Palm trees and foreign shores … cobblestone streets and sidewalk cafes … these are the things that daydreams about teaching ESL are made of. When you’ve got the credentials to market yourself as an ESL teacher, the doors open to all kinds of positions… both at home and all over the world.
Whether you’re going to be co-teaching or leading a resource room instructing K-12 students in one of your local public schools, working with adults at a community college or proprietary ESL school, or seizing on an opportunity to work overseas at an embassy school, or even contracting out your services to a corporate employer, teaching English to non-native speakers is a great way to engage with other cultures and expand your horizons. Whether we’re talking about recent immigrants to the US or foreign nationals in the world of international business looking to brush up on their English skills, you’ll get a chance to work with students from places outside your experience… and that’s exactly the way ESL teachers like it.
A Master’s Degree is the Ticket to a Career Teaching ESL
A TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate can be had online for a couple hundred bucks and 40 hours of instruction. That’s enough to get you going in an entry-level position in some ESL academies overseas, but that’s about it… A more involved TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) certification shows significantly more dedication and skill, and after the 140 hours of training it requires you’ll be taken more seriously when vying for professional positions.
But these kinds of certificates are just a gateway to professional opportunities, and by themselves won’t prepare you teach in US public schools or at the college level, and they sure won’t do much to set you apart from the pack if you’re looking at a chance to secure a contract with an embassy or corporation doing business overseas. ESL teachers with these kinds of basic certificates often use them to dip their toes in the pond, and if they’re lucky, maybe get a subsidized adventure overseas. But the most ambitious of the bunch come back looking for a way to position themselves for a more permanent career in the field.
That’s where an advanced degree comes in. Becoming a public school or community college ESL teacher requires credentials that are a long way past a shake-and-bake TESOL cert.
No matter what your plans, a master’s degree in ESL expands your options and pads your paycheck.
Employment Info by State
- District Of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
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- New York
- North Carolina
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- South Carolina
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- West Virginia
A World of Options For ESL Teachers
ESL teachers have a lot more flexibility in their career path than almost any other type of basic skills teacher. The demand for ELL education extends across typical boundaries and opens up options well outside the typical classroom setting, including:
- Curriculum specialists for educational and government institutions.
- Private language academy teachers or operators.
- Community college adult ESL educators.
- Instructors in other languages.
- Private tutors.
- Home-based online ESL instructors.
Even within the conventional school system, ESL teachers might find themselves in a variety of roles. They can serve as:
- Consultants and resources specialists for other teachers.
- Teachers of dedicated ESL classes.
- Co-teachers in mainstream classrooms with ESL students.
Tailor Your Career to Different Stages of Your Life
While travel and experience in other cultures remains a huge motivation for many ESL instructors, teaching ESL is a profession like any other. Committing to a career will involve paperwork and bureaucracy, dealing with parents, dealing with corporations, slogging through repetitive lesson plans. It’s not all time on the beach and laughing in carefree conversation at a nightclub in Europe.
The good news is that a master’s degree in ESL gives you all the options for choosing the type of position that works for you, something that is likely to change at different stages of your life. That freedom to build a career around your ESL teaching skills and credentials that you can customize throughout your life is the beauty of teaching ESL – and that career could look very different when you’re young and single than it does when you’re ready to settle down and start chipping away at a mortgage.
Your career teaching ESL could take you from an elementary school in a small town in Texas to a language academy in a Tokyo high-rise. It’s entirely up to you.
Current Trends and Job Growth for ESL Teachers
In the scheme of things globally, if you were born into an English speaking nation you’re got a distinct advantage. It’s the international language of business, and really the international language of everything, for that matter.
In Thailand, business meetings between Thai, Chinese, and German staff are conducted in English. In 2010, Rakuten, a Japanese corporation, declared that English would be the official company language. Increasingly, when people from any non-compatible language groups get together, English is how they bridge the gap.
