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  • Writer's pictureallisonjolester

Navigating the Labyrinth of Teaching Dilemmas: Keep Calm and Teach On!

Hello! Let's embark on another pedagogical expedition today as we delve into the intriguing, yet at times mind-boggling, world of teaching dilemmas. It's like stepping into a labyrinth where each twist and turn seems to lead to more questions than answers. But fear not! With your pedagogical compass in hand and your quick-witted guide (that’s me!) at your side, we can navigate this labyrinth together.

So, what exactly is a teaching dilemma?

(For examples of what is NOT a dilemma see this post)

Imagine being on a tightrope, with decision A on one side and decision B on the other. Both sides seem enticing, but you can’t clone yourself (though wouldn’t that make teaching easier!) to go both ways. In essence, a teaching dilemma is a complex situation that presents two or more equally compelling options, each with its own set of potential outcomes and ramifications. It's like being in a 'choose your own adventure' book where every choice seems as equally thrilling and challenging as the other!

And just like those 'choose your own adventure' books, teaching dilemmas are not about finding a clear-cut 'right' or 'wrong' answer; they're about wrestling with the intricacies of each decision and its impact.

Let’s dive into some examples:

  1. The Digital Divide Dilemma: You've stumbled upon an innovative ed-tech tool that promises to add a new dimension to your teaching. However, you're confronted with the harsh reality that a significant portion of your students grapple with unreliable internet access at home. How do you navigate this digital divide? Is it ethical to integrate this tool and risk widening the gap between privileged and underprivileged students? Or do you resort to traditional, universally accessible yet potentially less engaging methods? This dilemma underscores the broader issue of educational equity in an increasingly digital age.

  2. The Equity vs. Equality Enigma: One of your students, although not the highest scorer, consistently displays determination and shows notable improvement. Yet, the rigid grading criteria don't reflect their growth adequately. Here lies the question: do you grade strictly based on standardized benchmarks, potentially demotivating the student, or do you adjust your grading to recognize their efforts, potentially upsetting the equilibrium? This quandary touches upon the ongoing debate in education: equality versus equity.

  3. The Curriculum vs. Context Clash: While teaching a history unit, a current event offers a perfect real-time illustration of your lesson. Yet, the stringent curriculum schedule looms large. Do you stick to the curriculum's rigidity or seize this teachable moment, deviating from the plan? This conflict highlights the tension between adhering to a predetermined curriculum and adapting to foster real-world connections in learning.

  4. The Inquiry-Information Balancing Act: You're passionate about implementing inquiry-based learning in your classroom, recognizing its potential to foster critical thinking and student autonomy. However, you're also cognizant of the extensive content that must be covered to meet the curriculum standards. The dilemma then lies in striking a balance: do you lean more heavily into inquiry-based learning, potentially risking coverage of the required curriculum, or adhere strictly to content delivery at the potential cost of deeper, more independent learning? This dilemma underscores the tension between fostering student-led learning and meeting curricular demands.

  5. The Democratic Classroom Dilemma: You aspire to create an empowered and democratic learning environment where students have a voice in decision-making processes. However, you are met with resistance from some parents who prefer a more traditional, teacher-led classroom and are concerned about classroom discipline. How do you negotiate this tension? Do you persist in fostering a democratic classroom environment, possibly leading to parental dissatisfaction, or do you adhere to traditional methods to appease concerns? This dilemma reflects broader societal debates about power structures in education.

  6. The Socio-Emotional Vs. Academic Development Dilemma in the Midst of a Pandemic: As the impacts of COVID-19 continue, you observe that many of your students are experiencing significant socio-emotional challenges. You recognize the importance of addressing these, but there's also pressure to catch up on academic content missed during school closures. The question arises: should you prioritize socio-emotional learning to support students' mental health or concentrate on academic catch-up, potentially at the cost of students' well-being? This dilemma reflects the complex challenge of balancing academic achievement with emotional well-being in a crisis.

