Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)



First Advisor

Aniello Trotta

Second Advisor

Ashraf Esmail



To address historic levels of students’ unfinished learning, teachers must balance two competing objectives: maintaining grade-level instruction so that students do not fall further behind, while simultaneously customizing support so that students can rise to grade-level. This complex instruction is particularly important for teachers serving students from communities under pressure who were disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and historic barriers to education. The problem addressed in this study was the lack of understanding of urban elementary teachers’ experiences as they managed the paradoxical tension to deliver grade-level instruction to the entire class while customizing support according to individual student needs. The purpose of this qualitative phenomenological study was to learn from and better support teachers with this paradoxical management. Through literature review, culturally informed pedagogy and differentiation pedagogy described the practices of grade-level instruction and customization respectively. Paradox theory provided a framework to examine both the tension and interrelation between these two pedagogies. I employed a phenomenological approach to interview eight experienced, White teachers, who served Black, Black African, Latinx, White, and multilingual learners. Themes emerged from the data that shed light on (a) teachers’ expertise, (b) perceptions of an overcorrection towards grade-level standards, (c) the destabilizing influence of time pressures, and (d) the cost of struggling to comply with outside expectations. The imperative to create productive struggle for all students emerged as a common goal between the two pedagogies. Findings provide suggestions for administrators to both learn from and support teachers as they grapple with this complex and challenging paradoxical management.


Ed.D. Dissertation

Included in

Education Commons



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