California ESL Teacher Job Description and ESOL Certification Requirements

Complete these steps to become an ESL teacher in California with TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) certification:

Determine the Appropriate Pathway
Complete an Approved Teacher Preparation Program (Pathway 1 candidates only)
Apply for an Initial Teaching Credential
Achieve and Maintain a Clear Teaching Credential
Complete a California Teachers of English Learners (CTEL) Program (Pathway 2 candidates only)
Take the California Subject Examination for Teachers (CSET)
Apply for the English Learner (EL) Credential

According to the California Department of Education (CDE), there were about 1.4 million English learners in California public schools during the 2013-14 school year.

The California Language Census, as of spring 2014, reported that:

  • English learners comprised 22.7 percent of the total enrollment in California public schools
  • A total of 2.68 million California students speak a language other than English in their homes
  • The majority of English learners—73 percent—are enrolled in the elementary grades, kindergarten through sixth
  • The majority of English learners in California—84 percent—are native Spanish speakers

English Learners (ELs) in California schools are provided with English Language Development (ELD) instruction specific to their proficiency level in a Structured English Immersion (SEI) classroom setting. ELs are often referred to as Limited English Proficiency (LEP) learners.

English learners who have not acquired fluency in English (as defined by the school district) receive SEI instruction through an English language acquisition process in which the majority of instruction is in English, but with curriculum and presentation designed specifically for children still learning the language.

The California Commission on Teacher (CTC) is the authorizing agency for teachers in California, while the Department of Education administers and oversees state and federal programs and regulations that support schools, including programs for English learners.


The Master of Arts in Teaching – TESOL online program from the USC Rossier School of Education prepares you to teach students of all ages in the U.S. and internationally, gives you the option to pursue a teaching credential, and can be completed in 12 months.

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.



Step 1. Determine the Appropriate Pathway

If you want to become an ESL teacher in California, you must complete the necessary English Learner (EL) authorization coursework, which may be completed through one of two pathways:

  1. Teaching Credential with English Learner or Bilingual Authorization: All teacher candidates within an approved teacher credential program (2002 to recent) complete EL coursework within their program. As such, all candidates completing an approved teacher preparation program earn an EL authorization directly on their teaching credential.

If you plan to complete an approved teacher preparation program leading to an initial California educator credential, move to Step 2.

  1. English Learner Authorization/CLAD Certificates: If you graduated from a program that did not include embedded EL coursework (if you graduated from a California teacher preparation program before 2002), you must complete specific coursework through a Commission-approved California Teachers of English Learners (CTEL) program and pass the appropriate Commission-approved examinations to achieve an EL authorization or Cross-Cultural, Language, and Academic Development (CLAD) certificate.

If you already hold a valid California teaching credential and plan to seek English Learner (EL) authorization or a CLAD certificate through a CTEL program, move to Step 5.



Step 2. Complete an Approved Teacher Preparation Program (Pathway 1 candidates only)

The most direct route for individuals without a current teacher credential is through the completion of a Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) approved teacher preparation program.

If you have no previous education or experience, a blended program provides the ideal pathway. This results in a minimum of a bachelor’s degree and includes all components necessary to attain a California teaching credential at the elementary level or in a single-subject area at the secondary level.

If you possess a bachelor’s degree but not a teaching credential, you may choose one of California’s post-baccalaureate programs, which combine a fifth year of study (two to three semesters) and a student teaching experience. Many of these programs also culminate in a master’s degree.

If you have met the subject matter requirements through previous education (bachelor’s or graduate degree), you may qualify for an Approved Alternative Certification program, which allows you to begin teaching under supervision while earning the pedagogy coursework required to become a certified ESL teacher in California.



Step 3. Apply for an Initial Teaching Credential

Upon completion of an approved preparation program, you may apply for your initial teaching credential, which is completed through the Commission’s online system. The cost of applying for an initial teaching credential in California is $70.

All initial teaching credentials in California are valid for a period of 5 years and are not renewable.



