ESL teachers are educators who specialize in working with students whose first language is not English. Obtaining ESL teacher certification in Texas is a specific process that differs from the regular teacher certification process. Although ESL teachers have to work to obtain extra certification, there are certain benefits to this career path. This guide will explain how you can decide whether becoming an ESL teacher is right for you, how to start the process of becoming an ESL teacher in Texas, and what to expect from this career trajectory.
Why Become an ESL-certified Teacher?
There are many good reasons for becoming an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher, regardless of the grade levels that you teach and where you are in your teaching career. To begin with, ESL teachers are in high demand, as more than 10% of students in the United States are learning English as a second language, according to 2018 research from the National Center for Education Statistics. That number translates to approximately five million students across the country. Texas ranks even higher, with 18.7% of its public school K-12 students learning English as a second language according to the same study. Only California currently has a higher proportion of ESL students (19.4%). With all of these students needing specialized teaching assistance, teachers with ESL certification are more important than ever.
Becoming an ESL-certified teacher comes with benefits beyond a more in-demand skillset. Being able to teach ESL students effectively can open you up to new opportunities. It can allow you to develop a richer, more inclusive classroom environment where all students are able to learn the material while also sharing their cultures and experiences. Understanding how learning a second language works can also help you learn your own second language, which has the dual benefits of helping you understand your students' perspectives while also learning a valuable new skill for your own enrichment.
Defining ESL Teaching
Before looking at how to become an ESL-certified teacher, it is important to understand exactly what this job title actually means. As an ESL teacher, you do not necessarily need to have prior knowledge of your ESL students' first languages. As an ESL-certified teacher, you will be able to teach a variety of material to students who are in the process of learning English. Some of that material may be related to English grammar and spelling, but ESL-certified teachers do not only teach language classes. They also teach other subjects, but they do so in a way that is accessible to ESL students in a given classroom.
There are many approaches to teaching that can help ESL students understand the material. Some teachers will teach a full class that combines ESL and non-ESL students. To teach such a class effectively, teachers often use strategies like differentiated instruction, where information is given at differing levels of linguistic complexity so that all students can understand it. In other situations, ESL-certified teachers will teach entire classes of ESL students whose language skills and native languages may differ. Some ESL teachers will work with ESL students one on one to help boost their language skills, or in small breakaway groups during certain classroom subjects. Your experience as an ESL-certified teacher will depend on your level of expertise, the grades that you teach, and the specific ESL needs of your school's student population.
How to Get ESL Certification in Texas
Getting ESL certification is a specific process that differs from regular teacher certification. It involves studying for several exams and taking specialized training to equip you to teach ESL students. ESL certification is completed in addition to, not instead of, regular teacher certification. Some aspiring teachers choose to get their ESL certification during their post-secondary education, while others become non-ESL teachers first before later upgrading their qualifications. Both paths to ESL teaching have their benefits and drawbacks; if you are already a teacher or want to become one, you should not feel that there is only one way or one time to become ESL-certified. One thing to keep in mind is that ESL certification varies based on the grade levels that you teach. You will need to choose which certification works best for your teaching goals.
TESOL Certification Requirements
The first step to ESL certification in Texas is to get TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) certification. Aspiring teachers in Texas must earn at least a bachelor's degree before they can pursue their career goals. In addition to this degree, you will need to complete a teacher education program, which can be part of a bachelor's degree or can be a separate educational process. All teachers need to complete these requirements, whether they want to teach ESL classes or not. Those who want to become ESL-certified will also need to complete TESOL certification requirements. Information that you will learn in a TESOL program will include:
Understanding of cultural diversity
Theories of language acquisition and learning
Teaching strategies for ESL students
Practicum or student teaching in an ESL environment
There are several options when it comes to completing TESOL requirements. Some undergraduate degrees, particularly in Education, provide TESOL certification courses. The same is true of some teacher certification programs. For teachers who already have a degree but want to upgrade their credentials to include ESL certification, there are some specific TESOL certification courses that can help teachers start the ESL certification process. These courses typically take 120-150 hours to complete when taken outside of other teaching certification.
