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In this section we cover a number of topics related to teaching ESL/TESOL in the classroom. Among them are the Common Core, Best Practices for Teaching ESL, Free ESL Lesson Plans, and Professional Organizations for ESL Teachers.
ESL Teachers Intervene to Help ELL Students Meet the Challenge of Common Core
Common Core State Standards (or CCSS; more commonly just referred to as Common Core) are a set of standards for academic performance launched in 2009 by the National Governor’s Association in the United States as a way to establish consistent benchmarks across the country for K-12 students. The standards are in place in 42 states and broadly define goals in English Language Arts and Literacy and Mathematics, with regular assessments taking place to validate the effectiveness of teaching methods and curriculum.
Common Core standards are an important part of life for any public school teacher in those states, regardless of the subject they teach. ESL, however, is not among the core content standards specified.
ESL teachers have often found themselves on the periphery of discussions around Common Core. The role of ESL teachers has traditionally been to assist ELL students to achieve a level of English proficiency that would allow them to grasp content in all subjects and keep pace with other students at their grade-level.
Trying to help non-native speakers keep up by providing them with little more than ancillary support from ESL teachers has proven to be somewhat unrealistic. Under this model, ESL resources have been stretched thin while at the same time Math, Science, History, Social Studies and Language Arts teachers struggle to maintain their own pace and standards. Increasingly, ESL teachers are being brought in earlier to help implement Common Core content courses in classrooms where there are a high number of ELL students.
Learn more about how teaching ESL intersects with Common Core here.
Best Practices for Teaching English as a Second Language
Although TESOL requires a lot of customization and personalization for every student, there is a long history of experience in the field that has lead to some well-established best practices that you need to know about if you are going to be successful in the field.
What you need to know may be influenced by the age of your students, their native language, and how much exposure they’ve had to the English language.
ESL education is happening at earlier and earlier grade levels around the world, as it is universally agreed upon that one of the best practices for teaching ESL is to start young and take advantage of the natural language acquisition system intrinsic to humans when it’s at its peak. The cognitive process of language acquisition is something that tends to drop off sharply as we get older. Simply put, the younger kids are when they start speaking a second language, the more success they’re going to have with mastering it.
Increasingly, English teaching is moving online—matching native English speakers with ELL students in other countries without the travel expenses. Teaching tools available for online educators and the technology necessary for providing clear communication are so advanced that a whole new set of best practices is evolving to enable remote ESL teaching.
Find out more about best practices for teaching ESL here.
Many of the Best ESL Lesson Plans are Completely Free
Like any other teacher, lesson planning is important to make sure you’re introducing your students to English in a structured and sequential way. The best ESL teachers have lesson plans that flow naturally and easily, making learning English interesting and fun for their students.
One nice thing about ESL catching fire is that there are a million and one lesson plans floating around on the internet, developed by teachers around the world and freely shared for all to access. Some of our favorites are:
- About.com English as a 2ndLanguage
- ESL Flow
- ESL Home
- Free ESL Flashcards
- ISS of BC
- The Internet TESL Journal
- Total ESL
- Using English
Find more details about these sources of free ESL lesson plans here.
Finding Support Through Professional Organizations
Being an ESL teacher is undeniably awesome but it can also be a lonely profession in some ways. Working overseas, you will often be the only native speaker in your school or academy. Or, as an individual private instructor, you may be all on your own without colleagues there as a sounding board. Even as an ESL teacher in a public school setting at home in the states, you are likely to be a specialist, working around many other teachers who nonetheless don’t share your expertise or perspective.
It’s important to cultivate sources for support that you can turn to for ideas and inspiration when you get stuck. But professional organizations are about more than just keeping your morale up.
Professional organizations are there to provide you with access to more and different opportunities, whether simply by posting jobs on open boards or by expanding your professional network to include teachers with connections to private schools and embassies all over the world. Add to that that these organizations provide access to amazing continuing education opportunities and seminars that could include travel, and that your professional circle will come to include experienced teachers who have seen it all and done it all and who are eager to share and mentor, and it becomes clear that getting involved with these organizations can be key to a successful career.
Some of our favorite professional associations include:
- TESOL International Association
- National Association for Bilingual Education (NABE)
- National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE)
- Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC)
- American Association for Applied Linguistics (AAAL)
- American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL)
- International Language Testing Association (ILTA)
- International Reading Association (IRA)
- International Association of World Englishes (IAWE)
Learn more about these professional organizations for ESL teachers here.
What It’s Really Like Teaching ESL
Most people outside the field have a lot of misconceptions about teaching ESL: Since you already speak English, it must be easy to teach it, right? … Don’t you have to know the language of the person you’re teaching first? … Can’t you just sit and have conversations with someone and they’ll pick it up along the way?
Whether you work with K-12 students in the public school system in your area, teach adults at a community college, or work for a private proprietary ESL school, the reality is that it’s a hard job that requires a lot of different skills if you want to do it well—skills that aren’t always obvious to people outside the profession.
Teaching English to non-native speakers is an intensely personal vocation, and one that takes a lot of flexibility and creativity to tailor your lessons to the students you’re teaching. Of course, gaining the ability to effectively communicate is the main goal for your students, but it’s also a skill that you have to master to be an effective teacher.
ESL Teaching Is Personally Rewarding
Of course, all teachers gain satisfaction from helping students overcome tough educational obstacles to pick up new skills that will serve them in life. But there is something that is just so unique and fundamentally vital about language skills. When you teach another person to speak your language, you feel as if you have opened up a whole new world of possibility and opportunity for them.
This is more the case with English than almost any other language as it has long been the lingua fraca of the business world. Many jobs—and all kinds of economic opportunities—are open only to English speakers. And bilingual English speakers – as your students will eventually become –
could have even more doors open for them.
Like most ESL teachers, you’ll probably come to love the job in all its fun and frustration. There’s a lot to learn along the way, though, and you’ll need some help to get there—both, as you earn your bachelors and master’s degrees, and then once you are actually in the field teaching.
ESL Instruction Requires Excellent Interpersonal Skills
One-on-one instruction is a standard component of the ESL teaching experience. Although you may be offering basic instruction in a traditional classroom lecture format, it’s both important and inevitable that you converse with your students individually and directly as part of their education. The only way to assess their progress is to engage them in conversation.
The rewarding aspect of this, though, is that you are also more likely than the average teacher to get to know your students… their personal lives, experiences, and fascinating cultural differences.
ESL Teaching Offers As Much Flexibility As It Requires
While you will have to be flexible in order to succeed as an ESL teacher, you’ll find that the field itself is one that allows you considerable flexibility. If you find yourself bored with working as a resource in a specialist ELL classroom, you can find work co-teaching in integrated general education classrooms.
If you’re tired of the classroom environment entirely, there are plenty of opportunities to teach online or as a private tutor. You might even start your own ESL teaching business.
And thanks to the huge demand for ESL teachers worldwide, if you get tired of driving the same old streets everyday, your qualifications will allow you to pick up and go teach in almost any country imaginable.
To many, this kind of freedom is what becoming an ESL teacher is all about.