Recruit and Retain: The Future of Education

Teacher Preparation Pathways for ESL Teachers

ESL teachers help students develop proficiency in the English language Special endorsements are not universally mandated for teaching English Language Learners. Requirements vary by state. However, national stakeholders recommend special training. Endorsements may go by different names, including ESL (English as a Second Language), TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages), and ELL (English Language Learner). ESL is closely related to bilingual teaching, but content is taught in English.

The number of second language learners is increasing, and it takes significantly longer for a student to develop academic proficiency in the language than it does to develop general conversational ability. This means ESL teachers are in high demand. They do, however, generally need a little more education and training than typical entry-level teachers. They are generally expected to be knowledgeable about curriculum as well as language. Often there is close integration between the two types of instruction. Students typically learn languages best when the focus is on learning something besides just the language – e.g. when the language is a vehicle. They also benefit from explicit language teaching. ESL teachers may use push-in or pull-out models and consult with classroom teachers to make sure students are learning the curriculum. Sometimes they serve as teacher of record.

ESL is typically an add-on endorsement. In most states, teachers need a base certificate. There are exceptions. In some locales, a teacher may pursue TESOL as an initial and sole credential.

There are multiple paths. Dual endorsement programs are relatively common in the teaching world. A teacher may have the opportunity to complete the endorsement as part of his or her initial teacher preparation program. Many teachers opt to earn the endorsement at a later stage. Programs are subject to state standards. In many states, most if not, all accredited ESL programs are at the master's or post-baccalaureate level.

The ESL or TESOL endorsement may cover all grades through 12 or may be issued for a narrower grade range that matches the teacher's base certificate.

Sometimes successful teachers begin teaching ESL before completing program requirements. A provisional or emergency credential may be required. Some teachers earn the ESL endorsement through alternative methods.

Program Considerations

The TESOL International Association sets standards for CAEP-accredited initial teacher preparation programs. However, individual states bear the ultimate responsibility for setting standards.

An individual who seeks public school credential will need to make sure that he or she enrolls in a license-qualifying track. (Some programs offered through legitimate institutions are designed to prepare professionals to teach English in other settings such as language institutes. They may not meet licensing requirements.)

Programs develop proficiencies in language, instruction, assessment, and culture.

The following are typical courses:

  • Language acquisition
  • English language structure
  • ELL teaching methods
  • Cultural issues in the classroom
  • English language literacy
  • Practicum

Prospective teachers typically need to complete student teaching as part of their initial program. Requirements vary by state. Many states mandate a semester or 12 weeks. Some states mandate that individuals seeking K-12 or PK-12 have experiences with two age groups. Some require portfolio based assessment in conjunction with student teaching. There are multiple versions of the edTPA portfolio-based assessment, among them, “English as an Additional Language”.

If a student is pursuing an initial teaching certificate, he or she will typically have additional professional education coursework in areas like the following: human development, special education, and professional responsibilities within the educational system. An individual who is simultaneously seeking elementary certification would typically have methods courses in all core subject areas. A secondary teacher, meanwhile, would often have a content area major. Again, there combined program options such as English language arts and ESL.

A program for licensed teachers may require practicum experience. This can take different forms.

Higher education leads to higher salaries as well as greater opportunity, and ESL is a common subject to study at the master’s level. Admission requirements vary. Some Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) programs are designed for individuals who hold degrees in fields other than education. They may, for example, admit students who have a major that corresponds to a teaching field or can otherwise demonstrate content mastery.

The TESOL International Association considers the master’s the terminal degree for TESOL. Among the expected components: coursework in research and in curriculum and materials design.

Educator Assessments

Prospective teachers typically need to take multiple assessments along the way. However, most don’t need to be repeated when the teacher earns a new endorsement. The subject area test is an exception.

The candidate may need to take the Praxis English to Speakers of Other Languages subject assessment. The Praxis covers the following topics:

  • Linguistics foundations
  • Language foundations
  • Planning and instruction
  • Assessment and evaluation
  • Culture
  • Professionalism

Some states use other subject area assessments.

Prospective ESL teachers who are not Native English speakers themselves may be required to take the TOEFL.

Individuals seeking first-time licensure generally take an academic skills test early in the program and a pedagogy or professional knowledge test later. This may be a conventional assessment such as the Principles of Teaching and Learning exam or a portfolio-based assessment such as the edTPA.

Teachers have the option of later seeking National Board Certification in their teaching area.

Additional Resources

Colorin Colorado supports bilingual and ELL teachers nationwide ( The organization has provided online resources by state; included are links to professional organization as well as information about standards and assessments for second language learners.