ESL Teacher Certification

A Guide for New and Experienced Educators

Embarking on the journey to become a certified ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher is a rewarding endeavor that opens doors to diverse teaching opportunities. Whether you’re a new teacher seeking a specialized certification or an experienced educator looking to expand your skill set, here’s a comprehensive guide to help you navigate the certification process.

As a former school counselor, I never anticipated experiencing the same level of fulfillment in any other role as I did as a school counselor. My journey as an ESL student in high school inspired me to pursue a career as a school counselor, aiming to support students in realizing their career aspirations. During my student years, I perceived a lack of guidance and support that hindered me from achieving my educational goals. This personal experience fueled my commitment to ensuring that other English learners wouldn’t face similar challenges.

ESL teacher certification

Transitioning from my role as a school counselor, my professional journey led me to a fortunate opportunity where I became an ESL teacher and ESL coordinator. This shift has been particularly rewarding, as I discovered my preference for being an ESL teacher and coordinator. In this role, I am privileged to continuously support students eager to learn and succeed. 

What is ESL teacher certification?

An ESL teacher certification provides a person with the credentials to teach English to speakers of other languages. The term ESL has changed over the years, and a more appropriate term is TESOL, which stands for Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages. ESL teaching certification may sometimes vary from state to state, but in most cases, the classes that the certification requires tend to be the same.

Why ESL teacher certification?

Most, if not all, ESL teachers agree that teaching is one of the most rewarding professions. This is because we teach English learners a language they are eager to learn. The experience of seeing a student go from no English to advanced-level proficiency is impressive.  

As teachers, we also get to experience and learn about other cultures we may not have ever imagined. The experience of learning from each other is a top reward that we enjoy as teachers. Advocacy is also a well-liked responsibility we cherish as ESL teachers. 

As of 2019-2020, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reported approximately 4.8 million English Learner (EL) students in U.S. public schools. This means that at any given time, all teachers in the US will have an English learner in their classroom. For this reason, obtaining an ESL teacher certification can help train teachers to teach this population.

Some teachers seek ESL teacher certification to learn how to teach English learners in their ELA, math, science, or social studies classes. Other teachers may pursue certification to enhance their collaboration journey with ESL teachers in their building. In addition, some teachers may seek ESL certification to increase their salary. 

How to Obtain ESL Certification

New Teacher Guidance

There are various pathways to obtaining ESL teacher certification. For instance, new teachers must get at least a bachelor’s degree in K-12 public schools. Each state may have its own pathway to certification; however, all states start with a bachelor’s degree as the minimum requirement to become a K-12 teacher in public schools.

Below are the important factors to consider when pursuing an ESL teacher certification as a new teacher.  

  1. Educational Requirements:
    • Obtain a bachelor’s degree in education, English, or a related field. Many ESL teacher certification programs require a foundational degree.
  2. Choose a Certification Program:
    • Research and select a reputable ESL teacher certification program. Look for programs accredited by recognized institutions or education boards.
  3. Complete Certification Courses:
    • Enroll in the chosen certification program and complete the required coursework. These courses often cover topics such as language acquisition, teaching methodologies, and cultural sensitivity.
  4. Practicum Experience:
    • Gain practical experience through a student teaching or practicum component. This hands-on experience is crucial for applying theoretical knowledge in real classroom settings.
  5. Language Proficiency:
    • Ensure you meet language proficiency requirements. Some programs may require candidates to demonstrate proficiency in English, as this is fundamental for effective ESL teaching.
  6. Pass Certification Exams:
    • Prepare for and successfully pass any required certification exams. Visit to find your state’s certification exam. These exams may assess your knowledge of ESL teaching principles and practices.
  7. Apply for Certification:
    • Submit your application for ESL teacher certification to the relevant education board or certification body. Include all necessary documentation, such as transcripts and exam results. Visit the U.S. Department of Education website to access your state’s education office.
  8. Professional Development:
    • Stay engaged in ongoing professional development to enhance your teaching skills and stay current with best practices in ESL education.

How to Obtain TESOL Certification

Classroom Teacher Guidance

  1. Evaluate Existing Certification:
    • Assess your state’s ESL certification requirements to determine how to obtain ESL endorsements or the type of ESL certification you need. 
  2. Professional Development Opportunities:
    • Explore professional development opportunities tailored explicitly to ESL teaching. This could include workshops, online courses, or specialized training programs.
  3. Networking:
    • Connect with your district’s ESL educators, ESL coordinator, or your state’s ESL director to inquire about ESL certification information. Seek advice, share experiences, and gain insights into the ESL teaching landscape.
  4. Online ESL Certification Programs:
    • Consider enrolling in online ESL certification programs that accommodate the schedules of working teachers. These programs often offer flexibility and self-paced learning options.
  5. Add ESL Endorsement to Certification:
    • If your current teaching certification allows, consider adding an ESL endorsement. This may involve taking additional courses or exams related to ESL teaching. Visit your state or the state where you seek an ESL position to determine which courses to take. Visit the U.S. Department of Education website to access your state’s education office and ESL teacher certification requirements.
  6. Update Resume and Credentials:
    • Update your resume and teaching credentials to reflect your ESL certification. Highlighting this specialization can make you more marketable to schools seeking ESL educators.
  7. Apply for ESL Teaching Positions:
    • Start applying for ESL teaching positions, leveraging your new certification and skills to secure opportunities in schools, language institutes, or online teaching platforms. It’s never too early to prepare so that you can ace an ESL teacher interview.


Remember that the journey to ESL teacher certification is unique for each individual. Whether you’re just starting your teaching career or are a seasoned educator, the commitment to enhancing your skills in ESL education is a step towards positively impacting the lives of English learners. There are steps and procedures to follow that everyone must follow.

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