ESL Teacher Training and Degree Programs

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English as a Second Language (ESL) is a term that is becoming familiar throughout much of the U.S. This is due in part to increasing immigrant populations in many of the nation’s business and financial hubs, major cities, and border states. For example, the California Language Census reported that, as of early 2014, English learners comprised nearly 23 percent of the total enrollment in California public schools.

Due to the increasing need for ESL instruction and the educators who oversee these programs, education and training in ESL is easier and more readily available than ever. When considering teaching ESL (or simply TESL, as it is often known), educators and individuals interested in becoming educators should understand the wide range of available options.

Depending on what type of ESL job an individual is seeking (public school settings, private school settings, adult education settings, private tutoring companies, governmental organizations, and non-profit establishments, just to name a few), requirements to become an ESL teacher will almost always vary.

However, what will always remain consistent is that PK-12 teachers in public school settings must always achieve specific ESL credentials to teach English Language Learners (ELLs). This typically includes an undergraduate or graduate degree in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) for those seeking a primary endorsement in TESOL for initial certification. Many state boards of education are now recognizing ESL as a primary endorsement and therefore include ESL degree programs amongst their state-approved teacher preparation programs.

It is also very common for existing teachers currently certified in another content area to add TESOL certification as a secondary endorsement through a graduate program in TESOL so as to be able to better work with ELL students within their content area.

In the private sector, most employers seek individuals with undergraduate or graduate degrees in education, with specific training, experience, and/or certification in ESL.

Bachelor and Master Degree Programs in ESL

One of the first things individuals seeking ESL degree programs, either at the undergraduate or graduate level, will recognize is that these programs often go by a host of names and acronyms.

These degrees may include the following terms:

  • ESL (English as a Second Language)
  • TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language)
  • TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages)
  • ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages)
  • Teaching English Language Learners (ELL)

Undergraduate ESL Programs

Although not as widely available as graduate programs in ESL, bachelor’s degree programs in ESL are available as approved teacher preparation programs in a number of states, which are programs that combine all content and pedagogy requirements necessary for initial licensure.

The completion of a state-approved undergraduate program in ESL may result in an elementary/secondary education degree with an add-on endorsement in ESL or a primary endorsement in ESL, depending on state requirements. Many times, TESOL coursework in an undergraduate program is available as a track or concentration within a B.A. or B.S. education degree (usually English education). Further, individuals seeking to complete a bachelor’s degree program in elementary education or a content area in secondary education may choose to minor in TESOL as to complete the necessary coursework required for an add-on endorsement to their teaching certification.

A Bachelor of Arts or Science in elementary or secondary education or a B.A. in TESOL allows students to achieve the basic knowledge necessary to teach English as a second language. Coursework in this type of program combines advanced work in applied linguistics with training in current methods of language teaching. Upon graduation from an undergraduate program in TESOL, students are able to demonstrate comprehension of grammar, intercultural communication, linguistics, teaching methodology, and language learning theory.

Typical coursework in a TESOL bachelor’s degree program may include:

  • Standard English usage
  • History of the English language
  • ESL methods
  • Acquisition of languages in children and adolescents
  • ESL assessment, placement, and advocacy

Graduate ESL Programs

Master’s degree programs in ESL are typically found throughout state-approved teacher preparation programs for initial teacher licensure/certification, while perhaps just as many are designed for current educators who are seeking to advance their ESL teaching career and/or earn an add-on endorsement in ESL through their state board of education.

Master’s degrees in ESL may be a Master of Arts (M.A.), a Masters of Arts in Teaching (M.A.T.), or a Master’s in Education (M.Ed.). Further, a master’s degree may be in TESOL, which is generally focused on pedagogy, or on applied linguistics, which is generally focused on theory and language research. Therefore, individuals seeking initial certification must typically complete a TESOL-based master’s degree. Typical coursework found within a master’s degree in TESOL includes:

  • Methods and/or learning theory
  • Second language acquisition
  • Structure of English/English grammar
  • Language and culture
  • Methods of assessment in an ESL curriculum
  • ESL curriculum and materials design
  • Research methods

Depending on the graduate program, students may be expected to complete an internship/practicum in ESL; a capstone project/portfolio; and/or a thesis.

Generally, admission requirements into these programs are quite stringent, with applicants often required to show language proficiency through the completion of a graduate-level essay, English proficiency examination, and/or post-secondary credit hours in a single language.

TESOL Certification/Post-Baccalaureate Options

Licensed educators often seek an add-on ESL endorsement to their current teaching license through a TESOL certification program designed specifically for current educators who already hold a valid teaching license. These endorsement programs, which may be available through approved colleges or universities or as state-sponsored programs, include specific TESOL coursework (generally between 12 and 18 credit hours) for endorsement.

TESOL certificate/post-baccalaureate programs may be designed specifically for educators seeking an add-on endorsement, or they may feature graduate-level courses that not only meet the minimum requirements for an add-on endorsement, but may also be applied toward the completion of a master’s degree.

Required coursework in a TESOL certificate program may include:

  • Introduction to linguistics
  • Reading foundations
  • Cross-cultural communication
  • ESL trends and practices
  • ESL methodology
  • ESOL assessment and curriculum design

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