Rhode Island ESL Teacher Job Description and Certification Requirements

ESL teachers in Rhode Island have an important job to do. Recent statistics show that nearly 8,000 of Rhode Island’s students participated in programs for English language learners, and as of the 2012 school year more than six percent of the state’s public school students fall into this category. The most common languages among Rhode Island’s English language learners are Spanish, Chinese, and Portuguese. It is ESL teachers who provide these students with extra help to ensure they gain the skills necessary to have access to every opportunity for success in the future.

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If you are interested in becoming an ESL teacher, you will need to work your way through the certification requirements established by the Rhode Island Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education. To become eligible for ESL certification you will need to complete the following steps:

#1 ButtonBecome a Certified Teacher
#2 ButtonQualify to Become an ESL Teacher
#3 ButtonPass the English to Speakers of Other Languages Exam
#4 ButtonApply for TESOL Certification
#5 ButtonRenew Your Rhode Island ESL Teaching Certificate



Step 1. Become a Certified Teacher

In Rhode Island, the TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) certification requirements mandate that you first become certified in what is termed an Independent subject area. Once you have earned an Independent teaching certification you can add TESOL certification, which falls into the category of Dependent Certifications.

ESL teachers are classified according to the grades they teach:

To add an ESL certification, you need to first earn the corresponding Independent Certifications:

  • If you want to be an ESL teacher for grades pre K-2 you need to first earn a certification as an Early Childhood Education Teacher for these grade levels
  • An ESL certification for grades 1-6 first requires an Elementary Education Teacher certification
  • An ESL certification for grads 5-8 first requires a Middle Grades teaching certification in English, mathematics, science, social studies, or world languages
  • An ESL certification for grades 7-12 first requires a teaching certification in any secondary grade content area
  • If you want to be an ESL teacher in all grades (pre K-12) you need to first gain certification in any Independent Certification subject area

Becoming Certified in an Independent Field

There are several paths to becoming a certified teacher in an Independent field, and they all require you to have at least a bachelor’s degree. The traditional route to certification includes majoring in your field of expertise plus the completion of an approved teacher preparation program that focuses on pedagogy in your area of expertise before culminating in a student teaching rotation.

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If you have already completed at least a bachelor’s degree in your teaching field you may consider completing an alternative teacher preparation program that will have an intensive pedagogical segment and instead of culminating with student teaching, will place you directly in the classroom with close guidance.

Once you have completed your education you will need to pass a pedagogy test as well as a content knowledge test that is specific to your field of expertise. You can then apply for a teaching certification in your Independent Certification area and once you receive this you can fill out an application to become a ESL teacher in Rhode Island.

If you are from out-of-state Rhode Island will generally recognize you as being eligible for an Independent certification if you completed a teacher preparation program that was approved by your home state or if you currently hold a valid and full teaching certification in your home state.



Step 2. Qualify to Become an ESL Teacher

As you earn your initial Independent teaching certification that will make you eligible to apply for an ESL Dependent certificate, keep in mind that you still must become eligible for ESL certification in one of two ways:

  • Through a credential review
  • Through out-of-state reciprocity

Rhode Island does not have any teacher preparation programs specifically for ESL teachers, so to make up for this the Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education has designated a series of courses you must take to develop an adequate foundation in the field of ESL. Completing these as you earn your initial certification will save you time, as will earning an Independent certification in an area that shares any of the ESL required courses, which are as follows:

  • At least 18 semester credits in each of the following areas:
    • Introduction to English linguistics
    • ESL program methods and curricula
    • Theories in first and second language acquisition
    • English language learner secondary language literacy
    • ESL education and socio-cultural considerations
  • 45-hour practicum in an ESL classroom environment

If you are a certified ESL teacher in a different state, or completed an ESL teacher preparation program approved in your home state, you may also be eligible for a Rhode Island TESOL certification. However you will still need to first gain certification in an Independent certification area. Holding a TESOL certification can fulfill some of these requirements depending on the type of institution where this was earned.



