Our society is rapidly becoming more globalized and inclusive; the boundaries between communities and economies are blurring, and communication is becoming more important than ever. More than 500 languages are being spoken at any moment in particular in the United States, and although there isn’t an official language of the country, English is by far the most commonly spoken and accepted language. That’s where teachers of English as a Second Language, or ESL, come in.
ESL teachers help individuals from a variety of backgrounds to meet their cultural and linguistic needs when transitioning to a society that primarily depends on English. An online ESL degree allows you to put your bilingual skills to good use. Plus, demand for bilingual teachers and/or ESL teachers is projected to grow much faster than the national average.
THE CAREER PATH
ESL and bilingual teachers instruct students who did not grow up speaking English. These students were either raised in another country or in a home where a language other than English is being spoken daily. ESL teachers help these students learn English and master the nuances of American culture, so they must be able to foster a strong sense of classroom community. They may not always share a language with the students in their classroom, making this job especially challenging for a teacher’s creative communication skills. ESL teachers may also be referred to as teachers of ESOL—or English for Speakers of Other Languages.
Graduates of online ESL degree programs are sure of one thing—being bilingual pays. ESL teachers often qualify for a salary boost of $5,000 more than the average teacher’s pay (which is around $52,000). Nationwide, the highest demand is for Spanish-speaking ESL teachers. Demand will vary though according to geographic area. Explore the ESL demands in your local school district before choosing a specialty.
WHO IS THE IDEAL CANDIDATE?
Teaching ESL is a specific type of career, that demands professionals to be understanding of cultural differences and language barriers. Teaching ESL is for teachers who want to potentially play a role beyond just that of an educator. ESL professionals are often advocates, mediators, resource liaisons, and much more for their students. They are flexible and patient to best respond to the needs and circumstances of students. If you’re ready to work with students, teachers, parents, and communities to develop programs that build on the cultural diversity, strengths, and weaknesses of your students, then you might want to a consider a career in this line of academics. If you consider yourself someone who is creative and analytical, as well as a good communicator, then you should consider taking the path of teaching ESL.
WHAT SHOULD I LOOK FOR?
Like all online education majors, prospective ESL teachers will choose a target population to focus on during their degree programs. For example, you can earn an online teaching certificate or endorsement in ESL, focusing on a certain language. Or you could earn a master’s degree in early childhood bilingual education. You can also earn a TESOL (Teacher of English as a Second Language) certification.
Not all online programs for earning a degree are designed to meet teacher certification in ESL. Check with your state department of education to determine the credential you may need to work as an ESL educator in the public school system or inside any publicly funded social service agency. If you do not wish to pursue teacher certification, you could also work for a nonprofit agency, a government agency, such as Immigration, or for a private school.
The United States Secretary of Education recognizes the Commission on the English Language Program Accreditation (CEA) as a programmatic accreditation body that approves ESL programs. This accreditation goes beyond standard regional accreditation and provides an extra seal of quality on your degree. All programs should offer coursework that covers critical subjects like:
- Language learning and teaching
- Sounds and structures of English
- Principles of linguistics
- Diversity and issues of intercultural learning
The best programs will also adequately prepare students for the TESOL certification exam that will allow them to be more competitive when applying for job opportunities. Online TESOL programs are also offered separately to accommodate professionals who want to expand their career or who have a busy life with multiple obligations.
Most online ESL programs cost between $15,000 and $30,000 for a two-year program, but that doesn’t take into consideration the cost of licensure exams and credentials.