By Susan Ott
The demand for ESL (English as a Second Language) teachers in grades K-12 is rising, with many schools looking for specialists in this area. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of children in grades K-12 who speak a language other than English at home rose from 10 percent in 1980 to 21 percent in 2009.
Students of all ages and linguistic backgrounds are in need of extra help and support in making English their primary language so that they can succeed in American schools. This means that schools, both public and private, are in need of specialists on staff who are specifically trained to help ESL students not only learn the English language, but also learn how to succeed within their grade levels to the best of their abilities. Even if you want to leave the K-12 level all together, there is also a growing demand for ESL educators in universities, adult education programs and private companies. So if you’re already a certified teacher with years of experience who’s looking to specialize, ESL might be a strong fit for you.
TESOL And ESL
If you wish to teach English to students who speak other languages, you will want to look closely at two specific types of masters programs: ESL (English as a Second Language) and TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). Both degrees are similar and tailored to teachers who want to teach ESL students. If you already have a specific job in mind (i.e. a need for an ESL specialist at your current school), check with your administrator(s) to see if one degree is desired over the other. If not, research both masters options (most online degree schools issue one or the other) and choose the program that best fits your needs.
The core focus of a masters in ESL or TESOL is on teaching English skills to those who have little to no knowledge of the English language. Your courses will instruct you in new methods of teaching as well as understanding the unique needs of ESL students and the specific challenges they face. In this type of masters program, the curriculum is focused heavily on reading and writing, to give you the tools to help non-native speakers communicate and understand English with fluency so they can succeed in all academic areas. And much like your undergraduate education degree, you’ll also study theories and philosophies of education and curriculum development, all specifically tailored to the ESL field of study.
Using ESL in Public School
If you are planning on teaching ESL in a public school, then you will most likely also need to obtain your ESL or TESOL certification from the state in which you will teach. Much like your initial teacher certification, an ESL certificate can be earned through passing an ESL subject test or tests, given by each state. You will then be issued a separate ESL or TESOL licensure that certifies you to teach ESL. If you are planning on teaching in a private school or non-academic setting, this certification may not be required. But becoming officially licensed always looks good on a resume and adds an extra credential to your professional arsenal.
What Specific Jobs Can You Earn With This Degree?
In most public and private K-12 school settings, an ESL master’s degree holder can become the ESL specialist for the school. In this type of position, you will most likely pull ESL students from all grades to have private or group language lessons with you, which can range from weekly to daily. In schools where the demand for ESL instruction is unusually high, you may have your own classroom where you work with an exclusive class of students or teach full periods of ESL (as in secondary schools) to several classes each day.
Teaching Adults To Speak English
Adult ESL education is another growing field in which you will be fully qualified to teach. The options for teaching adults can range from ESL night classes at a local college to group ESL instruction for private companies. These types of jobs use the same types of basic ESL teaching skills as K-12, but the actual subject matter will be tailored to adults instead of children and teens.
Finally, you will also be qualified to teach “How to Teach ESL” classes to students in ESL majors or minors at colleges and universities. Here, you will be teaching English-speaking students how to teach ESL to others. Some colleges offer an actual ESL major for undergraduates, while many others offer it as a minor or special concentration for English Education majors. However, be aware that on this career path, you may be required to have a certain number of years’ experience as an actual ESL teacher before securing a job as a professor in an ESL program.
Schools that offer a masters in ESL or TESOL may call their courses by slightly different names; however, the courses below outline the majority of topics you’ll cover in your program. Be sure to check your school’s course catalogue for more specifics, such as exact course names and numbers, as well as credit hours earned for each.
- Intro to English Education
- Methods of Teaching ESL
- ESL Curriculum Development
- Theories and Philosophies of ESL Education
- Issues in ESL Education
- Multicultural Perspectives and School Climate
- Assessment of English Language Learners
- Linguistics and Language Development
- ESL Media and Materials