Outlook & Growth
Overall, employment of school teachers is expected to grow 13 percent—about as fast as average—through 2018. But demand for bilingual teachers and/or teachers of English as a Second Language (ESL) is expected to grow faster as the number of non-English speaking students continues to rise.
Salary & Wages
In 2008, K-12 teachers earned an average of $47,100 to $51,180. The lowest 10 percent earned $30,970 to $34,280; the top 10 percent earned $75,190 to $80,970. Bilingual teachers can expect to earn in the neighborhood of $2,000 to $5,000 per year more than teachers in lower-demand subjects.
What is an ESL or bilingual teacher?
ESL and bilingual teachers teach students who did not grow up speaking English. These students were either raised in another country or in a home in the United States where another language was primarily spoken. These students, who may not speak English at all or do not speak, understand and write English with the same facility as their classmates, are commonly referred to as "limited English proficient" (LEP) or "English language learner" (ELL) students.
English language learners can be very different in background, skills and past experiences from other students. Some may have come to the U.S. from a country in which they attended school regularly and will bring with them literacy skills and content knowledge, although in another language. Other students may come with a history of survival within a war-torn country where there was no opportunity for consistent—or any—schooling. There will be differences in home background as well. Many will belong to very low-income families; the parents of some of these, however, may have been highly educated in their own country, and may have once held professional positions. The resources and the needs that the individual students bring are therefore often likely to be very different.
Education & Degree Path
The traditional route to becoming a public school teacher involves completing a bachelor’s degree from an approved teacher education program and then obtaining a state-specific license. Bilingual and/or ESL teachers may have to meet additional requirements. If you are already licensed to teach, you may be able to earn a certificate in ESL to add to your degree and qualify for a teaching endorsement in this specific high demand area.
All 50 states and the District of Columbia require public school teachers to be licensed. Private school teachers (pre-K through 12) are often exempt from licensing. Requirements for regular licenses to teach kindergarten through grade 12 vary by state. However, all states require general education teachers to have a bachelor’s degree and to have completed an approved teacher training program in order to teach in the public schools. In many states, teachers assigned to provide instruction to English language learners must hold appropriate authorization. Depending on the state, there may be several certificates and authorizations required.
Entering the Field:
You can pursue education and other specific requirements for licensing in your state, or you can pursue employment in a state with a higher need for bilingual education and ESL teachers (often corresponding to states and/or communities with highest immigrant populations). Make sure you understand both the minimum requirements for K-12 teacher in your location AND the additional requirements for ESL/bilingual teaching. It may be possible in some states to bypass licensing or get a job as an ESL teacher through a special alternative licensing program. Before enrolling in any online education degree program, make sure the program is approved to meet your state’s specific licensing requirements.
Translators, foreign tour guides—indeed, anyone who is fluent in multiple languages—can transit into a teaching career in ESL. Demand is exceptionally strong for ESL teachers in urban areas and in rural areas where large migrant worker populations tend to concentrate. Alternative licensure programs designed to ease shortages of teachers in certain subjects, such as ESL, have been designed to attract people into teaching from other careers. Be on the lookout for programs tailored to meet demand needs for bilingual and ESL teachers. Check your state’s education licensing bureau for information on how to enter ESL teaching. Career changers can also often bypass state licensing by working in private schools rather than public schools, though pay scales may be lower.
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Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Inc.
National Association for Bilingual Education
American Federation of Teachers
National Education Association
Teacher Education Accreditation Council
Best Buy Online Masters Degrees in Education
Source for salary and growth data is the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For more information about careers in K-12 ESL and bilingual education, salaries, and job prospects visit: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition, Teachers—Kindergarten, Elementary, Middle, and Secondary. Material also reprinted/digested from NCBE Program Information Guide Series, Number 19, Summer 1994, “Working with English Language Learners: Strategies for Elementary and Middle School Teachers” by Annette Zehler.