Careers for TESOL Specialists

Research what it takes to become a TESOL specialist. Learn about education requirements, licensure, job duties, and salary to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Teaching ESL degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a TESOL Specialist?

TESOL specialists are adult educators who specialize in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). This designation includes teachers in the United States who teach English to immigrants and others whose first language was not English, as well as teachers who go abroad to teach English in countries where English is not the primary language. These teachers help their students learn to speak, understand, read and write English for their jobs, daily interactions and social situations.

The following chart gives you an overview of what you need to know before entering this field.

Degree Required Master's degree preferred
Education Field of Study Elementary or secondary education
Background in at least one foreign language is typically required
Licensure Required Most TESOL programs in the U.S. require a teaching license and completion of an accredited teaching program, including supervised teaching
Key Responsibilities Teach students to speak, read, and write in English;
Teach functional and job-related vocabulary;
Prepare students for citizenship exams
Job Outlook (2014-2024)* 7%
Average Salary (2015)* $54,060

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Do I Need to Become a TESOL Specialist?

You can pursue a postbaccalaureate certificate or a master's degree in TESOL to qualify as a language instructor for non-English-speaking students. You'll need to have earned a bachelor's degree to be accepted into a certificate or master's program. Some schools specifically require you to have completed a teacher education program and obtain a teaching certificate prior to enrolling. A background in at least one foreign language is required or strongly recommended.

TESOL programs prepare you to interact with juvenile or adult students who comprehend little or no English. You'll learn their culture and language to help you understand their needs and provide effective teaching. Many programs give you opportunities to offer live classroom instruction to foreign students as part of the program. Courses might include TESOL curriculum planning, English phonetics, English structure, literacy development, general linguistics and cultural communication.

You can earn a certificate in a year or less and a master's degree in two years. Once you've completed your training and performed a requisite number of practical teaching hours, you're eligible to receive a state teaching certificate or license. If you want to teach in a foreign country, you might not need to meet such guidelines, though regulations vary by your chosen country and the institution where you work.

Where Do Professionals Work?

If you plan to work in the U.S., any educational institution that sponsors adult education classes or programs can be considered prospective employers. These include private and public colleges and universities, nonprofit organizations, high schools and for-profit learning centers. You could also offer private tutoring services, rehabilitation training or seek teaching positions abroad. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 65,110 specialists worked as adult literacy, remedial education, and GED teachers in 2016 (www.bls.gov). Employment in this category is projected to increase 7% from 2014-2024, with growth in the immigrant population driving demand for TESOL teachers.

What Duties Will I Have?

You'll first need to assess the capabilities of your students, find out what they hope to gain from learning English and design lesson plans that fill the gaps and meet their needs. The actual teaching of English encompasses both written and spoken forms. You'll provide instruction in spelling, grammar and punctuation for written English, as well as grammar and pronunciation for spoken English, oftentimes helping students reduce or eliminate an accent.

Although most of the work you do will be instructional, helping non-English speakers adjust to American society could be considered an adjunct goal. You could provide assistance finding job placement, healthcare services, advanced educational opportunities or community resources.

What Salary Could I Earn?

According to the BLS, the mean salary of TESOL teachers and closely related instructors was $54,060 in 2015. The BLS reported that states offering the highest compensation for adult literacy specialists in 2015 included California, New York, Connecticut and West Virginia, and higher-paying industries were primary and secondary schools and state government agencies.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

If you are interested in providing valuable education for adults, you could also consider becoming a technical educator, where you would offer courses that prepare individuals for success in particular careers. For instance, as a hospitality educator, you would train students in lodging management and food preparation. To get this job, you need to have a bachelor's degree and experience in the field that you are teaching. Alternatively, you might consider getting a job teaching at the high school level, where you could specialize in teaching a subject like history or math. In order to work in a public school, you need to have completed a bachelor's program and passed a licensure exam.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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