Hawaii ESL Teacher Job Description and ESOL Certification Requirements

It’s no surprise that Hawaii is one of the most ethnically and linguistically diverse states in the U.S., with a large chunk of its population comprised of Asian and Pacific Islander immigrants. In fact, get to know Hawaii and you’ll soon learn that this beautiful collection of islanders speak more than 70 different languages, with Ilokano and Chuukese among the most common. As of 2018, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reported that English Language Learners (ELLs) comprised about 9.2 percent of the total PreK-12 student population in Hawaii. ELLs totaled 16,579 in 2018 – a big jump from 14,773 just a year earlier.

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As of the 2021-2022 school year, the U.S. Department of Education reported ESL teacher shortages across all grade levels (PreK-12) in Hawaii, with Hawaiian/Hawaiian immersion ESL teachers being among the most in demand.

It’s time to get the coveted ESL designation on your teaching certificate, so you can begin taking advantage of the excellent professional opportunities available to this unique group of educators.

These steps will show you exactly how to earn TESOL certification (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) and become an ESL teacher in Hawaii:

#1 ButtonEarn a Degree in TESOL and Qualify to Become an ESL Teacher in Hawaii
#2 ButtonPass Hawaii’s Required Tests
#3 ButtonApply for a TESOL Teaching License
#4 ButtonConsider Earning a Master’s in ESL to Keep Your Hawaii TESOL Teaching License Current
#5 ButtonLearn More About ESL Teacher Salary Expectations for Jobs in Hawaii



Step 1. Earn a Degree in TESOL and Qualify to Become an ESL Teacher in Hawaii

The Hawaii Teacher Standards Board offers a primary TESOL license, so if you are new to the teaching field and haven’t yet earned a bachelor’s degree, you can choose to complete a TESOL program leading to an initial license of the same name.

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In Hawaii, learning how to become an ESL teacher involves deciding the grade level in which you’ll specialize your TESOL license:

  • P-3
  • K-6
  • 6-8
  • 6-12
  • P-12
  • K-12

Bachelor’s and master’s in ESL are housed within state-approved teacher education programs (SATEP).

For example, BYU Hawaii offers a BA in TESOL Education that leads to an initial TESOL license and focuses on teaching students in grades 7-12.

Courses within an ESL program include:

  • Linguistics and language arts
  • English grammar and writing
  • English reading
  • History of ESL
  • Popular foreign languages – in Hawaii, the most common non-English languages among students are:
    • Ilocano
    • Languages of the Pacific Islands
    • Tagalog
    • Japanese
    • Spanish

These programs also include study in the pedagogical aspects of ESL, such as:

  • Teaching diverse students and students from diverse cultures
  • Methods and strategies for teaching English
  • ESL curriculum development
  • Choosing and interpreting different ESL/TESOL assessments and exams
  • Practicum or student teaching in an ESL/TESOL classroom

Out-of-State Reciprocity

If you are a new or inexperienced ESL teacher moving to Hawaii from another state, you will need to complete an SATEP program in ESL/TESOL. However, if you have at least three years of experience as an ESL teacher in your home state, you may already meet the Hawaii ESL certification requirements and need only complete the testing requirements if you have not done so already.

Already a Hawaii licensed teacher and want to add TESOL to your license?

You can add the TESOL field to your existing license by completing an undergraduate/graduate certificate or master’s in TESOL.

For example, Hawaii Pacific University offers an undergraduate certificate in TESOL, a graduate certificate in TESOL, and an MAT in TESOL for individuals who want to advance their knowledge in the field of ESL and earn another license field in TESOL.

Already have a bachelor’s degree in another field?

Your bachelor’s degree in another field may qualify you to complete a master’s degree leading to your initial teaching license. Many schools that offer bachelor’s level teaching certificate programs also offer master’s options that include all of the coursework and practical experiences necessary to become certified as a Hawaii educator.



Step 2. Pass Hawaii’s Required Tests

Once you’ve completed your program, you’ll need to take and pass the following tests, all of which are offered through Educational Testing Service (ETS):

Core Academic Skills for Educators Exam

The Hawaii Teacher Standards Board requires all candidates to pass this exam to ensure they have the basic skills needed to be a competent teacher. The exam is offered in three sub-sections that each evaluate a critical subject area:

English to Speakers of Other Languages Exam

The English to Speakers of Other Languages Exam is the assessment that specifically evaluates your knowledge in the field of ESL/TESOL. You will be allowed two hours to complete 120 questions in the following areas:

  • Foundations of Linguistics 18%
  • Foundations of Language Learning 22%
  • Planning and Implementing Instruction 23%
  • Assessment and Evaluation 15%
  • Culture 11%
  • Professionalism and Advocacy 11%

Principles of Learning and Teaching Exam

You will need to pass the Principles of Learning and Teaching Exam only if you have not completed an SATEP. This exam assesses your knowledge of the essential elements in educating and being an effective teacher. The Hawaii Teacher Standards Board recognizes that if you have completed an SATEP then you have learned the necessary ESL/TESOL pedagogical skills as set forth in the Hawaii ESL teacher job description.

