Education for ESL teachers doesn’t usually end at the undergraduate level. A master’s degree provides an opportunity to focus or re-focus a teaching career, kickstart a new career, and even explore international teaching opportunities.
Fortunately, earning a master’s degree in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESOL) is more accessible than ever, thanks in part to a growing number of online programs—and you can be sure new programs are being established in direct response to the meteoric growth in this field and the many new opportunities emerging for ESL teachers.
Certification Info by State
- District Of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
The TESOL Master’s Degree: Options, Opportunities, and Possibilities
Employment opportunities for master’s-prepared TESOL teachers range from traditional co-teaching and ESL resource room instruction for K-12 students in public or private schools… to adult education programs on campus and online at community colleges and proprietary ESL schools… to international and embassy schools aborad… to administrative roles in private language academies found in every city… to contract work for corporate employers in the private sector… and more. Graduates of these programs can even be found working in curriculum development and consultancy, in government and in non-governmental organizations all over the world too.
There are generally three types of master’s degrees in TESOL:
- Master of Arts (MA Ed)/Master of Science (MS Ed) in Education: These programs tend to attract current educators who want to move into leadership or administrative settings.
- Master of Education (MEd): This degree is designed for the currently licensed/certified teacher looking to add an ESL endorsement or advance to a leadership role like TESOL program director.
- Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT)- ESL Concentration: This degree is designed for the career changer who has a bachelor’s degree in another field and wants to make the switch to a teaching career. These programs generally include field experiences and internships and lead to initial teacher licensure/certification.
You’ll also notice that most master’s degrees are designed as either a Master’s in TESOL or a Master’s in Linguistics:
- Master’s in TESOL: A master’s degree in TESOL is focused primarily on pedagogy, so students with an interest in teaching ELL students are the ones that most often choose these programs.
- Master’s in Linguistics: A master’s degree in linguistics is generally focused more on theory and language research and is therefore ideal for students interested in working in research.
What You Can Expect
Most programs consist of between 30-40 credits and take about 2-2 ½ years to complete.
Many programs offer a flexible course of study that can be customized with electives, allowing students to tailor their graduate studies to better fit their personal and professional interests and goals. Many programs are designed to culminate in a thesis that gives students the chance to contribute original research, while others provide students with the opportunity to take additional electives instead.
Experiential learning through fieldwork provides students with opportunities to observe, teach, and develop curricula materials. This kind of real world experience is often an important part of these programs, and many institutions partner with local schools and community-based programs where students get experience that is both diverse and immersive in nature.
Courses include in-depth study in topics like linguistics, which looks at current linguistic trends and the methodology of teaching language… the structure of the English language, which discusses the complexities of word formation and grammatical structure… and teaching strategies, which covers communication, classroom management, and diagnosing and responding to student needs.
Recognizing that many students of TESOL master’s programs are working professionals, many colleges and universities offer these programs in a partially or fully online format. Dynamic web-based platforms allow students to connect with their professors and peers, no matter where they might be located.
Admission requirements vary, although all programs require a strong undergraduate GPA (usually 3.0 or above).
While many candidates have an undergraduate degree in English, most programs accept students with a bachelor’s degree in another field. Other common requirements include submitting an admissions essay and letters of recommendation.
MEd programs usually require candidates with prior teaching experience.
Who Are Our Nation’s Master’s-Educated ESL Teachers?
Master’s-prepared ESL teachers motivate, encourage, and educate the diverse group of non-native English speakers that call America home. They respect their cultural differences, they understand their students’ individual needs, and find ways to connect with them to achieve the best learning outcomes. ESL teachers support their students’ efforts and provide meaningful learning opportunities, all the while serving as their fiercest advocates and biggest supporters.
Dedicated K-12 ESL Teachers …
The majority of ESL teachers in the U.S. teach K-12 students in public and private schools, where a bachelor’s degree and a teacher preparation program is the standard minimum for licensure, while a master’s degree exceeds minimum requirements and brings a higher salary.
They might co-teach alongside teachers in other subjects to ensure ELL students are keeping up with their peers, and often also spend at least a couple periods each day in dedicated ESL resource rooms where they work one-on-one and in groups to help ELL students achieve English proficiency.
Advancing Teachers and Those Transitioning to the Teaching Profession …
A master’s degree is the clear path to becoming an ESL teacher for anybody moving into the education sphere from another profession, and is the obvious choice for teachers looking to take their professional development to the next level and get that substantial boost in pay that comes when they earn an advanced degree.
Adding a Secondary Endorsement in ESL …
Content area teachers in all subjects – from language arts and history to math and the sciences – looking to add an ESL endorsement that would help them better support the English language learners in their classes can do so by earning a master’s degree in ESL.
Teachers at Language Academies and International Schools, at Home and Abroad …
Many work with children and adults at private proprietary ESL schools found in virtually every U.S. city, as well as international and US embassy schools overseas.
Some ESL teachers choose to take their skills abroad, teaching at private schools in other countries. Native English speakers with a master’s degree and TESOL certification would have some of the most competitive credentials in the field, often enjoying lucrative jobs as administrators or even principal owners of private language academies, here in the states or abroad.
Private Tutors and Contractors with Multinationals …
There is a tremendous demand for ESL teachers to work as private tutors, working with children of well-off families on assignment or permanently residing in the U.S. for business.
Other ESL teachers make their as independent business owners, contracting with corporations to help executives of non-U.S. based multinationals brush up on their English skills
Adult Education, Curriculum Development and More …
There is no shortage of opportunities for master’s-prepared ESL teachers to work with adult English language learners in vocational schools, colleges and universities. ESL educators may also work outside of the classroom as editors and developers of English language materials, as curriculum specialists, or as consultants to educational institutions, non-profits (NGOs), and government agencies.
Who Are the English Language Learners That ESL Teachers Work With?
While in the non-too-distant past, English language learners (ELLs) were concentrated almost exclusively in specific areas of the country, this is anything but the case today. In fact, according to the National Council of Teachers of English, nearly all states and communities now have a significant population of English language learners.
The term “English language learner” or “ELL” is widely used to describe anybody actively learning the English language, and has become the standard, universally recognized term for children in K-12 classrooms. One of the newest terms is “Generation Student,” which is used to describe ELLs who have graduated high school in the U.S. and continue learning the language as young adults.
In simplest terms, English language learners can be anyone of any age actively learning the English language. But this group is anything but one-dimensional…
ELL students may be recent immigrants or refugees, internationally adopted children, or professionals and their families residing in the US and working in everything from engineering to computer programming to executive leadership… they may be small children, adolescents, or older adults… they may have been born in the U.S. of immigrant families, growing up in homes where little to no English is spoken… they are likely to have had excellent formal schooling in their native language, though some may have had little prior schooling… they may very well be advanced learners, but, of course, some could have learning difficulties stemming from developmental, cognitive or behavioral disorders… they are likely already very familiar with American culture thanks to our export of music, movies, and other media… or they may have had little exposure to American culture and the English language… their ability to learn may be helped or hindered by the lexical similarities or dissimilarities of their native language as compared to English.
The growing foreign-born population living in the U.S. not only enriches the concept of the melting pot—a coming together of people from other ethnicities, cultures, and nationalities, it has also shed light on the importance of providing this group with the tools and resources they need to thrive in our great nation.