What Are the Advantages of an ESL Degree or Certification?

  (Updated December 29, 2021)
Emily Coleman
Emily Coleman
English language development teacher for a cyber charter school; Ph.D. candidate in Strategic Leadership and Administrative Studies with Education concentration
Teacher helping student with book in library.

What does an ESL Degree or Certification Program Encompass?

Most educators have heard of ESL throughout their teaching careers. This acronym stands for English as a Second Language. ESL is used to describe students with a first language other than English. Although ESL implies that the student is learning English as a second language, it can be their third or fourth language.

Just like many other acronyms in education, there are additional acronyms used in the field of ESL. ESL used to be the program’s name in schools and then would also identify a student: an ESL student. However, now, students who are in ESL programs are referred to as:

  • ELLs (English language learners)
  • ELs (English learners)
  • MELs (multi-lingual learners)

Furthermore, teachers who are certified in ESL can also state that they are TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) or TEFL (Teachers of English as a Foreign Language). The difference between TESOL and TEFL is that TEFL teaches English to students who all have the same first language. For example, a teacher in Saudi Arabia teaching English to their students would be a TEFL, because all of her students speak Arabic as their first language. Whereas a TESOL is teaching to a classroom filled with students who have many different first languages they all cannot revert back to their home language to try to understand a concept in English.

There are also dual-language programs in the world of ESL. If a school is a dual-language school, all of the students have the same first language and are learning English as a second language. Classes are taught in both languages throughout the day because one language is not the domineering language in the school. This requires a teacher to be fluent in both languages if they are required to teach certain subjects in both languages.

An ESL graduate program, whether for a degree in ESL or just an ESL certification, is an excellent choice for teachers who desire to learn about new cultures and assist students coming from all parts of the world and all different backgrounds. This type of program aims to instruct current teachers how to teach ELs (English learners) and how to help other teachers in the building modify curriculum so that ELs can engage with the content and find success while learning English.

Through this type of coursework, teachers can expect to have classes that focus on culture and the classroom, linguistics (or the study of the English language), teaching strategies, how to create meaningful assessments for ELs, and much more. ESL graduate programs will also require time out in the field working with ELs to gain valuable experience and insight into the needs of this type of learner.

ESL Degree vs. Certification: Similarities and Differences

There are many similarities between getting a master’s degree in ESL and getting an ESL certification. Both typically require a student to have their initial teaching degree already. Many states require teachers to have a teaching degree, and the ESL certification is an add-on to that teaching license. Both the certification program and a degree program will have students focusing on the learner and thinking about how best to engage these students.

The significant difference between the degree and certification is the number of course hours and classes required. A master’s degree requires significantly more coursework than a certification program. Still, it will give the student much more in-depth information on how to teach ELs English and how to work with your entire school building to reach the needs of the ELs.

Career Opportunities

Once a teacher finishes an ESL degree program or receives their certification in ESL, several career paths can be followed. Some school districts have a fewer number of ELs and therefore have one or two teachers who travel among elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools and pull ELs out of their classes to receive ESL instruction. Some schools have very high numbers and build ESL instruction into students’ schedules where they receive ESL services every day.

In addition to being an ESL teacher, some schools have ESL coaches. These positions work with the different departments and teachers within a school building and provide resources and specific help with modifying curriculum to ensure that the content is accessible at an ELs language proficiency level. Every school and state is different. Teachers interested in ESL should look into their surrounding school districts and then into their state programs to see what careers exist for teachers with an ESL certification or degree.

Other Advantages of an ESL Degree or Certification

The most rewarding part of being an ESL teacher is seeing your students’ progress in their attainment of the English language. It is so exciting to see them begin to communicate with other students in English and find success in their other classes.

In addition to those rewarding moments, there are many other advantages to getting your ESL certification. Many schools with a high population of ELs often provide salary increases to those certified in ESL. The number of ELs in the United States’ schools is constantly increasing; therefore, schools require ESL teachers and are usually willing to provide additional compensation.

Another amazing outcome of getting your ESL degree is that you genuinely become more culturally responsive. You become more aware of the differences and similarities amongst us all and how important it is to constantly learn about one another. As an ESL teacher, you will never stop learning and will always have your day brightened by learning from the English learners in your classes.

Ready to impact English learning students as an ESL teacher? Explore our available ESL degree and certification programs and start your next journey today!

*Updated December 2021
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