BACK TO SCHOOL...after pandemic teaching

BACK TO SCHOOL...after pandemic teaching

August 08, 2021

We are one week away from Back to school and I’m starting to stress.  Are you?  Not because my own kid is starting high school (NOT at my school) or because we’ll be back to a schedule, or because I feel like I have some kind of PTSD after a year and a half of pandemic teaching.  

I’m stressed about not knowing what to expect from our students.  I am worried for them, their mental health, all that they missed out on while we were in distance then hybrid learning in the last year.  Will there be gaps in what this group knows?  Will they forget how to socialize with each other and to handle business with me?  

To start, if you are worried about that, too, you are not alone.  Here at MesaMima, we feel like a team with YOU, so here are some of our plans for back to school so that our kids get back to normal, faster.


Our colleagues Paul Verduzco and Liz Matchett hosted a California Language Teacher’s Association webinar recently about rebounding after the pandemic.  They discussed the importance of names, which is a topic that we always address in AP Spanish, but perhaps not as much at the lower levels.  One idea that I am stealing from them is their name tag.  For just a few days, my students will display their name tents.  On the front, facing me, they’ll have their name.  On the back facing them, they will write their goals.  On the INSIDE -- now here is the important part -- they will put other extremely important information:

  1. Their name in our system - many of the students at our school have a name that is very different from the one that they use.
  2. The pronunciation of their name - CaroLYN or CaroLINE… my name is simple, but it’s a big deal to me, and I’m assuming it is for them as well.  I will not be that teacher that goes around butchering names, especially those that culturally are impactful.
  3. Their fears - no, not cucarachas and ‘the dark’, but the parts of language classes (or any classes) that make them nervous.  
  4. Other important information - this could be their pronouns, that they don’t live at home, that they just moved here, whatever they need to tell you.

I’ll collect these each day so I can review them and be sure I’m getting it right.


This is something that I started a few years ago with AP, didn’t do last year -- I was just surviving -- and am SO EXCITED to get back to.  At the beginning of the year, the students will create teams that represent a Spanish speaking country. Each week or so we have a competition and I assign points in order.  So, if there are 7 teams, the winning team gets 7 points, second place gets 6 points, third place gets 5 and so on.  The games vary immensely from language challenges, physical challenges, and trivia.  One year I gave points on the first day in order of the winning-est countries in the Olympic games.  Some other challenges:

  • “Tomatina” water balloon toss 
  • Kitipun challenge relay (so fun and hilarious)
  • Countries and Capitals challenge (on blank maps)
  • La serpiente thematic vocabulary challenge
  • Salsa taste test 

...and other fun ideas like that.

The best part is that they connect with a small group of other students and make that bond the entire year.  Plus it’s a brain break that, if designed correctly, also sticks in their mind as something that is connected to culture.  


To acquire language, students need input.  That we know for sure.  So plan for the bulk of every class to be focused on providing input and interaction from you, with peers, with authentic texts, etc.  Then, utilize the many resources that are out there to flip your classroom for everything else.  So, if you want students to understand a concept, review Co-constructed grammar or are holding them accountable for vocabulary, do that outside of your class time.  Quick videos are easy to make, or are probably readily available that students can use for just a few minutes as homework, rather than tasks that they don’t really do on their own.  That way, you can spend all of those precious minutes providing input. 


This is always one of our favorites, pandemic or not.  Fun, hands-on projects or activities are perfect for engaging students, providing input and communicative opportunities where the affective filter is low. When your students feel comfortable, they will communicate more!

Our favorites:

  • Merienda martes
  • Musica miercoles
  • Go! 
  • Extra (for novice level!)
  • Communicative games like Heads-Up, Tableros, Checkers and Taboo. Find these in your units!

They all provide lots of input, inspire communication and are FUN!


Just as input is key, your time IS NOT best spent grading papers.  This will be the perfect time to sit down with your team and reevaluate your rubrics, how and when you will be assessing and WHAT you’ll be assessing. If your team is assessing students, just because it’s Friday, maybe look at introducing the rubric to your students early, working on some peer editing or holistic feedback, goal setting and THEN evaluating performance.  You’ll save yourself time from the piles of papers, and won’t be burnt out when you dedicate time to high quality feedback.

Also important in this conversation is to assess the fairness of your grading.  Balancing grades among the three modes, scaling grading so that material in the early part of the term receives less weight than later material and the point values that you use are all important.  For example, if you offer 5 points for a task, a 3 out of 5 in your mind may be a C but it’s actually 60%... and that speaks volumes to students. Eight or 10 point scales provide you with more options to reflect a rubric.


Give your students copies of the typical rubrics that will be used for most tasks in class.  Have students use those to self or peer-evaluate in class, so they understand expectations.  Additionally, these can be what your students use to set goals for progress.  This will be extremely important this year, after coming from a few years of cameras off and communicating in the chat.


Late work...oh the late work.  The paradox is that we want to be fair to students and to assess their proficiency, but we want some semblance of a life.  If we don’t accept late work, we are essentially saying that they have no proficiency on the task.  However, if we do accept late work, we are up all night at the end of the quarter in October, grading assignments from AUGUST.  No, gracias. Then, we are mad, resentful and feel burnt out. 

To begin, this should be a team decision.  You’ll have consistency from year to year, and in what is fair at each level.  Students shouldn’t have a different experience if they have a different teacher.

Consider your work-life balance while you offer fair opportunities.  Explain to students and parents why you do or don’t accept late work, or why you must uphold deadlines.  Some great ideas out there:

  • Take late work up until a certain date. Add that date to your calendar.
  • Any large assignments or projects that were completed in class (or where time was provided) can’t be handed in late.  Daily assignments can.
  • Late work passes that limit the number of assignments that can be completed late

What else can we do to be sure that we handle the gaps that our students could be facing?

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