  7. The Standardization vs. Individualization Impasse: With increased diversity in your classroom, you're aware that students come with a broad range of learning styles and needs. However, standardised tests don't acknowledge these differences. The dilemma then is: do you teach in a way that individualizes instruction and caters to students' unique needs, or do you primarily focus on teaching to the test to ensure students meet standardized benchmarks? This highlights the tension between individualized learning and the demands of standardized testing.

  8. The Tech Integration vs. Screen Time Struggle: As educational technology continues to evolve, it's increasingly vital to incorporate it into classroom learning. You've discovered various digital tools that promise to enhance student learning experiences. However, you're also aware of the growing concerns about excessive screen time for students. The dilemma then is: how do you strike a balance between leveraging ed-tech tools to improve instruction and ensuring students aren't overwhelmed by screen time? This dilemma highlights the broader challenge of integrating technology effectively and healthily into education.

  9. The Personal Beliefs vs. Curriculum Compliance Quandary: As an educator, you're tasked with teaching certain topics or perspectives that may not align with your personal beliefs or values. This can create an internal conflict: do you strictly adhere to the curriculum, even if it conflicts with your values, or do you introduce alternative viewpoints, potentially going against school or district policies? This dilemma reflects the ongoing debate around academic freedom and the role of teachers in shaping curriculum.

  10. The Cultural Responsiveness vs. Canonical Curriculum Challenge: You're dedicated to promoting cultural responsiveness in your classroom. You understand the importance of incorporating diverse voices, experiences, and perspectives into your teaching to affirm students' identities and broaden their understanding. However, you're also bound by a canonical curriculum that predominantly features Western, Eurocentric literature and history. The dilemma you face is: how do you infuse cultural responsiveness and representation into your lessons without neglecting the mandated curriculum? This conundrum illustrates the broader tension between promoting inclusivity and diversity in education and the constraints of traditional, often Eurocentric, curricula.

Notice how each of these dilemmas is a complex puzzle, with no easy or straightforward solutions. They're challenging, perplexing, and can cause many a furrowed brow (and possibly a few extra grey hairs!).

But here's the thing: these dilemmas, as daunting as they may be, are actually invaluable opportunities for growth. They push us to think critically, reflect deeply, and develop empathy. They challenge us to step out of our comfort zones and explore innovative solutions.

So, how do you get started in identifying a felt difficulty?

Here are some questions that may help jumpstart your reflection!


  • What aspects of your teaching practice do you find most challenging or uncomfortable?

  • Are there specific situations or interactions with students that leave you feeling unsettled or unsatisfied?

Student Engagement and Learning:

  • Are there recurring patterns of behavior or engagement among your students that seem to hinder their learning or participation?

  • Are there topics or activities that consistently fail to engage your students or lead to the desired learning outcomes?

Classroom Dynamics:

  • Are there dynamics in your classroom that seem to inhibit a positive and inclusive learning environment?

  • Are there students who seem consistently marginalized or excluded from classroom interactions?

Curriculum and Pedagogy:

  • Are there aspects of the curriculum that you find difficult to teach or that your students find difficult to grasp?

  • Are there teaching methods or approaches that you feel are not as effective as you would like them to be?

Professional Development:

  • Are there areas of your professional knowledge or skills that you feel are underdeveloped or lacking?

  • Are there aspects of your teaching practice that you feel are misaligned with your values or beliefs as an educator?

Systemic Issues:

  • Are there broader systemic issues (e.g., policies, structures, cultural norms) that seem to inhibit your effectiveness as a teacher or the success of your students?

  • Are there conflicts between your beliefs and values as an educator and the expectations or demands of the educational system in which you work?

Personal Well-being:

  • Are there aspects of your work-life balance or personal well-being that seem to be impacting your teaching?

  • Are there ways in which your teaching practice is impacting your mental, emotional, or physical well-being?

As you locate a felt difficulty that you would like to investigate, remember, it's not about finding the perfect solution—it's about engaging with the problem, exploring the possibilities, and making the best decision you can, given the circumstances.

And above all, remember: no one expects you to be a pedagogical Theseus, navigating the labyrinth flawlessly. We're all learning as we go, one twist and turn at a time.

Until next time, brave labyrinth navigators! Keep calm, teach on, and remember – every dilemma is a chance to grow, learn, and shine.


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