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English as a Second Language (ESL) Teachers

The Job

Today, many public and private schools employ teachers trained as ESL instructors. ESL teachers do not usually speak the language of the students they teach. However, many teachers try to learn some key words and phrases in their students' native tongues in order to communicate better. ESL teachers teach English usage and pronunciation, as well as core language skills necessary for students to participate in other classes such as math and science, and in order to interact socially with other students. Students may not have a good background in reading in their own native language, which makes it even more difficult to learn the language in a new country.

The primary goal of ESL teachers is to help students learn to use the English language to communicate both verbally and in writing. They also try to build students' confidence through instruction and interaction. It is important to encourage students to become involved in social activities.

Classroom methods may include games, videos, DVDs, computers, field trips, role-playing, and other activities to make learning fun and interesting for students. Classes often center on teaching conversation skills, telephone skills, the art of listening, and the idioms of the English language. The instructor helps the students learn correct pronunciation, sentence structure, communication skills, and vocabulary.

As any other teacher, ESL teachers prepare lesson plans and exams, keep student records, and fulfill other assignments as required by the school system. They keep current in the field by reading books and researching new teaching methods. Many states require teachers to take college-level courses to maintain their teaching certificates.

ESL teachers may work with immigrants, refugees, or children of parents who may have immigrated and not learned the English language. In some homes, English is not spoken as the primary language, making it difficult for the child to relate to peers and teachers when entering school. Those who teach in border states will be more likely to teach immigrant students.

ESL teachers may also teach refugees who have witnessed the tragedies of war, and they must deal with the students' emotions and their experiences with culture shock. There are many different levels of understanding that students go through. Some students may take three to five years of ESL classes until they reach the point where they can compete academically.

Many ESL teachers teach adults in basic education programs. With the increase of refugees and immigrants to the United States, community centers, libraries, churches and other religious entities, and assistance centers are offering ESL classes as well. Some immigration and refugee assistance centers and organizations may offer classes in learning the English language as part of their programs.

Teaching adults requires skills that are different than those required to teach young people. Frequently, adults are not comfortable being back in a learning environment, so teachers may have to help them develop study habits and regain their confidence in the classroom. In addition, many adult students have jobs and may have families to care for, so teachers must be aware of the other commitments students might have and be able to adjust their teaching methods and expectations.

ESL instructors might be hired by a company to provide instruction to its workers as a part of the company's employee training or employee assistance programs, or simply as a courtesy to its workers. Classes might be held during break or lunch, after work hours, or the class may be a required part of the employee's workday.

Many communities have a strong networking system that involves churches, schools, health providers, resettlement programs, and other groups. ESL instructors may get involved with these groups and make visits to the students' homes to meet their families. They sometimes work with translators to communicate with the families and students. Some school systems and community programs also use translators to help the families communicate with medical providers, social workers, and government officials.

ESL instructors also find many opportunities overseas teaching English as a foreign language (EFL).