plans based on curriculum, how to manage your time to make sure the curriculum gets covered – that sort of thing.

Curriculum can not be the main stuff of teaching. It can’t. Do you hear me? It. Can’t.

The main stuff of my job. Wait. I’m getting sick of using the word stuff. Let me be more specific. The main point, the essence, the reason for my teaching is the students I teach. I wouldn’t say I ignore curriculum. I know it’s there. And I use it as a starting point, at the beginning of the year when I don’t really know my students yet. And throughout the year as a background for our work together. But really, I do my best to fit what my students get excited about, what they ask to learn, into the curricular competencies. When it doesn’t work, well, students trump curriculum each time. Luckily I work in Quebec, which has a very student-centered education program with a multitude of competencies in many different areas. It makes it easier to subvert. Really. It also makes it easier to ignore at times. There is just too much to cover that we can focus on what is essential to student learning. As decided by us (our last PED day was around determining the essential features of the courses we teach).

You know what? I think that by staying 100% true to curriculum we are actually ignoring our students.So subvert, ignore that which is on paper. But never those who are in front of you.


  • Here, Here! You got me thinking that some of my best units this year have been ones where I’ve broken the mold a bit, and the one that I’d like to scrap and start over is the most traditional and “check off the standards” based.

    I discovered that experimenting is a hard thing to do as fun as it is. There’s more explaining to your department chair about why you’re doing what you’re doing (“When are you starting Julius Caesar, again?), more explaining to the kids (Why are we doing this? Why aren’t other classes doing this? Can’t you just give us a worksheet?), and more explaining to parents (How exactly will building a model school help my son raise his ACT?).

    But as much fun as it is, what do my kids mention to me when they reflect on the last semester: those off-the-wall learning things we did–film a commericial, research arguments, create a proposal for a new school–not the quiz on short stories in November.

    I linked here from my blog.

    • Tracy says:

      I find that kids soon get used to worksheetless learning and sometimes even start to resent the worksheets given out by some of their other teachers. They realize that it is busy work and doesn’t honour their role in learning.

      Here’s a question for you – why do you think those are the lessons they remember?

      Thanks for your comment!

  • Tracy says:

    Our system is also very curriculum driven, it’s just that our curriculum is slightly different. We have different areas of learning within each course, and some that cross over all courses, so that it makes it easier to not have to focus solely on content. Of course, there are plenty who want to focus solely on content and do.

  • Miss Teacha says:

    Well said! Sometimes, I find the best learning/interest takes place outside of the curriculum. History textbooks are BORING and the kids don’t like them . . .what they like is learning stuff outside of the curriculum. Thank for remind me to subvert the curriculum from time to time (although, the American education system is very much curriculum driven)
    .-= Miss Teacha´s last blog ..Graduate School Money =-.

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