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Beginning Your Career

If you are considering a career in TESOL, you will find that the field offers many diverse and rewarding opportunities. Teaching English as an additional language (EAL) requires skills beyond just knowing the language. 

Properly Trained Teachers

  • Know the latest research-based methodologies for language teaching. 
  • Know how learners acquire a new language. 
  • Have the patience and empathy to support students as they struggle with the language. 
  • Develop specialized skills through years of dedicated practice in the classroom. 

You must be more than a proficient speaker. 
English language teaching (ELT) opportunities exist throughout the world.  

If you are interested in beginning your ELT career, the information presented here will help you get started.

Doing the Research

Qualifications for English Language Teachers

Individuals who wish to pursue a career in TESOL can choose from several pathways to establish their teaching qualifications. Regardless of the program, a quality program will require some supervised teaching practice. 

A bachelor of arts (BA) or science (BS) degree is usually a prerequisite for any of the programs listed below. In most countries, it is not feasible to obtain a work permit for an ELT position without a BA/BS degree. 
Just as there are numerous methodologies in language teaching, there are also a wide range of options to launch your education in TESOL. To help you explore these options, TESOL's Directory of Degree & Certificate Programs lists institutions that offer teacher training programs (certificates, and bachelor's and graduate degrees) in TESOL. 

Many institutions have created programs that fall in between the TESOL certificate and TESOL endorsement in offering an add-on certification. These programs may take one to two semesters and are designed to provide initial teacher training for overseas teaching assignments. The credits from these shorter programs may be applied toward an endorsement or master's degree upon return to the United States. 

Be aware that some certifications need annual upkeep. Most TESOL certificates do not. Make sure you understand the longevity of your credential.

The most widely available training option in the United States and Canada, the master's degree is required for teaching in higher education and community colleges. Offered by more than 300 universities in the United States and Canada, the degree may go by different names, for example: 

  • Master of Education (MEd) in TESOL 
  • Master of Arts (MA) in TESOL 
  • Master of Arts (MA) or Science (MS) in Applied Linguistics 
  • Master of Arts (MA) in English with an emphasis in TESOL 
  • Master of Arts (MA) in Teaching (MAT) in ESL 

Any of these programs will prepare those enrolled to teach EAL. They also offer training in curriculum development, teacher training, administration, and materials writing. Master's degrees usually require 30-36 hours of credit and may include a thesis.  

Elementary or secondary school teachers in most states in the United States must have a degree in education with an endorsement or add-on certification in EAL. Certification requirements can be obtained from state departments of education, and may be reciprocal from state to state. University teacher training programs offer the required courses and are another source of information regarding state certification requirements. 
Many U.S. teachers who want to teach internationally, but who intend to return to the United States to continue teaching, choose to pursue this type of certification or endorsement. The advantage to the endorsement or add-on EAL certification is that it offers more in-depth training for international positions than the TESOL certificate. It also usually counts toward the completion of the master's degree or state certification upon return to the United States. In other words, TESOL certificates do not count toward employment qualifications for most schools in the United States, but endorsement and add-on certification in EAL do. The training can take two to four semesters of full-time study at an accredited institution.

Educators who decide not to begin their teaching career with a master's degree can choose from several other options. Neither the CELTA nor an independent TEFL certificate alone is sufficient qualification to teach in most institutions in the United States, though the practical training required as part of the certification process greatly enhances teaching skills. 
In general, the minimum qualification to teach EAL in private language schools overseas and in some private language schools in the United States is a TESOL certificate. Usually, TESOL certificate courses in the United States and Canada are highly intensive, running full time over the course of two to six weeks. These courses focus on practical training and also teach different language methodologies. 
Because of the scope of information that must be covered, a four- to six-week intensive course is likely to be more valuable than a shorter version. Most respected TESOL courses offer 100+ classroom hours and have an additional practical training component. Many institutions are accredited by varying state organizations, and many of these TESOL courses are excellent. 
Teacher trainers may vary greatly in qualifications. Look for a program with qualified trainers, such as teachers who have a master's degree in EAL and extensive international experience.  