English is spoken at a useful level today by 1.75 billion people worldwide. By 2020, that number is expected to rise to 2 billion. Only about one in four is a native speaker… meaning the other three needed an ESL teacher somewhere along the way to learn the language.
These are trends that feed on themselves—the more English speakers there are, the greater the incentive for others to learn the language. And there are a lot of folks out there to teach. The global population is expected to increase by around a billion people by 2030 according to the United Nations; much of that growth will come in India and Nigeria… both countries that are already in the top five for total number of English language speakers, making the language even more common globally. And in China, that other population growth powerhouse, Vice Premier Liu Yandong casually dropped a comment in 2015 that more than 300 million people in China are busy studying English. That’s nearly the population of the United States.
Closer to home, Mexico announced in 2009 that it would implement global English instruction in its own public schools.
Meanwhile, in the U.S. itself, the percentage of public school students who are ELL has been steadily climbing. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 9.4 percent of public school students participated in formal ELL language assistance programs in the 2014-2015 school year… up from 5.1 percent in 1993-1994.
In California alone, nearly a quarter of the school age population were in ELL programs by 2015.
Unfortunately, according to EdWeek magazine, the graduation rate for those students hovers around only 62 percent… compared to 83.2 percent for high school students overall. Language difficulties account for a large part of that gap.
That translates into huge demand for qualified ESL teachers in the public school and post-secondary education systems, not to mention in private language academies. Almost all positions prefer native speakers, yet according to the International TEFL Academy, 80 percent of English teachers abroad, in all positions, are non-native speakers.
Those jobs are all positions that are open to native speakers instead.
Certification/Licensure for Teaching K-12 in US Public and Private Schools
Like any other public school teacher, you’ll have to get a license or certification in order to teach English in American schools. Although the specific requirements vary, that always means at least:
- Earning a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution.
- Completing an approved teacher education program.
- Passing knowledge and skills tests.
- Undergoing a thorough background check.
In many venues, though, that’s only the beginning. Stringent continuing education requirements and stiff competition for positions almost always lead teachers to earn advanced degrees in their field. And for ESL positions in particular, specialized ESL certification is almost always mandatory.
Some districts, particularly those with heavy population of ELL students, will help cover the costs of an advanced degree leading to an ESL endorsement.
Resources for TESOL Professionals
One thing to be careful of when hunting down ESL resources on the web is the difference between American English and British English. Although, as native speakers, most of these differences are clear to us, your students are more likely to be confused if you start to mix and match.
There is a much larger debate in the ESL field about which strain of the language to teach, but for teachers just starting out, it’s best to stick to what you know—just make sure you’re using the right materials to teach it.
When you’re talking about resources for TESOL professionals, the first stop, naturally, should be the TESOL International Association Resource Center. Encompassing everything from lesson plans to teaching tips to online seminars, there is a useful piece of information there for whatever challenge you face as an ESL teacher.
Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab has an extensive array of resources for both native and non-native speakers, but the ESL section provides exercises, worksheets, and other instructional materials that are specific to the ELL population. OWL includes a master list of links to other resources sites as well as its own proprietary resources.
One thing that almost all new ESL teachers neglect is the pronunciation aspect of the language. Because it can all be boiled down to rules and rote learning, spelling, grammar, and structure are all easy to focus on. Yet there are few things that are more of an obstacle to clear communication between native and non-native speakers than proper pronunciation. Rachel’s English is the go-to resource site for teaching the vital aspects of rhythm, stress, linking, and intonation for teaching American ESL, including video and audio sound resources available absolutely free to incorporate into your own lesson plans.
It’s not actually a cafe, but it will feel like one when you drop in and see the wide variety of resources and conversations happening on Dave’s website. In addition to a wide array of lesson ideas, quizzes, and reading material, Dave’s Cafe is the place to go for overseas ESL job listings. Real life, up-to-date information about teaching abroad keeps you from getting scammed and gets you lined up for the kind of positions you are most interested in.