Imagine this all-too-common scenario: It’s late on a school night, and you’re a first-year elementary school teacher who just finished planning your mathematics lesson for tomorrow. You still have ELA, science, and social studies lessons to plan, and you need to be up tomorrow in time to get to school, make all your copies, and set up your room before students arrive at 7:15 a.m. 

What do you do next? A significant number of first-year teachers will try to save time by looking online for something fun and easy to teach. Unfortunately, these activities rarely facilitate rigorous learning opportunities for students — a dilemma we call the Pinterest problem

Based on our conversations with beginning teachers, it’s not that they don’t care — this is just what they have time for. In addition to lesson planning, new teachers are expected to quickly adapt to a new school environment, facilitate a positive classroom culture, and build meaningful relationships with students and families — among other competing priorities.

There is a better way to support these teachers.

We can prepare aspiring and early-career teachers to identify and use high-quality instructional materials (HQIM), an expertly sequenced curriculum designed to support students in meeting college- and career-ready standards. HQIM can not only lighten the load in the first year of teaching but also open up space for teachers to internalize complex content and adapt materials to meet the diverse needs of their students.

Over the last year, we worked closely with four teacher-preparation programs across diverse contexts in Tennessee to identify, analyze, and use HQIM, to enable teacher-candidates to make rigorous learning opportunities available to students from day one. The results were encouraging. On a pre/post measure of instructional preparedness, we found the average individual candidate growth score was +25 percentage points, statistically significant at the 95 percent confidence level. 

Why do we believe that using HQIM in teacher preparation will lead to stronger beginning teachers? Here are three key reasons:

HQIM can ensure that novice teachers use quality, grade-level content. 

First-year teachers often struggle to identify quality resources. One survey reveals that more than 90 percent of teachers turn to online last-minute resources. In our work with teacher-preparation programs, we created and implemented a series of modules that prepared future teachers to identify, analyze, and use HQIM, which reduced their likelihood of choosing low-quality materials.

Dr. Jennifer Meadows, associate professor at Tennessee Tech University, shares her observation about the instructional resources teacher-candidates tend to choose.

HQIM can reduce biases common among beginning teachers. 

First-year teachers can unwittingly fall on biases about students as they select, plan, and enact lessons. Our modules helped candidates understand that the materials they put in front of students are a direct reflection of what they think they are capable of and the way they teach using these materials matters. Effective use of HQIM can help mitigate biases that suggest some students are not capable of rigorous grade-level learning.

Lindsey Hamilton, director of equity and program at Nashville Teacher Residency, discusses how high-quality instructional materials support teachers to reduce implicit biases that impact students of color.

HQIM can lower beginning teachers’ cognitive load during their first year. 

The first year of teaching can feel overwhelming. Preparing candidates to use HQIM can reduce cognitive load in the first year, freeing up time for teachers to focus on other important responsibilities.

Every child deserves to be taught by a well-prepared teacher. And when we consider that students of color and students in under-resourced communities are often taught by new teachers, this issue also becomes one of access to grade-level instruction. 

We’re encouraged by recent policy changes in Tennessee that are leading to stronger teaching with HQIM. And, if we want all students to experience affirming, inclusive grade-level learning, the state must prioritize supporting first-year teachers and future teachers — so that every student in Tennessee can access high-quality learning opportunities. 

Rebekah Berlin and Cece Zhou are senior program director and director of communications, respectively, at Deans for Impact, a national nonprofit organization committed to ensuring every child is taught by a well-prepared teacher.