Based on the TESOL Short-Term Certificate Standards, the TESOL Core Certificate Program (TCCP) is a 140-hour blended-learning certificate program providing a foundation in the theory and practice of English language teaching (ELT). This program delivers a summary of core TESOL knowledge to support individuals in enhancing their professional practice when serving the needs of multilingual learners of English (MLE). This program was developed for TESOL professionals with little to no formal ELT education.  
To earn the TESOL Core Certificate, participants must successfully complete three parts: 

  1. Part 1. 60-hour blended learning foundation course on the fundamentals of TESOL 
  1. Part 2. 60-hour online specialty course focused on teaching adolescent learners 
  1. Part 3. 20-hour teaching practicum 
    a) 10 hours of in-person classroom observation 
    b) 10 hours of in-person practice teaching 

The Cambridge UCLES CELTA (formerly known as the Cambridge RSA CELTA) is administered by England's University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate. This certificate program is available through language institutes and British Council offices throughout the world. In the United States, the CELTA program is available in major cities on the east and west coasts. 
The CELTA course is a standardized program that regulates the selection of candidates and ensures that trainees are given quality instruction and are objectively graded. The teacher trainers who conduct these courses have themselves undergone rigorous training and are required to have substantial, varied, and current teaching experience. Programs may vary in the availability of full- or part-time options (ranging from four to twelve weeks), placement services, and cost. 

The School for International Training (SIT) TESOL certificate course is a 130-hour course that includes workshops, lesson planning, and practice teaching. The course covers the basics of classroom practice starting with a look at learning and how learners' needs inform teaching. The course is available at a variety of locations worldwide and is taught by SIT-trained trainers with extensive EAL classroom experience. 
Designed by faculty at SIT, the course emphasizes experiential learning, reflective practice, and learning in community. The course moves through a series of modules that cover how to teach reading, writing, listening, speaking, pronunciation, grammar, and culture at the beginning and intermediate levels. 

Trinity College London’s rigorously assessed certificate courses, available world-wide, provide sound, basic training for entry level into the profession. They are offered full or part-time and are held over a minimum of 130 hours at one of the 100+ Trinity-validated centers, detailed on their website. 
Trinity’s CertTESOL is accepted by the British Council as an appropriate initial TESOL qualification in the Council’s teaching operations outside the United Kingdom and in its accredited schools and colleges in the UK. 
It cannot be taken online, although an additional precourse component may be done online. Trinity’s CertTEYL, taken over 140 hours, prepares teachers to identify teaching methods, materials, and methods of assessment appropriate to young learners. 


Finding Teacher Education Programs in TESOL

Directory of Degree & Certificate Programs 

Within the TESOL English Language Professional’s Resource Guide, you can search for degree and certificate programs in English as an additional language (EAL) and related fields.  

The directory does not include all programs worldwide. If you do not see a program listed in your area, you might contact local universities to inquire whether they offer one or contact your local  TESOL affiliate. You might also search online or contact the Department or Ministry of Education in the country where you hope to find a program. 

To inquire about having your teacher education program listed in the resource guide, visit the media kit. 
Note: TESOL International Association offers information about teacher training programs as a service for its members and others interested in the profession, but TESOL does not warrant that this resource is comprehensive, complete, or otherwise reliable. TESOL is not affiliated with the programs listed in the directory. TESOL does not endorse or evaluate the quality of any programs or courses and cannot recommend a program or type of program. 

Tips for Evaluating Teacher Education Programs

As you begin researching teacher education programs, create a spreadsheet to compare and contrast the data fields that are important to you, and to keep track of contact information. You may want to consider some of the following questions when evaluating programs of interest to you. 

Ask for a reference or two from the program director. Ask recent graduates if they are satisfied with the education they received and whether their courses have actually met the needs of their current jobs. 

Examine the job placement record. What percentage of graduates get jobs after they receive their degrees? Does the school offer placement assistance or career counseling? Is the career counseling specialized for your field?. 

What kinds of courses are offered in the program? Are they more practical or theoretical in scope? If you are interested in going directly into teaching after getting your master's degree, you should stick to a practical curriculum. If, on the other hand, you are interested in pursuing ​your doctoral studies, look for a ​program that meets your needs. 

What do the faculty members specialize in? Ask the program director for details on what the faculty is researching, what courses they teach, and even about possible internships or assistantships. This will give you an indication of what the focus of your studies will be. If your interests are similar to theirs, you have a good match. 

Find out if the ​program provides the necessary courses that lead ​to a job offer.

Tips for Evaluating Independent Certificate Programs

What Are Independent Certificate Programs?