Basic Skills and PPR Exam
Once you have completed your ESL teaching education, you will need to prove your skills in a series of exams. The first of these is the Basic Skills Test. This exam is necessary for ESL certification and for regular teacher certification. It tests your understanding of reading, writing, and mathematics to ensure the appropriate level of competency for a classroom environment.
The next step for teacher certification, ESL or not, is the PPR (Pedagogy and Professional Responsibilities) exam. The TExEs PPR exam tests your readiness for working with students from early childhood (EC) to high school graduation. This test features 100 multiple choice questions about subjects like instructional design, student assessment strategies, creating a positive classroom environment, and the roles and responsibilities of a teacher in a professional context. Passing these two exams is something that all teachers need to do in Texas, just like obtaining a bachelor's degree and teacher training. Once you have fulfilled these requirements, you are ready to explore specific certification requirements for ESL.
Supplemental ESL Test
The third and final exam that aspiring ESL-certified teachers need to take in Texas is a Supplemental ESL test. This test has several different variations depending on the grade levels that teachers want to work with. The tests are:
ESL for EC education up to grade 6
ESL for grades 4 through 8
ESL for grades 9 through 12 or added ESL certification for teachers already certified
Which exam you pursue will depend on where you are in your teaching career and what your specific goals are. This test, like the PPR exam, is multiple choice. It will examine your knowledge of language acquisition and language learning in an ESL environment. It will also cover ESL assessment and instruction strategies. Finally, it will give you the opportunity to prove your understanding of cultural awareness in ESL education, including family and community involvement. Passing the TExEs exam is one of the biggest hurdles to becoming an ESL-certified teacher in Texas, so those wishing to take it will need to study and make sure that they are fully prepared before test day. Using practice tests to prepare for TExEs certification exams can make you feel more confident.
Texas Teacher Certification
Having passed all of the required exams for teaching detailed above, the next step to becoming an ESL-certified teacher is to apply for Texas teacher certification. For those who are just starting their teaching careers and are applying for teacher certification for the first time, the state requires a thorough application process. You will need to submit relevant grades and credentials, including your TESOL credentials and your Supplemental ESL test. All grades must be submitted using official transcripts from the institutions where you obtained your credentials, though some test scores are sent to the Texas Education Agency automatically. All teachers in Texas also have to undergo a background check and fingerprinting during the application process.
If you are adding your new ESL credentials to an already existing TExEs teacher certification, you will not need to complete the teacher certification process in its entirety. Instead, your new certification can simply be added to your existing teaching license. The simplest way to check the status of an existing teacher certification or to apply for new certification is through the Educator Certification Online System (ECOS) offered by the Texas Education Agency.
Maintaining ESL Certification in Texas
Once you have your ESL certification, you can begin teaching in your grade levels of specialization. You will need to maintain your ESL certification for as long as you wish to continue working with ESL students. In Texas, ESL certifications need to be renewed once every five years. You will need to have at least 150 hours of professional development in order to qualify for renewal, which can include a variety of approved workshops and courses on ESL education. You can complete the renewal process through ECOS, the same online system where you first applied for teacher certification.
Job Outlook for ESL Teachers
The job outlook for ESL-certified teachers, both in Texas and in the United States more generally, is good. Although the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not report on ESL-certified elementary and secondary teachers separately from other teachers, their data can still be very useful when learning what to expect as an ESL teacher. The 2020 BLS report gives the median annual wage for elementary school teachers as $60,940. The median annual wage for secondary school teachers in the same time frame was $62,870. It is likely that ESL-certified teachers will make more than the median salary in their respective areas because their skills put them in high demand.
ESL-certified teachers are likely to be in especially high demand in states like Texas, where a high population of ESL students means that ESL education is extremely important. According to the BLS report, some Texas metropolitan areas have some of the highest employment levels for teachers in the country. For both elementary and secondary teachers, the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington regions and the Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land regions were in the top 10 metropolitan areas in terms of employment levels for teachers.
