Wisconsin ESL Teacher Job Description and Certification Requirements

If you are interested in teaching English as a Second Language in Wisconsin, you may become certified/licensed at the early childhood through adolescence level after meeting education, experience and examination requirements.

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In Wisconsin, the terms “teaching certificate” and “teaching license” are used interchangeably. If you wish to become a certified ESL teacher in Wisconsin, you’ll need to follow these steps:

#1 ButtonComplete at Least a Bachelor’s Degree in TESOL and Educator Preparation Program
#2 ButtonPass Examinations for New Teachers in Wisconsin
#3 ButtonApply for Your Wisconsin Teaching Certificate/License
#4 ButtonMaintain and Upgrade Your Wisconsin Teaching Certificate/License

According to a report by Sonoma State University, the two largest groups of Limited English Proficient (LEP) students in Wisconsin are Hmong and Spanish speakers, but there are at least 70 other languages represented among English Language Learners (ELLs) throughout the state.

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction offers resources to support ESL teachers. These include sample letters for home correspondence with families, instructional resources, and legal responsibility information for families and school districts.



Step 1. Complete at Least a Bachelor’s Degree in TESOL and Educator Preparation Program

In order to become a certified ESL teacher in Wisconsin, you must complete a bachelor’s degree in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) and an approved teacher preparation program.

Consult this Index of Approved Programs at Wisconsin Institutions of Higher Education for help in choosing a program. The program you choose will have a mandatory student teaching component that you will also be expected to complete prior to graduation.

For students who already hold a bachelor’s degree in an identified content area, but have never taught before, consult this Index of Approved Alternative Route Programs. This is also used for teachers who are already licensed in one area but wish to teach in another area. This route is particularly helpful for prospective ESL teachers, as ESL has been identified as a shortage area in Wisconsin. These programs are for teacher licensure only and do not lead to obtaining another degree.

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Step 2. Pass Examinations for New Teachers in Wisconsin

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction expects all teachers to prove that they are competent in both basic skills and within their subject content area. Assessments are conducted to ensure that this is true of all new ESL teachers in the state prior to their certification.

Basic skills testing

All applicants who wish to become certified as an elementary, special education, reading teacher or reading specialist must pass the Wisconsin Foundations of Reading Test. A score of 240 or better is necessary in order to pass this test.

All teacher applicants for initial certification in Wisconsin must pass the following Praxis I examinations:

Content area testing

Additionally, all prospective ESL teachers in Wisconsin must pass the English to Speakers of Other Languages Praxis II content exam prior to certification. A score of 143 is necessary to pass. This will enable you to teach ESL to students from early childhood through adolescence.

If you are already a certified teacher in another area and wish to add a second area of certification (in ESL or another area), you may do so by passing the Praxis II exam or by completing a post-baccalaureate program in that area.

If you completed an educator preparation program outside of Wisconsin, you must pass the basic and content tests listed above. If you are already a licensed or certified teacher in another state, you must prove that you passed those tests in that state. If the requirements are significantly different from those of Wisconsin, you may be asked to pass the Praxis I and/or Praxis II examinations before becoming certified to teach in Wisconsin.



Step 3. Apply for Your Wisconsin Teaching Certificate/License

Once you have completed the steps above, you are ready to apply for your ESL teaching certification/license in Wisconsin. This is done through the Educator Licensing Online (ELO) system. All supporting application materials and fees are submitted through this online system, streamlining the process.

You will also be notified whether you need to get fingerprinted when you apply, and if so, given the instructions to do so.

If you completed an out-of-state teacher preparation program, you will be asked to upload transcripts, test score reports, a completed Institutional Endorsement and Assurances form, and Work Experience Form (if applicable).

Be aware that, as the ELO system is fairly new, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction is currently experiencing about an eight-week backlog in processing applications. You will be notified when yours has been completely processed.



Step 4. Maintain and Upgrade Your Wisconsin Teaching Certificate/License

Your Initial Educator’s License in Wisconsin is valid for five years, and is not renewable unless you have not attained three years of teaching experience under that license. If you have, you are expected to upgrade your license to a Professional Educator License. This requires submitting a Professional Development Plan (PDP), which will display your professional growth and its impact on the learning of your students. It may be done wholly online and electronically, following the instructions given, and submitted to the Wisconsin OPI electronically for timely online renewal via the ELO system.

Graduate studies in ESL

You might want to consider pursing graduate studies in ESL. This can help to advance your career and potentially, your salary as well. Examples of graduate-level degrees in ESL that are available in Wisconsin include (but are not limited to):

  • Master of Arts in Education – Teaching English as a Second Language
  • Graduate Certificate Program in TESOL
  • Master of Arts in Reading- TESOL concentration
  • Master of Arts in TESOL

Wisconsin ESL Endorsement Salary Bonus Incentives

A July 2014 article on greenbaygazette.com reported on how foreign-born residents in Wisconsin make important contributions to the state’s economy. For example, the Partnership for a New American Economy found that 40 percent of the workers in Wisconsin’s massive dairy industry are immigrants.

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction has a number of bilingual and ESL programs that are designed to assist the state’s English Language Learners (ELLs) which, as of 2012, totaled nearly 47,000 students. Although Spanish is the primary language among ELLs in Wisconsin, the second most frequently spoken language is Hmong. ELL students are registered in 80 percent of the 424 schools districts in Wisconsin.

ESL teachers are licensed through the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. Teachers in Wisconsin may achieve an ESL endorsement through the completion of a minor in ESL within an approved teacher preparation program. Required courses in an ESL minor program in Wisconsin often include:

  • Introduction to languages and linguistics
  • Structure of English
  • Acquisition of language
  • Theory and methodology
  • Pedagogical grammar
  • Foundation for language minority education
  • Methods and materials for teaching ESL
  • Cross cultural studies for teaching ELL
  • Assessment of bilingual studies
  • Linguistics

ESL teacher salaries in Wisconsin are in line with state standards. The National Education Association reported that the average beginning teacher salary in Wisconsin was $33,170 in 2011-12. An August 2014 job post for an ESL teacher in Beloit revealed a salary range of $35,000 and $73,834, based on education and experience.

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Additional salary information can be found on the following Bureau of Labor Statistics table, which details salary statistics for Adult, Basic, and Secondary Education and Literacy Teachers, under which ESL teachers are categorized:

Area name
Annual Median Salary
Eau Claire WI
Green Bay WI
Estimate Not Released
Janesville WI
Madison WI
Estimate Not Released
Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis WI
Oshkosh-Neenah WI
Eastern Wisconsin nonmetropolitan area
West Central Wisconsin nonmetropolitan area
South Central Wisconsin nonmetropolitan area
Southwestern Wisconsin nonmetropolitan area

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