Pursuing a Masters in TESOL is a big step that will require dedication, persistence, and hard work, but the benefits can be very rewarding. One of the most important first steps is to try to decide what you would like to do eventually in your career. If you want to work with children, make sure you receive the proper primary and/or secondary school endorsements that align to the school you would like to teach in. If you plan to pursue a doctorate in TESOL, whether to do teacher training or research in the field for a university, then it may be better for you to enroll in a program that includes a very strong component of research and theory. If you are unsure of what you see yourself doing long term, then you may want to diversify by learning about different areas that you are interested in and seeing where that will lead you in your career.
It is critical that you do a strong self-assessment. For example, if you strongly prefer to learn in an experiential format, then look into that type of degree program. However, if you have a lot of practical teaching experience but feel that you are very weak in your knowledge of language, including how to teach grammar, then make sure to find a program or teacher who can most effectively help you achieve what you need. On a similar note, the work and preparation you do before starting an MA program are important. If you know nothing about sociolinguistics or pragmatics, for example, then consider finding an excellent book or two on the topic and make them summer reading before you start your program. The more time and effort you put into preparing for your program, the more you will get out of it. Or, if you have never studied a foreign language yourself, try to immerse yourself in one before you begin your degree program. Perhaps nothing is as important for a TESOL instructor as being able to put yourself in the shoes of your students.
The key components of any successful career involve finding something that you have a passion for, which is also a natural area of strength for you (as not everyone is cut out to be a great teacher). If, in addition, you really develop both your areas of expertise and gain knowledge, skills, competencies, and awareness in areas where you are not as strong, you will position yourself well for success. You want to be aware of your own skill sets and experience as a teacher and build on those natural areas of expertise while filling in the gaps. For example, if you know nothing at all about teaching reading or writing, one way or another, you will have to make an effort to learn more. Think ahead to where you want to be in the future. In the best-selling book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell points out that it takes tens of thousands of hours of practice and experience to become a true expert in something. Want to be a great writing teacher for MLEs? If so, you will have to really put in the time and effort to learn that specific craft.
Another factor in any successful career is keeping an eye out for changes in the job market. First, you should consider where you would like to be in five to 10 years. If, for example, you would eventually like to teach at a university in an EFL context, then make sure to learn about that type of work environment and gain practical experience in that area. Some MA programs include opportunities to do student teaching abroad. Also, in any profession, diversifying your portfolio can be very helpful. For example, if you are planning to teach primary and/or secondary EAL, having a teaching endorsement in TESOL as well as in math or science would be very valuable, given current trends and realities in public schools. If you hope to teach in the private sector, gaining knowledge and experience in English for specific purposes would be important.
Whatever direction you choose to go, your TESOL career will probably change your life. Teaching EAL makes it possible to travel the world without ever leaving your classroom. Many EAL classes even celebrate on the last day by having students bring authentic food from their home countries. You will be able to try new foods and learn about different countries and cultures from the people who know about them best. Students usually enjoy sharing information about where they are from, which can be enlightening for other students as well as teachers. Ask questions, and encourage students to dialogue with others. It not only helps with their communication skills but also dispels preconceived ideas that others sometimes have about certain parts of the world.
The rewards of English language teaching are great. Students are generally very motivated to learn English—and even if they are not, you can help provide the inspiration they need to want to learn more about new linguistic and cultural worlds. If you are an effective teacher, you and your students will be able to see measurable progress in a relatively short time. There is an intrinsic satisfaction in teaching English and fostering a common language between groups of people who would otherwise have no way to communicate. It is an incredibly diverse and rewarding profession for those who pursue a career in this field.