The year 2019 was big for Arizona’s English Language Learners (ELLs), thanks to the passage (long overdue, many say) of ELL reform legislation. Senate Bill 1014 allows the state’s ELLs to enjoy more time with their native peers throughout the day instead of keeping them largely separated for the majority of the day. This new model of learning translates into a highly immersive educational experience which, combined with a two-hour daily language block, means a more natural learning experience for Arizona’s ELLs.
As of 2018, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) revealed that about 82,000 PreK-12 students were identified as ELLs in Arizona, which translates into about 7 percent of the total student population.
And while the percentage of ELL students in Arizona is lower than many other Southwest states (for example, New Mexico’s ELLs accounted for nearly 16 percent of the total student population in 2018), demand for ESL teachers remains high in the Grand Canyon State. As of the 2021-2022 school year, the U.S. Department of Education reported ESL teacher shortage areas in all grades (preK-12) in Arizona.
If you’re looking for a good reason to either earn your initial teaching license in Arizona in ESL or add an ESL endorsement to your current Arizona certificate, this is it. Pursuing ESL endorsement is a smart choice for educators who want to add value to their teaching certificate, increase their professional opportunities, and position themselves for a higher salary.
Follow these steps to learn how to become an ESL teacher in Arizona:
Step 1. Complete an Approved Teacher Preparation Program
The Office of English Language Acquisition Services (OELAS) provides guidance, support, and assistance to all of Arizona’s school districts and charter schools. The OELAS is also responsible for the educational needs of Arizona’s English Language Learners (ELLs) by developing guidelines for monitoring schools to ensure compliance with all federal and state laws regarding ELLs.
The Arizona Board of Education, due to the large immigration population in many parts of the state, now requires all elementary educators in a Structured English Immersion (SEI) setting to achieve one of three endorsements:
- Structured English Immersion (SEI) endorsement
- English as a Second Language (ESL) endorsement (sometimes called TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) certification)
- Bilingual Language endorsement (BLE)
The Board also requires all educators in middle and high school SEI classrooms to be highly qualified in language arts or English and to achieve endorsement in SEI, ESL, or BLE.
To qualify to become an ESL teacher in Arizona, you must earn, at a minimum, a bachelor’s degree in ESL from an accredited college or university within a teacher preparation program that has been approved by the Arizona State Board of Education.
Among Arizona’s State Board approved teacher preparation programs, there is one bachelor’s degree in elementary education: Bilingual Education/English as a Second Language.
You may also choose to complete a teacher preparation program in elementary education or, at the secondary level, in language arts or English and then choose an ESL concentration, focus, or endorsement.
You may also qualify for licensure as an ESL teacher in Arizona by completing Arizona State Board of Education’s Alternative Pathways to Teacher Certification Program. You may qualify for this program if you have recently graduated from college with a minimum of a bachelor’s degree or if you have career experience in English as a Second Language. If you qualify for the Alternative Path to Certification program, you will complete all necessary pedagogy and educational requirements while teaching with a teaching intern certificate.
Step 2. Take and Pass All Required NES Examinations
Once you complete an approved education program, you must take and pass the following National Evaluation Series (NES) Professional Knowledge Exams:
If you want to teach ESL at the elementary level, you must take and pass:
If you want to teach ESL at the secondary level, you must take and pass:
- Assessment of Professional Knowledge: Secondary; AND
- Middle Grades English Language Arts; OR
- English Language Arts
The framework of the Middle Grades English Language Arts NES exam includes the following topics (and their percentage of the exam):
- Reading Process and Comprehension and Reading in Multiple Subject Areas: 21 percent
- Reading Various Text Forms and Analyzing and Interpreting Literature: 29 percent
- English Language Conventions, Composition, Writing Process, and Research: 15 percent
- Modes of Writing: 21 percent
- Oral and Visual Communication: 14 percent
The framework of the English Language Arts NES exam includes the following topics (and their percentage of the exam):
- Vocabulary, Reading Comprehension, and Reading Various Text Forms: 23 percent
- Analyzing and Interpreting Literature: 23 percent
- English Language Conventions, Composition, Writing Process, and Research: 19 percent
- Modes of Writing: 23 percent
- Oral and Visual Communication: 12 percent
You can view testing information and examination content and register to take the tests on the NES website.
Step 3. Apply for an Initial Teaching Certification
Once you have completed all necessary requirements for certification as an educator in Arizona, you must apply for initial certification by completing the Application for Certification.
Submit it along with the application fee of $60 (made payable to the Arizona Department of Education) and an Arizona Identity Fingerprint Clearance card (obtain one by contacting DPS at 602-223-2279), to the Arizona Department of Education.
