Navigating The New World: Dual Language Teachers

Whether you are back in the classroom or digital learning, this year’s back to school creates unique challenges for many dual language school administrators and teachers.  We invited experts from the field to share their insights on the most important things administrators and teachers should pay attention to.   This is a four-part weekly series.  The first 2 articles focused on dual language school administrators and these final 2 are for dual language teachers. 

Silvia Johnson, co-author of Advancing Equity in Dual Language Programs, A Guide for Leaders 

My advice for dual language teachers is to trust their instincts and to build community with their grade level/instructional teams (including support professionals) as well as their supervisors. It’s important to not feel alone at this time but to understand that they have the perspective, experience, and support to make their work of teaching and learning happen. A focus on culturally and linguistically relevant socio-emotional learning will be essential at this time. It’s important to embed and integrate socio-emotional learning with content and literacy learning. Finally, find ways to continually re-energize yourselves so you can give from a “full cup” to your students and families.

Santiago Wood, Executive Director of the National Association for Bilingual Education 

In light of the current pandemic and need for virtual learning, DL Teachers should recognize that virtual learning can have the same impact as “in-person” learning provided that they are provided the necessary online tools and resources to deliver a quality DL program to students. That said, DL teachers should accept that it takes time to learn another craft, such as using quality online resources, and not to become impatient with the virtual learning process. DL teachers should be bold in their online teaching efforts and always strive to move forward with new ideas and resources. DL teachers should, now more than ever, look to each other for support and professional growth as they all have varying technology skills and experiences and collectively can still make a significant difference for their students through virtual learning.


Kathy Escamilla, Co- Author of  “Biliteracy From the Start” 

If I could give Dual Language Teachers a piece of advice when the return to the classroom this fall it would be to go slow, be patient (even more patient than they usually are) and be prepared to help children process the past as they are learning to move forward. Our entire nation has been through trauma the likes of which most of us have never experienced.  Further,  we are not totally free from this pandemic yet and must address the continuing impact of this trauma on our children as we try to move forward.  Our children need to know that things will get better, that school and academics are important, and that we, in the school, are there to help them learn and grow.  However, we need to start the year by ensuring that we are developing the socio-emotional well being that our children need to be successful in academics.  Three types of socio-emotional skills that our children are going to need going forward include the ability to express how they are feeling (especially in these uncertain times), respect and have empathy for the feelings of others, and most importantly ask for help if they need it.  These skills can be developed in any language and are essential for making dual language programs safe and nurturing environments in which children can learn and grow.  The cultivation of positive socio-cultural dispositions is critical to setting up an environment where rigorous academic and linguistic standards can be met.


Sherri Spaine Long, Ph.D, Executive Director, American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese 

Our teachers need to remember that our students are going to need their social and emotional needs met before they can learn the content and skills. Teachers will also need to return to their campuses with an open mind and flexible disposition to change instructional methods should health concerns arise which force campuses to return to online/distance learning. Like the administrative team and the community at large, dual language teachers need to value, embrace, and capitalize on the students’ wealth of experiences and knowledge acquired during their time away from the campus.  Dual Language teachers need to take advantage of professional learning opportunities that would enable them to create opportunities for students to advance their academic repertoire in rich, authentic, and context-embedded settings. Teachers should embrace the mindset of life-long learning and continuous improvement in their skills and knowledge.

One of the positive developments during the pandemic has been an increased number of professional development opportunities available online that are free or offered at a reduced cost. Our teachers can visit the websites of professional associations like the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese ( and find a wealth of the free resource materials from webinars to classroom resources. The AATSP will soon be releasing available free downloadable signage in Spanish and Portuguese in the form of printable flyers for the COVID-19 classroom that encourage the student to wash hands and practice social distancing. Please visit our website to see what is available and return often to find that new resources are being added that are adaptable to the Dual Language setting.

Kris Nicholls, Nicholls Educational Consulting

This fall, we have the opportunity to refine our approach to teaching dual language students in a distance learning context. We, along with the students, are more familiar with the various video conferencing apps or platforms and move our distance learning instruction to the next level to increase student engagement and learning. Student interaction can be facilitated through the apps or platforms using the breakout session function, which can automatically send students to and, after a set amount of time, returns students to the main group from a breakout session. Small group instruction can also occur, as well as small group and partner-to-partner interaction. You, as the teacher, can “drop-in” to the breakout sessions to interact with the students and provide mini-lessons, as needed. If you have not yet had an opportunity to learn about these functions in the distance learning app or platform that your district will be using, contact your site administrator and ask for professional development as soon as possible.

It is through the strategic selection of students for these small groups or as partners for breakout sessions that you can differentiate instruction and provide language support for all your students, regardless of whether you are teaching in a one-way or two-way dual language program. Strategically selecting more capable peers based on their level of language proficiency or the academic ability for each group or set of partners to provide language or academic support allows for greater opportunities for language and content learning. Utilize the language model resources you have among your group of dual language students…you do not have to be the only language model and support for them! An added benefit is that these types of interaction also increase student engagement and support students’ socioemotional needs, which are often some of the greatest challenges when teaching in a distance learning setting.

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