You should choose the version of this exam that corresponds to the grade levels you intend to teach:



Step 3. Apply for a TESOL Teaching License

When you have reached this point you will be ready to apply for a Hawaii teaching license in TESOL. You’ll create an account with and apply through with the Hawaii Teacher Standards Board (MyHTSB). Your completed application will include:

  • Proof of SATEP completion
  • ETS exam scores
  • Copy of out-of-state license, if applicable

Current Hawaii Teachers

If you are currently employed as a teacher in Hawaii and your license is in a different field, you can apply to add a field  to your license. To be eligible for this you must meet ONE of the following conditions:

  • Complete an SATEP in TESOL
  • Complete coursework equivalent to what is found in an ESL/TESOL SATEP
  • Have at least one year of ESL teaching experience, and have completed the English to Speakers of Other Languages Exam
  • Have NBPTS Certification

NBPTS Certification

NBPTS Certification refers to what is also known as National Board Certification, and is offered through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS). Certification is possible according to the grades you teach, and gaining this involves completing an extensive process of evaluation with the NBPTS:

  • English as a New Language – Early and Middle Childhood
  • English as a New Language – Early Adolescence Through Young Adulthood



Step 4. Consider Earning a Master’s in ESL to Keep Your Hawaii TESOL Teaching License Current

Your teaching license is valid for five years, and you must maintain your proficiency in 10 key elements in order to renew your license for another five years. You can demonstrate proficiency in these key areas in a variety of ways, such as attending professional ESL conferences or earning a master’s degree in ESL, and proof of such will only be required if you are randomly audited. The 10 key elements are:

  • Ethical practice and professional development
  • ESL instructional planning
  • Development of supportive learning environments
  • Student ability development and improvement in ESL
  • ESL content knowledge
  • Testing and assessments in ESL
  • ESL strategies for instruction
  • Collaboration and leadership in the ESL field
  • Recognition of and adaptation to student learning differences
  • Application of the concepts of ESL and TESOL

There are two ways you can demonstrate proficiency in all 10 of these areas in one fell swoop:

  • Earn National Board Certification
  • A satisfactory rating in your most recent teacher evaluation and professional development plan

Your teacher evaluation is conducted by officials with your employing school and will evaluate your effectiveness and competence as an ESL teacher. As part of this officials will consult your professional development plan. You will develop this plan in conjunction with your school’s administration, and it will identify specific goals you have identified that will improve your teaching performance.

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You also have the option of upgrading your TESOL teaching license to an Advanced License that is valid for 10 years. To be eligible for this upgrade, you must be able to fulfill the following requirements:

  • Have a regular five-year teaching certificate with at least five years of full-time teaching experience, and one of the following:
    • NBPTS Certification
    • A master’s degree or other specialist degree related to the field of ESL or TESOL

In Hawaii’s competitive ESL field, the advantages of having a relevant master’s degree cannot be overlooked. In addition to fulfilling part of the renewal requirements, a master’s degree can also open up additional career opportunities, justify a higher salary, and increase job stability. A master’s degree can also solidify your knowledge in the field of ESL, thereby increasing your professional performance and ability to teach effectively.


Step 5. Learn More About ESL Teacher Salary Expectations for Jobs in Hawaii

As of May 2020, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported the following salaries for Hawaii’s educators:


Elementary School

Early Career (25th percentile): $55,090
Median: $64,210
Experienced (90th percentile): $85,310


Middle School

Early Career (25th percentile): $54,610
Median: $64,150
Experienced (90th percentile): $86,890


High School

Early Career (25th percentile): $55,490
Median: $64,750
Experienced (90th percentile): $88,840


BLS stats also reveal what ESL teachers are earning in Hawaii in some of its largest metro areas, as of May 2020:


Kahului-Wailuku-Lahaina (Elementary School)

Early Career (25th percentile): $54,860
Median: $62,200
Experienced (90th percentile): $81,990


Kahului-Wailuku-Lahaina (Middle School)

Early Career (25th percentile): $54,600
Median: $61,920
Experienced (90th percentile): $82,090


Kahului-Wailuku-Lahaina (High School)

Early Career (25th percentile): $65,430
Median: $63,600
Experienced (90th percentile): $83,830


A job search for an ESL position in Hawaii should always start by visiting the Hawaii Department of Education’s job opportunities page. You can also begin to connect with the ESL educator community and learn about job opportunities near you by becoming involved in the Hawai‘i Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) professional association.


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.

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