Step 4. Achieve and Maintain a Clear Teaching Credential

To achieve a clear teaching credential, you must complete an approved induction program. A list of approved induction programs can be found here. A clear teaching credential, which is valid for a period of 5 years, can be renewed through the Commission’s online system.

There are no professional education/development requirements to maintain a clear teaching credential in California. However, California educators commonly seek master’s degrees. A list of Commission-approved master’s degree programs available to those with a clear credential can be found here.



Step 5. Complete a California Teachers of English Learners (CTEL) Program (Pathway 2 candidates only)

The CTEL program is designed for current educators in California who are seeking English Learner authorization or a Cross-Cultural, Language, and Academic Development (CLAD) certificate. There are currently 14 approved CTEL programs in California, all of which are completed at the graduate level, and many courses meet the requirements toward a master’s degree.

A list of Commission-approved master’s degree programs available to those with a clear credential can be found here.



Step 6. Take the California Subject Examination for Teachers (CSET)

Upon the successful completion of a CTEL program, you will need to take and pass the California Subject Examinations for Teachers (CSET), a three-part examination that is administered by Evaluation Systems (Pearson).

To work as an ESL teacher in California, you may be required (if you cannot show subject matter competency in ESL as part of your teacher preparation program) to successfully pass the World Languages: English Language Development exam, which includes the following components:

  • Knowledge of English Learners in California and the U.S.; Applied Linguistics (subtest I)
  • Cultural Foundations; Foundations of English Learner Education in California and the U.S. (subtest II)
  • Principles of ELD Instruction and Assessment to Promote Receptive and Productive Language Proficiency (subtest III)

You can contact the examination administer at 916-928-4003 to receive more information about registering to take the CSET.



Step 7. Apply for the English Learner (EL) Credential

Once you have successfully completed the California Teachers of English Learners (CTEL) Program and have successfully passed the California Subject Examination for Teachers (CSET), you may apply for the EL credential by completing the Application for Credential Authorizing Public School Service.

California ESL Endorsement Salary Bonus Incentives

California is the most populous state in the nation, with one out of every eight Americans calling the state home. A significant portion of the state’s large populace is comprised of new residents from abroad. In fact, As of 2011, 27% of California’s residents were foreign born. This represents more than 10 million people whose first language is something other than English.

Teachers in California are in high demand, in general. This is especially true of teachers certified in ESL (English as a Second Language) as a primary content area, as well as those that add an additional ESL endorsement to their existing content area certification.

According to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, in certain jurisdictions the ESL teaching certificate is actually required in areas with a high concentration of language minority students.

ESL teachers in California are paid on a schedule that takes into account their education and level of experience:


  • Beginning Teacher Annual Salary- $38,719 to $41,451
  • Midrange Teacher Annual Salary – $55,637 to $67,655
  • Highest Teacher Annual Salary – $70,797 to $85,989

High School

  • Beginning Teacher Annual Salary – $40,471 to $42,865
  • Midrange Teacher Annual Salary – $59,516 to   $69,484
  • Highest Teacher Annual Salary – $78,074 to   $89,290

The Bureau of Labor Statistics groups ESL endorsed adult educators within the Adult Basic and Secondary Education and Literacy Teachers classification. These statistics are based on information gathered in 2013.

Area name
Annual Median Salary
Bakersfield-Delano CA
El Centro CA
Fresno CA
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale CA Metropolitan Division
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana CA
Merced CA
Estimate Not Released
Modesto CA
Oakland-Fremont-Hayward CA Metropolitan Division
Estimate Not Released
Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura CA
Estimate Not Released
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario CA
Estimate Not Released
Sacramento--Arden-Arcade--Roseville CA
San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos CA
San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont CA
San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City CA Metropolitan Division
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara CA
San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles CA
Santa Ana-Anaheim-Irvine CA Metropolitan Division
Santa Cruz-Watsonville CA
Santa Rosa-Petaluma CA
Estimate Not Released
Stockton CA
Vallejo-Fairfield CA
Visalia-Porterville CA
Estimate Not Released
Northern Mountains Region of California nonmetropolitan area
Estimate Not Released

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