The New Zealand Curriculum expresses a vision for young people who are contributing and participating members of society. While this social vision is supported by the inclusion of key competencies, the curriculum document says little about content and its role in developing this participatory agency. This article uses interview data with secondary English teachers to identify prevailing constructions of subject English and to consider the extent to which these constructions may foster the curriculum’s vision for actively engaged people. I suggest that a close examination of teachers’ constructions warrants attention against the stated aims in our curriculum. I also argue that enacting the curriculum’s social vision is neither simple nor straightforward owing to the broader context in which secondary English takes place.