Step 4. Earn an SEI, ESL, or BLE Endorsement
All educators in Structured English Immersion classrooms must hold a valid endorsement, which may include one or more of the following:
To work as an ESL educator in a Structured English Immersion (SEI) classroom, you must, at a minimum, complete an approved SEI program and become endorsed in SEI. You do not, however, need to complete this SEI requirement if you have completed the appropriate SEI courses in your teacher preparation program.
SEI courses may be obtained through independent trainers and educational service agencies, local education agencies (LEAs), or institutes of higher learning.
You may view the Provisional Structured English Immersion (SEI) Endorsement framework, which totals 45 hours, or the Full Structured English Immersion (SEI) Endorsement framework, which totals 45 hours, here.
ESL and BLE Endorsements
Educators who desire to teach in SEI classrooms may also choose to pursue an English as a Second Language (ESL) or Bilingual (BLE) endorsement. If you choose to pursue an ESL or BLE endorsement, you are exempt from the SEI endorsement requirement.
Endorsement applications for both ESL and BLE endorsement can be found here.
To qualify for BLE endorsement, you must show proof of the following:
- Completion of a bilingual education program from an accredited institution; OR
- Completion of the following courses:
- Foundations of instruction for non-English-language-background students
- Bilingual methods
- English as a second language for bilingual settings
- Courses in bilingual materials and curriculum; assessment of limited-English-proficient students; teaching and reading in a native language; or English as a second language for bilingual settings
- Courses dealing with school, community, and family culture and parental involvement in programs of instruction for non-English-language-background students; AND
- A practicum in a bilingual program or at least two years of verified full-time teaching experience; AND
- Verification of proficiency in a spoken language other than English.
To qualify for ESL endorsement, you must show proof of the following:
- Completion of an ESL education program from an accredited institution; OR
- Completion of the following courses:
- Courses in foundations of instruction for non-English-language-background students
- ESL methods
- Teaching of reading and writing to limited-English-proficient students
- Assessment of limited-English-proficient students
- Courses dealing with school, community, and family culture and parental involvement in programs of instruction for non-English-language background students; AND
- 3 semester hours of practicum or at least two years of verified, full-time ESL or bilingual teaching experience; AND
- A second language learning experience
Step 5. Apply for and Maintain a Standard Teacher Certification
Upon the expiration of your initial teaching certificate, which is valid for three years, you may either apply for an extension or apply for a standard teaching certificate in Arizona.
To qualify for the standard teaching certification in Arizona, you must show proof of the completion of at least three years of full-time teaching experience.
To maintain your standard teacher certificate, you must renew it every six years by completing the Renewal of Certificate and providing proof of the completion of at least 180 clock hours of professional development activities; at least 12 semester hours of education coursework; or a combination of the two.
Step 6. Learn More About Working as an ESL Teacher in Arizona
As of May 2020, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported the following salaries for educators in Arizona:
Early Career (25th percentile): $39,850
Experienced (90th percentile): $64,710
Early Career (25th percentile): $39,030
Experienced (90th percentile): $62,450
Early Career (25th percentile): $43,440
Experienced (90th percentile): $76,200
BLS stats also reveal what ESL teachers are earning in Arizona in some of its largest metro areas, as of May 2020:
Phoenix (Elementary School)
Early Career (25th percentile): $41,670
Experienced (90th percentile): $67,260
Flagstaff (Middle School)
Early Career (25th percentile): $42,770
Experienced (90th percentile): $64,500
Tucson (High School)
Early Career (25th percentile): $37,270
Experienced (90th percentile): $57,480
While you’ll earn a salary as an ESL teacher that’s similar to your PreK-12 colleagues in other subject areas, you may qualify for financial incentives if you fill a position in an area or school that identifies ESL as a teacher shortage area. Just some of the financial perks afforded to many ESL teachers in Arizona include grants, annual stipends, and signing bonuses.
For example, the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant currently offers $4,000 a year to students who are completing or plan to complete course work needed to begin a career in teaching identified as a “high-needs” field which, as of 2021, includes English language acquisition. In exchange for the TEACH grant, you must serve in a PreK-12 school that serves low-income students for at least four years after you graduate.
May 2020 Bureau of Labor Statistics salary and job market trends for elementary school teachers, middle school teachers, and secondary school teachers represent state data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed June 2021.
Student population data from the National Center for Education Statistics represents English language learners (ELL) enrolled in public elementary and secondary schools in the fall of 2018.