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  • Writer's pictureallisonjolester

When Teaching Dilemmas are NOT Actually Dilemmas



Hello fellow educators! Today, let's play a little game I like to call, "This? That's not a teaching dilemma!" While teaching does often feel like navigating a maze filled with philosophical questions, ethical quandaries, and curriculum conundrums, let me assure you, there are some things that you may lose sleep over that just aren't teaching dilemmas. So sit back, grab your favorite snack or drink, and let's dig in! Here are the most common non-dilemma dilemmas I have witnessed in teaching my practitioner research courses.


1. Papercut Procrastination

First up, deciding whether to tackle that mountainous pile of ungraded essays now or later. This may seem like an obvious non-dilemma dilemma, but believe it or not this one has come across my desk in practitioner research courses. I get it! There's a lot to juggle! Feeling overwhelmed by that ever-growing paper pile isn't a teaching dilemma; it's a time-management conundrum! You don't need to consult Bloom's Taxonomy or Piaget's stages of cognitive development to solve this problem. All you need is a plan, some coffee, and maybe a pack of those colorful sticky notes (so fancy!). Sorry folks, Plato won't be of much help here!


2. Desk Placement Debate

Should you place your desk near the window to enjoy a beautiful view, or move it to the other corner to get a good overview of the entire class? While it might feel like a profound pedagogical quandary, it's really more a question of interior design than anything else. If I know anything about the brilliant women who've revolutionized the spaces we live in—shout out to Florence Knoll and Eileen Gray!—a little bit of rearranging can do wonders for productivity. Just make sure you aren’t blocking the fire exit.


(Unless, it's an interior design question that sparks unraveling your own pedagogical influence on your learner's creativity...See my blog post on the importance of interior design in education).


3. Parenting Style Predicament

You've been there. A student struggles in class, you organize a meeting with the parent, and five minutes into the conversation, it becomes apparent that the parenting style is, well, not quite your cup of tea. Perhaps it's too permissive, or overly authoritarian, or maybe it seems they're trying to relive their own childhood dreams through their kids.


You might feel tempted to morph into SuperEducator, swooping in to 'fix' the parenting style and 'save' the student. But hold on a minute. This isn't a teaching dilemma. It's a communication challenge.


Remember, you're a professional educator, not a certified psychologist or a parenting guru (if you are, kudos to you!). Your role here isn't to change the parenting style but to work with it, to find common ground that aligns with the child's best interest.


4. Tech Trepidations

What if the internet breaks down in the middle of your online class? What if your slideshow presentation freezes? What if you accidentally share the wrong screen (you know, the one with your secret obsession with cat memes)? While these tech hiccups can throw us into a state of anxiety, they're not teaching dilemmas. They are the modern equivalent of "my dog ate my homework" and should be treated as such. Breathe, laugh it off, and move on. Trust me, your students will find it more endearing than detrimental.


5. The 'Sarcasm Syndrome'

Let's picture this scenario: You have a sharp wit, a dry sense of humor, and a penchant for sarcasm that would put Oscar Wilde to shame. You've always seen it as a charming part of your personality, an amusing antidote to the everyday teaching challenges. But lately, you've noticed some of your students don't quite appreciate your sarcasm as much as you do. You start to wonder if this might be a teaching dilemma. To sarcasm or not to sarcasm? That is the question.


Newsflash: This isn't a teaching dilemma. It's more of a communication adjustment. Remember, sarcasm is a form of humor that relies heavily on tone and context, two things that can often get misinterpreted, especially by younger students. So, if you're thinking of changing your tone to be more appealing to your students, you're not betraying your inner Wilde. You're just modifying your communication style to better match your audience. And isn't adaptability one of our superpowers as teachers?


6. The 'I'm Not Your Friend' Fret

You love your students. You really do. But you're their teacher, not their friend, and maintaining that boundary can sometimes feel like walking a tightrope. You're friendly, yes, but you're not their buddy. It's an important distinction, and yet, you worry if maintaining this professional boundary could come across as too stern or unapproachable. Is this a teaching dilemma?


No, dear educators, this is not a teaching dilemma. It's an essential part of professional conduct. Our job is to provide a safe, respectful, and effective learning environment, not to rack up the most friends on a social media platform. It's not a dilemma, it's a matter of balance: being warm without overstepping, being supportive without becoming over-involved.


7. The Differentiation Dilemma

Differentiation — teaching in different ways to meet the unique needs of different students. It's like being asked to juggle while riding a unicycle, on a tightrope, over a pool of crocodiles. Overwhelming, right? And that's why it's often mistaken for a teaching dilemma.


But here's the twist: It's NOT a teaching dilemma! Yes, differentiation is a challenge, but it's not a predicament that questions your core values or teaching philosophy. It's an integral part of good teaching practice, like lesson planning or assessing learning. It requires strategies, yes, but it's not a 'Should I, Shouldn't I?' situation. It’s more of a 'How should I?' scenario.


Wait, so why is Differentiation not a dilemma? I'm still confused.

A dilemma typically presents a situation where one is faced with a difficult choice, often between two equally unfavorable options that might challenge our core beliefs or ethical stances. In essence, a dilemma creates an internal conflict that puts our values to the test.


Why Differentiation isn't a Dilemma

  • It’s Not a Choice, But an Imperative: Differentiation isn’t about deciding whether or not to cater to the unique needs of students; it’s about determining the best strategies to do so. Every teacher knows that students in their classrooms have diverse learning needs. It's not a matter of if we should differentiate, but how we can most effectively differentiate.

  • Aligned with Teaching Fundamentals: At its core, teaching revolves around the objective of facilitating meaningful learning experiences for all students. Differentiation aligns with this foundational goal. Just as lesson planning or assessment is essential for effective teaching, differentiation is a fundamental practice ensuring each student's needs are met.

  • Evolution of Skills, Not Compromising Values: Differentiation requires educators to develop and refine a repertoire of teaching strategies, constantly adapting to the ever-changing dynamics of their classrooms. However, this evolution of skills doesn’t pit the educator against their core teaching philosophy or values. It simply challenges them to enhance their pedagogical toolkit.


However, it's also true that the act of differentiating can bring about its own dilemmas. For instance, "How can I differentiate in a large class without overwhelming myself or leaving some students behind?" So while differentiation in itself isn't a dilemma, implementing it can lead to dilemmas, particularly in classrooms with limited resources, diverse student needs, and various other constraints.


Even though differentiation may not be a dilemma, it doesn't mean we can't design a practitioner research project around differentiation. Finding dilemmas needs us to slow down and really think about what's tough in our day-to-day work. Sometimes, this can make us a bit uneasy. You might uncover some hard truths. But remember, you don't need a glaring problem to start a valuable research project. Even small questions or curiosities can lead to great insights. See my blog post on finding a research question.




So, there you have it. A peek into the non-dilemma side of teaching. Just remember, the next time you're losing sleep over a classroom conundrum, ask yourself: "Is this really a teaching dilemma, or am I just stressing about that sarcastic comment I made to a student?" Because, let's face it, we're educators, not superheroes. We can only tackle one teaching dilemma at a time!


Until next time.

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