An independent TESOL certificate program is a program that is neither accredited nor affiliated with an accredited post-secondary institution. These programs can serve as a gateway to the field and profession of English language teaching for those who have high proficiency in English. 
TESOL recommends that an independent certificate program should be taught by qualified teacher educators and offer a balance of theory and practice regarding pedagogy and methodology, including a minimum of 100 instructional hours plus a supervised practice teaching component. 
In response to the numerous inquiries TESOL receives about independent certificate programs, TESOL has created the Standards for Short-Term TEFL/TESL Certificate Programs. 

How to Evaluate an Independent Certificate Program 

 Because TESOL does not recommend or endorse specific certificate programs, TESOL has compiled the following suggestions to help you evaluate them. These suggestions are offered for informational purposes only. TESOL hopes the information provided here is helpful to you but does not intend it to substitute for professional assistance.  

Type the institution's name into a search engine and visit its website. Look also at other websites where its name appears, such as academic organizations, research forums, conferences, government websites, the news media, and chat boards. 

Contact graduates who have received certificates from the institution and used them to obtain employment or other benefits. If an institution promises job placement, contact individuals who have used this service. Verify that graduates got their jobs because they had this particular certificate and could not have gotten the jobs on their own or without the certificate. 
Be cautious as well about money-back guarantees for job placement. Although this may be an excellent benefit, find out how you will be expected to demonstrate that you have searched for but failed to find employment. 

If an institution claims or appears to be affiliated with a major university or another organization, verify this affiliation with the parent institution. It’s unlikely but possible that a teacher education program could misuse the name or logo of another institution, or they could use a name or logo very similar to that of other well-respected organizations (including TESOL International Association), to imply that they are affiliated with or accredited by that organization. 

If a program claims that a particular certificate qualifies you for a particular type of job, jobs in a particular country, or all international ELT jobs, be sure to verify that. Certificate programs provide just that, a certificate, not certification (see TESOL's Position Statement on Independent Short-Term TESL/TEFL Certificate Programs). Your certificate verifies that you have completed a particular institution's curriculum. 
No single license qualifies you for all teaching jobs in all countries because no single body governs all employment worldwide. Requirements to teach EAL vary by country and by institution. Generally speaking, only the employer can determine whether or not an individual qualifies for a particular job. If you are counting on a certificate to obtain a particular job, contact your prospective employer and ask if the certificate would fulfill the job's academic requirements. 

If you are planning to teach in the U.S. public school system, do not confuse the certificates granted by independent certificate programs with the specific license granted by one of the 50 states' Departments of Education. Most jobs in the U.S. public school system require teachers to obtain an endorsement of some kind in TESOL or a related field from the state where they plan to teach. Unfortunately, this license or endorsement is often called a certificate, and teachers who hold such a certificate may be referred to as certified teachers. 

TESOL Certificate and Online Learning Programs

Those who decide not to begin their ELT career with an appropriate degree or endorsement may choose to pursue a shorter term certificate program, such as TESOL Core Certificate Program, Trinity, CELTA, SIT TESOL Certificate, or an independent certificate program. An independent TESOL certificate program, which is a program that is neither accredited nor affiliated with an accredited postsecondary institution, can serve as a gateway to the field and profession of EAL teaching for those who have proficiency in English. 

In response to the proliferation of short-term TESOL certificate programs around the world, TESOL International Association has developed a set of standards for entry-level short-term certificate programs
The standards are intended to provide a framework for organizations to use in developing, implementing, and evaluating programs that prepare candidates to teach English as a second or foreign language that require 120–180 interactive hours. Please note that TESOL International Association does not provide recommendations or endorsements for degree or certificate programs. 
To purchase the standards and program assessment tool, please visit the TESOL Bookstore

Degree programs as well as certificate courses in TESOL are also offered via distance learning programs. This educational format is well suited for those who are already in the field or teaching English abroad and want to pursue a degree while continuing to teach. 
A good TESOL certificate program should focus on practical training. Employers are not interested in credentials from a distance education program that does not incorporate practical teaching experience. 
Programs geared toward experienced teachers, such as the RSA Diploma (open to those with certain TESOL certificates and 2 years of teaching experience) and MA and PhD programs from accredited institutions, are viable options for distance learning. TESOL recommends that you contact the schools directly to obtain contact information for the accrediting body. 

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