ESL Degree Programs for Aspiring ESL Teachers

English as a second language (ESL) teachers help non-native speakers improve their English skills. Most ESL teachers earn a certificate in the subject in addition to a degree in education.

Essential Information

A limited number of schools offer bachelor's and master's degree programs specifically focused on teaching English as a second language (TESL). Coursework consists of subjects such as linguistics, multiculturalism, grammar, and evaluation methods. Supervised teaching experiences might be included in such programs. Bachelor's degrees may be needed for state teaching certification; ESL instruction requires an education degree, ESL teaching license, and strong communication skills.


Bachelor of Arts in Education with a Specialization in TESL

Some schools offer a specialization in TESL for students enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degree program in education. These programs combine standard education coursework with classes aimed at teaching English vocabulary, grammar, and punctuation to speakers of another language. Students learn teaching theory and pedagogy along with special techniques for instructing English. Students often complete supervised teaching programs as part of their coursework. The curricula for education B.A. programs cover teaching methods, educational theory, curricula design, and behavior management. Students sometimes emphasize either primary or secondary education in their coursework. The TESL portion includes courses on the subjects noted below:

  • Multiculturalism
  • Linguistics
  • English grammar
  • ESL evaluation methods
  • Language acquisition for ESL learners

Master of Arts in TESL

Master of Arts (M.A.) programs in TESL are interdisciplinary, covering topics in education, the social sciences, and language arts. Students learn to plan appropriate lessons, present educational materials, and evaluate student performance. Programs teach students the history and theory of bilingual education in addition to instructing practical topics. Programs often cover teaching English to students of all ages, from early childhood to adulthood. Coursework in a master's in TESL M.A. program includes instruction in the history of education, development of advanced assessment and evaluation skills, designing lesson plans, and implementing instructional methods. The classes listed below are commonly required:

  • Second language learning assessment methods
  • Reading instruction for ESL students
  • TESL research and statistics
  • Issues in contemporary education
  • Advanced classroom management

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) noted that there should be 7% average job growth for adult literacy and high school equivalency diploma teachers (which includes ESL teachers) between 2014 and 2024 (www.bls.gov). The BLS also reported that the median hourly earnings for this field were $24.17 in May 2015.

According to PayScale.com, ESL teachers with certification earned between $26,716 and $65,210 as of August 2016. The BLS reports that employment prospects for ESL teachers should be especially favorable in states with high immigrant populations.

Continuing Education Information

The requirements to be an ESL teacher vary by state. Generally, teachers need to have at least a bachelor's degree and pass a content test to earn state teaching certification. Some ESL teaching positions may not require instructors to hold valid teaching certification.

Students interested in a career as an ESL teacher can work towards a Bachelor of Arts in Education specializing in TESL and a Master of Arts in TESL. This education, coupled with state teaching certification, can allow students to have successful careers in the field.


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