Hailing from Mexico, the Philippines, China, India, and more, California’s immigrant population is the largest in the nation and accounts for more than a quarter of the state’s population and about a third of the state’s entire workforce, according to the American Immigration Council. This huge population adds to the state’s exceptional diversity and is vital to the success of the state’s economy.
Naturally, that makes California home to a huge English Language Learner (ELL) population. In fact, since 2000, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reported that the number of ELLs has hovered between 1.2 and 1.6 million, which is about 20 – 25 percent of the total PreK-12 student population in the state.
When you’ve got ELL numbers like California, you can bet there’s a steady need for ESL educators. Hold ESL credentials here and you’ll benefit from abundant professional prospects, opportunities to earn a higher salary, and the personal satisfaction of teaching this fantastic group of learners.
Whether you want to focus your initial teaching certificate on ESL or add it to your existing certificate, you can’t go wrong holding an ESL credential in California.
Follow these steps to learn how to become an ESL teacher in California:
Step 1. Determine the Appropriate Pathway for You to Become an ESL Teacher in California
English Learners in California schools are provided with English Language Development (ELD) instruction specific to their proficiency level in a Structured English Immersion (SEI) classroom setting. Some districts refer to ELs as Limited English Proficiency (LEP) learners, but that’s just another term used for the same designation under the state Department of Education.
English learners who have not acquired fluency in English (as defined by the school district) receive SEI instruction through an English language acquisition process that’s been very successful in helping students achieve proficiency and fluency. Class is conducted with the majority of instruction in English, but with the presentation and curriculum uniquely designed with ELs in mind to ensure they are developing language proficiency while also learning the core content in the class, whether that’s math, science or any other subject.
The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing is responsible for certifying teachers in California in all content areas, while the Department of Education administers and oversees state and federal programs and regulations that support schools, including programs for English learners.
As part of becoming an ESL teacher in California, you will complete English Learner (EL) authorization coursework, which is now built in to all initial teacher certification programs sanctioned by the state, both at the bachelor’s and master’s degree level.
There are two pathways for taking the authorization coursework and earning your ESL endorsement to teach English Learners:
- Teaching Credential with English Learner or Bilingual Authorization: All teacher candidates within an approved teacher credential program 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.
- English Learner Authorization/CLAD Certificates: All teacher certification programs offered in California over the past 20 years include EL coursework imbedded. But if you graduated from an out-of-state program that did not include embedded EL coursework, you will need to 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 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.
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 16 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.
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.
Step 8. Learn More About Working as an ESL Teacher in California
As of May 2020, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported the following salaries for educators in California:
Early Career (25th percentile): $65,030
Experienced (90th percentile): $122,210
Early Career (25th percentile): $64,160
Experienced (90th percentile): $111,180
Early Career (25th percentile): $70,650
Experienced (90th percentile): $119,990
BLS stats also reveal what ESL teachers are earning in California in some of its largest metro areas, as of May 2020:
Los Angeles (Elementary School)
Early Career (25th percentile): $74,230
Experienced (90th percentile): $125,810
San Francisco (Middle School)
Early Career (25th percentile): $57,620
Experienced (90th percentile): $135,200
San Jose (High School)
Early Career (25th percentile): $75,540
Experienced (90th percentile): $126,600
Although your salary as an ESL teacher in California will reflect just your experience and education level, in most cases, you may qualify for grants or scholarships if you’re working toward a TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) certification or endorsement, or qualify for bonuses or annual stipends if you teach in a school district or region that identifies ESL as a teacher shortage area.
For example, the California Association for Bilingual Education offers a $2,000 scholarship to college and university students interested in pursuing their bilingual teaching credential.
And 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.