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Ethical Dilemmas in an Elementary Classroom

by Kristine Tucker, studioD

Teachers often face ethical dilemmas in their elementary classrooms, so they must use their best judgment to resolve conflicts and address academic concerns. Even though most teachers have a school handbook and established classroom guidelines to follow, there are times when they must veer from normal practices to address specific issues. A teacher should involve the principal, parents or the school board in ethical decisions when possible so she has accountability for her decisions.

Classroom Discipline

Classroom discipline often poses ethical concerns for elementary teachers because not all students respond positively to discipline and correction. Teachers strive to incorporate fair and consistent discipline into their classrooms, but it can be difficult to treat students with unfavorable behavior patterns the same as those who exhibit positive behavior. Showing unconditional acceptance to all students is the key to developmental discipline, says Barbara Kaiser in her book "Challenging Behavior in Elementary and Middle School." Teachers must strive to develop caring and trusting relationships with children who test the limits as well as those who willingly comply with classroom rules.

When to Involve Parents

When to involve parents in their child's classroom development is an ethical decision that many elementary teachers face on a weekly or monthly basis. Involving parents in a student's academic progress and classroom behavior issues is often a balancing act. Some parents overreact to criticism and put too much pressure on their child to perform or correct classroom problems. Others might respond defensively and send a negative vibe to their child about the teacher or the school. Teachers must selectively choose when a parent needs to know -- or deserves to know -- about issues concerning their child. In some cases, withholding information from a parent can lead to anger, frustration and disappointment when small problems turn into larger issues.


Grading students on their academic progress poses an ethical dilemma for some teachers. Teachers often struggle with assigning grades because many want to reward progress and effort even if actual grades don't reflect success. For example, a student might miss nearly every word on a previous week's spelling list but get over half of them right on the next test. Getting half of them wrong still results in a failing grade, so the teacher might not want to enter the low score in the grade book. Some students don't have to work very hard to get A's, while others put in great effort only to receive failing scores.


Most elementary teachers, especially those who teach younger grades, deal with tattling on a regular basis. Tattling presents an ethical challenge for teachers because many would prefer to ignore the tattler rather than address minor annoyances. It poses a dilemma -- address irritating behavior or encourage the tattler to work through her frustrations. Even seasoned teachers have trouble quieting talkative students, redirecting high-energy kids, and curbing tattletalers, according to Scholastic.com author Jen Scott Curwood.

About the Author

As curriculum developer and educator, Kristine Tucker has enjoyed the plethora of English assignments she's read (and graded!) over the years. Her experiences as vice-president of an energy consulting firm have given her the opportunity to explore business writing and HR. Tucker has a BA and holds Ohio teaching credentials.

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