ELL Teacher Endorsement


As communities throughout the United States become more culturally diverse, teachers trained in English as a Second Language (ESL) remain in high demand. There are a number of avenues through which certified/licensed teachers or teacher candidates can receive the training needed to teach ESL to English Language Learners (ELLs).

Becoming an ESL teacher may be accomplished by completing one of two pathways:

  • Adding an ESL certification/add-on endorsement to an existing state teaching license
  • Completing a state-approved teacher preparation program for initial licensure in ESL

*Capella University offers an online Master’s program in English Language Learning and Teaching designed to help educators advance their career in supporting diverse student populations. While it does not satisfy licensure requirements, the program can help you build the skills to use instructional strategies, emerging trends, and best practices to effectively teach English Language Learners and help students adapt to new cultural environments.

*The USC Rossier School of Education offers its Master of Arts in Teaching - Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (MAT-TESOL) program online, allowing current and aspiring educators to earn a master’s degree from a top-ranked university and specialize in teaching English to non-native speakers - from anywhere in the world.


ESL Add-On Endorsement for Existing Teachers

A popular path to becoming an ESL teacher in a public school setting is through an ESL add-on endorsement/certification for those with an existing license to teach at the elementary or secondary level.

The requirements for achieving ESL certification vary from one state licensing board to the next. Candidates are always best served by checking with their state board of education regarding minimum requirements for ESL certification.

However, in most states, ESL certification typically consists of 12 to 18 credits of coursework. In Florida, for example, the ESOL academic endorsement requires 15 semester hours of coursework, while in Louisiana, the English as a Second Language add-on endorsement requires 12 semester hours of coursework.

Entry into an ESL certification program may require applicants to complete an English proficiency examination. In Pennsylvania, for example, in addition to holding a valid Pennsylvania teaching license, candidates for the ESL Certification Program must demonstrate their appropriate English proficiency be achieving a mid-high score on the American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) test in order to be admitted into an ESL Certification Program. As another example, educators in New Jersey must have their English language proficiency assessed through an oral Language Proficiency Interview (LPI) before they can be admitted into an ESL certification program.

Typical courses within an ESL certification program include:

  • English structure
  • Theories of teaching ESL
  • Policies and programs in ESL
  • Studies in English linguistics
  • Pedagogical grammar and academic English
  • Methods of teaching ESL
  • Language and culture in TESL

Depending on state requirements, ESL certification coursework may be completed through an accredited college or university (ESL credits can often be applied toward the completion of a graduate degree) and/or through a state department of education program. Graduate-level ESL certificate programs are typically are longer in length and feature coursework at the graduate level.

State-Approved Teacher Preparation Programs in ESL for Initial Licensure

In many states, teacher candidates may pursue primary certification in ESL through the completion of a state-approved teacher preparation program at the undergraduate or graduate level. However, the type and availability of ESL teacher preparation programs varies from one state and one college/university to the next. For example:

  • In Kansas, students may pursue an approved undergraduate teacher preparation program in English for Speakers of Other Languages in grades PreK-12, K-6, or 6-12.
  • Teacher candidates in Pennsylvania may complete an undergraduate teacher preparation program in English as a Second Language (PK-12).
  • Kentucky is home to a graduate-level initial certificate in English as a Second Language.
  • Teacher candidates in Connecticut may complete a graduate preparation program in TESOL (PK-12).

In virtually all cases, this route to ESL certification requires:

  • The completion of a minimum of a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited college or university
  • The completion of a teacher preparation program, which includes pedagogy requirements and a student teaching experience
  • Passing general knowledge and content examinations
  • Completing specific ESL coursework

Many states also have alternative certification/licensure programs designed to meet the needs of candidates who have met specific education and experience requirements.

Upon completion of an approved teacher preparation program at the undergraduate or graduate level, teacher candidates may seek an initial educator license in ESL. Current educators who complete a graduate-level teacher preparation program may achieve an ESL add-on endorsement to their teaching license.

ESL teacher preparation programs may be referred to by a number of titles, depending on the state in which they are located: Bilingual/ESL (Utah), English Language Learners (Indiana), or Bilingual Education/English as a Second Language (Arizona), just to name a few.

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