Step 3. Pass the English to Speakers of Other Languages Exam

No matter which ESL grade level you intend to teach, you will need to pass the English to Speakers of Other Languages Exam before you will be eligible to become certified in this subject area. Administered by Educational Testing Service (ETS), this exam will assess your competency to ensure you are qualified to be an ESL teacher. You will have two hours to complete this test, which is comprised of 120 questions that cover the topics of:

  • Listening comprehension
    • Oral grammar and vocabulary
    • Pronunciation
  • Foundations of linguistics and language learning
    • Linguistic theory
    • Language and culture
    • Second language learning and literacy
  • Planning, implementing, and managing instruction
    • Instructional theory, teaching techniques, and materials
    • Managing students and the classroom
  • Assessments
    • Knowledge of test varieties and standards
    • Use of tests and the interpretation as well as application of results
  • Cultural and professional ESL considerations
    • Cultural understanding
    • Ethical and legal issues
    • Role of the ESL teacher and professional development

You can register for this test through ETS’s website and a passing score is considered to be 146. Upon completion ETS will send your score to the Office of Educator Quality and Certification.



Step 4. Apply for TESOL Certification

At this point you should have completed the following:

  • Already be a certified teacher in the appropriate subject area based on the ESL grade levels you intend to teacher
  • Have completed the requisite amount of credits and courses that are specified for ESL certification eligibility
  • Have passed the English to Speakers of Other Languages Exam

You will need to obtain proof of these three elements, such as official transcripts, and send this along with a completed application to:

Rhode Island Department of Education
Office of Educator Quality and Certification
255 Westminster Street, 4th Floor
Providence, RI 02903-3400

Application processing times vary depending on the time of the year, and once you have received your certification you can begin searching for ESL jobs in Rhode Island through websites such as the Department of Education’s Education Jobs in RI.



Step 5. Renew Your Rhode Island TESOL Certificate

To maintain and renew your TESOL certification, you will need to become familiar with the state’s Model Teacher Evaluation and Support System. The Department of Education has adopted this system because it rewards high-performing teachers based on pre-determined ideal teaching standards. Key parts of this system are the Local Educator Evaluation System and a Professional Growth Model.

You will need to create a Professional Growth Model every year that identifies concrete ESL teaching goals you want to achieve, along with the details of how you will go about achieving these. At least three times a year you will meet with your local educator evaluators – staff members and fellow ESL teacher mentors from your home school – who will evaluate your goals and the achievements you have made. At the end of the year your evaluators will score you on a scale ranging from Ineffective to Highly Effective.

Three years after receiving your TESOL certification you will be eligible to upgrade to a Professional Certificate which will be valid for five years. To be eligible for this upgrade you will have needed to earn a satisfactory year-end evaluation at least three times from your Local Educator Evaluation System.

Many ESL teachers find that earning a master’s degree can help to maintain their competitive edge while also increasing their professional credentials and teaching effectiveness.

Rhode Island Endorsement Salary Bonus Incentives

The US Department of Education’s annual list of teacher shortages states that Rhode Island has a critical shortage of ESL and bilingual Spanish teachers.

U.S. Census Bureau statistics show that foreign-born residents made up 9.5 percent of Rhode Island’s population in 1990, 11.4 percent in 2000 and 13.5 percent in 2011 when a total of 141,570 immigrants were living in the state. In 2011, Latinos were the largest group at 12.8 percent of the population (134,714 people), followed by Asians at 3.2 percent (33,335).

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According to the 2000 census, 20 percent of Rhode Island’s population speaks a language other than English in their homes. The most common languages are:

  1. Spanish or Spanish Creole (79,443)
  2. Portuguese (37,437)
  3. French (19,385)
  4. Italian (13,759)
  5. Mon-Khmer, Cambodian (5,596)

Other languages spoken by smaller groups include French Creole, Chinese, Laotian, Polish, German, African languages and Arabic.

ESL teacher certifications are granted and monitored by the Rhode Island Department of Education’s Office of Teacher Preparation, Certification and Professional Development located in the capital city of Providence. The current title of “ESL Specialist” is being changed to “ESL certification” and will be phased out by 2015. The three types granted are ESL, Bilingual and Dual Language certifications.

Rhode Island teacher salaries are among the highest in the nation. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national average annual salary for teachers is:

  • Elementary school – $52,240
  • Middle school – $52,270
  • Secondary school – $53,390

By comparison, the average annual teacher salary in Rhode Island is:

  • Elementary/Middle school – $65,020
  • Secondary school – $64,550

A master’s degree or higher translates into higher pay. The average annual salary for a teacher with a master’s degree in Rhode Island is quoted as $66,250.

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