The BLS also reported that in the 2020-2030 decade, elementary school teachers will experience around 7% growth, while high school teachers will experience 8% growth. This is approximately on par with the average growth of all jobs in the United States over that time period. It is likely that within the teaching profession, jobs for ESL teachers specifically will grow at a faster rate during that time. This is because the number of ESL students in the U.S. (and especially in states like Texas) is growing. Some school districts may even require ESL certification for some teachers if they have a big enough ESL student population, which may be beneficial for those looking to make the most of their ESL training.
ESL Teaching Challenges and Tips
Teaching ESL students can come with its own benefits and challenges, especially for relatively inexperienced teachers. Here are a few of the common challenges that ESL teachers might encounter along with some tips to make an ESL classroom as positive and productive as possible:
Some students in the class are ESL and others are not. Balancing how to teach material at different language levels while keeping class engaging for all students is difficult.
Consider switching up your methods of delivery. Use multimedia teaching aids to incorporate visuals and movement into your lessons. You can also group ESL students with non-ESL students when doing group activities to make sure that nobody is left behind when a lesson moves too quickly. This can also help foster friendship and cooperation between students.
Some ESL students are recent immigrants struggling with the transition to living in Texas and attending English-language school.
Try incorporating more icebreaking activities into your lessons. Give your students time to adjust to new pedagogical expectations and make sure that you explain your expectations as clearly as possible. Without putting your students on the spot, give them the opportunity to share elements of their home cultures if they feel comfortable doing so.
Being an ESL teacher, you are in high demand and are struggling with feeling overwhelmed.
Communicate with your school's administration about the specific nature of the problem. Depending on your school's needs and the details of your contract, you may be able to reduce your hours or share your teaching responsibilities with another instructor. You should also take a look at how you are managing your workload and do your best to streamline or reduce the time that you spend on tasks. What is necessary and what is extra? How can you let your students take a more active role in their education instead of feeling that you need to do everything yourself?
You have limited resources with which to create an ESL classroom that works for all of your students.
Many teachers, ESL-certified or otherwise, run into this problem. A lot of school districts struggle to adequately fund their classrooms, meaning that teachers often need to get creative with what is available to them. Consider incorporating games and activities for your students that require few resources, like whiteboard drawing and writing games or movement-based exercises. Many students, especially at the elementary level, can benefit from these activities and may even form stronger bonds as a class as a result.
Some ESL students in your class are struggling to build their confidence and participate in classroom activities.
It is common for ESL students to struggle with their self-confidence, especially when they are in a class with native English speakers. ESL teachers can help these students through encouragement and positive reinforcement and by providing extra assistance with challenging activities. Gently encouraging participation can be helpful, especially in lower-stakes situations like small group activities. Ultimately, all teachers should strive to create a positive and supportive learning environment that gives students the chance to express themselves freely.
These tips are only a general overview of the kinds of solutions that ESL teachers can find for common teaching problems. Every experience will be different. One of the most important traits that a teacher can have is adaptability: being prepared to change your approach to best suit the needs of your individual students and your class as a whole is a skillset that is very important for all teachers to learn.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a valid ESL certification?
A valid ESL certification is a document stating that the person is qualified to teach ESL to students. This document should be obtained from the official education board of the respective state.
Can I teach ESL without a degree?
No, you cannot teach ESL without a degree. An official ESL teaching position at a school requires a degree and several examinations to prove qualification to teach ESL.
How do I become an ESL teacher?
To become an ESL teacher, a degree is required. Next, an ESL teach course and certification is needed and any additional side requirements that the state asks to provide an official certification for ESL teaching.
What is the TExES certification exam?
The TExES certification exam is something that qualifies a person to teach ESL. There are several requirements under this and the completion of all of these will allow the person to officially teach ESL in the state of Texas.