Washington ESL Teacher Job Description and ESOL Certification Requirements

According to the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), during the 2012-13 school year, 104,025 students in the state received services to help them master the English language. English as a second language (ESL) teachers work with these English language learners (ELLs) to help them improve their English language skills and excel in all academic content areas.

The U.S. Department of Education has drawn attention to ESL as a critical shortage area in Washington for the 2014-15 school year, illustrating the unprecedented demand for PK-12 ESL teachers in the state.

Follow these steps to learn how to become an ESL teacher in Washington:

Earn a Degree in TESOL from an Approved Teacher Preparation Program
Pass Your Teacher Assessments
Obtain Your License with Your ESL Endorsement
Meet the Requirements to Renew Your Washington License



Step 1. Earn a Degree in TESOL from an Approved Teacher Preparation Program

You must have a bachelor’s degree at minimum to become a teacher in Washington. The Professional Educator Standards Board (PESB) has approved a total of 21 schools with the requisite teacher preparation programs.

A number of these schools offer TESOL (teaching English as a second language) training specifically designed to certify ESL teachers.

Most TESOL programs in Washington are designed for PK-12 certification, although one program provides K-8 certification. TESOL certification will permit you to:

  • Teach ELL specific classes
  • More effectively teach ELLs in the regular classroom
  • Be a consulting teacher to help other teachers meet the needs of ELLs

You will take the following TESOL courses as you earn your degree:

  • Immigrant and refugee perspectives
  • Introduction to sociolinguistics
  • Language awareness
  • Literacy and English language learners
  • Principles of second language acquisition

In addition to this coursework, you will also have to pass a practicum to be able to get a teacher’s license in Washington. After you have completed this step, you will be eligible for a Residency Certificate.



Step 2. Pass Your Teacher Assessments

You have to pass two sets of assessments to become an ESL teacher in Washington:


Washington’s version of the general assessment test is known as the WEST-B.

You may be exempt from taking this test if you achieved designated scores on the SAT or ACT tests.

If you are applying from out of state, you may submit your scores from a comparable test such as the Praxis I PPST.


You will need to take the Washington Educator Skills Tests-Endorsements (WEST-E) test in ELL to get certified to teach ESL in Washington. Your education should have prepared you well to take this test, since it is fully aligned with Washington’s endorsement competencies.

This 135 minute exam has about 110 multiple-choice questions. Your score can range from 100 to 300, and you will need to score 240 to pass. Twenty-eight percent of the exam will cover Planning and managing instruction, while these topics are weighted at 18% each:

  • Assessment
  • Culture
  • Language and literacy development
  • Professional leadership



Step 3. Obtain Your License with Your ESL Endorsement

If this is your first teaching license, you will need to undergo a fingerprint background check. Since this is a separate process from the processing of your Residency Certificate application, the OSPI suggests that you start this process while you are getting the materials together to submit your application. You can complete your background check at one of the Washington Education Service District Offices.

You must meet the requirements for your ELL endorsement to be able to get certified as an ESL teacher in Washington. If you took your ESL endorsement courses and either completed your practicum or have teaching experience, you are qualified to get Washington’s ELL endorsement after you pass the WEST-E exam.

If you are already a certified teacher with 90 days of teaching experience and have passed your ELL WEST-E exam, you can add your ESL endorsement without taking formal TESOL coursework presuming one of the following applies:

You have a bilingual endorsement – You would go through the Pathway 1 route to certification. You can do this if you 90 days of experience teaching in one of these areas:

  • Bilingual education
  • K-12 bilingual education
  • Bilingual education—supporting

You have a designated world language endorsement – In this case, you would go through the Pathway 2 certification route. The difference from the Pathway 1 route is that you have to pass a pedagogy assessment that is offered by an approved college.



Step 4. Meet the Requirements to Renew Your Washington License

Since the field of TESOL is rapidly advancing, professional development is an important part of your continuing success as an ESL teacher. You can stay up to date with state developments by joining WAESOL—the professional organization for Washington ESL educators—and get questions answered in its forum.

You will need to show evidence of professional development to get your teaching license renewed. Your Initial Certificate will be up for renewal after three years. You have two ways of meeting your renewal requirements. One is to complete 10 semester hours (15 quarter hours) of study. The other is to have completed all of the courses required to get a Continuing Teaching Certificate.

You must meet the following requirements to apply to get a Continuing Teaching Certificate:

  • A master’s degree or 30 semester hours of graduate level or upper division post-baccalaureate study. You can use lower level coursework if it was to obtain an endorsement
  • Teaching experience: 180 days with 30 of them being in one school district
  • Coursework in issues of abuse

You have a number of opportunities to get a Washington TESOL master’s degree to advance your career. Some of these programs include:

  • M.A.Ed. with specialization in ELL/Bilingual education
  • M.A. ELL/ESL (PreK-12)
  • M.A. TESL
  • Ed.M. with a non-thesis endorsement in ELL/Bilingual education

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