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Frequently Asked Questions for Adult ESL Educators

What kind of certification or training is required to teach ESL to adults?

To teach ESL in the K-12 system in Illinois, a teaching certificate plus an endorsement in ESL is required. However, to teach ESL in an adult education program in Illinois (usually a community college or a community-based organization), there are three minimum state requirements:

  • Hold a Bachelor’s degree
  • Complete the free New Teacher Orientation (NTO) online course within six months of hire (see ALRC Online Professional Development Catalog for details)
  • Complete 8 hours of professional development each fiscal year (July 1 – June 30)

Each institution may have additional requirements. Commonly, a master's degree in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) or Linguistics is preferred, along with teaching experience. Preference may also be given to teachers who hold a certificate issued by a well-known training program, such as the Cambridge certificate. Because of the high demand for part-time ESL teachers in Illinois, some programs may hire teachers who hold only a bachelor's degree and who lack specialized training in ESL.

Where can I get professional development?

To fulfill the state’s required professional development hours, teachers can attend ALRC workshops, online courses related to ESL instruction, and Fall Conference. They can also attend workshops, online courses and conferences from other professional development sources. They may participate in study circles or read about research-based practices and implement them in their classrooms. However, teachers are advised to discuss plans for professional development with their program administrator to secure approval beforehand.

There are many sources of professional development, including those suggested in the list below. This list contains suggestions.

ALRC: You can attend the ALRC's workshops for ESL teachers. We offer our ESL Basics Academy: An Overview for New Teachers at least once a year, along with other workshops and online courses for ESL teachers. See ALRC Professional Development Catalogs for details.

Conferences: Annual state and national conferences with ESL sessions include:

  • ALRC Northern Region Fall Conference, a large adult education conference which includes many sessions of interest to ESL educators. See ALRC website for details.
  • Illinois TESOL-BE holds a 2-day convention in the Chicago area in the winter/spring for ESL teachers at all levels, including adult education.
  • TESOL International Association holds a huge annual convention in the U.S. or Canada. In 2018, the convention will be held in Chicago!
  • IACEA (Illinois Adult and Continuing Education Association) offers a 3-day state annual conference held in central Illinois which offers some sessions for ESL educators.
  • COABE (Commission on Adult Basic Education) holds an annual spring convention for adult educators that includes sessions for adult ESL teachers.
  • Central/Southern Illinois Fall Conference (Forum for Excellence) is a conference held in central Illinois which includes a few sessions related to ESL programming and instruction.

Teacher Observation: Another easy way to learn about teaching ESL is to observe other ESL teachers in action. Contact a community college or community-based organization near you and make arrangements to observe some ESL classes.

Volunteer: If you want to give the field a try before deciding to make a career change, you may want to volunteer as an ESL tutor at a local organization. Call the Illinois Adult Literacy Hotline at (800) 321-9511 to find out what volunteer programs are in your area. Most tutoring programs will require that you attend a pre-service training workshop. Time commitment will vary according to the program.

Are there any local universities that offer degrees in TESL?

Master's degrees in linguistics are offered in northern Illinois at:

What kinds of jobs are available in adult ESL education?

Most jobs teaching adult ESL are part-time. Community colleges employ the largest number of adult ESL teachers in Illinois. In some programs, teachers are paid hourly for their time in class only. In other programs, teachers may be compensated for preparation time as well. Many programs do not provide benefits to part-time teachers.

Many teachers are hired semester by semester and programs cannot guarantee future employment. Teaching positions in community-based organizations and high school district adult education programs vary as well. Many programs will keep resumes of prospective ESL teachers on hand for last-minute hiring. Often, employers cannot guarantee a contract until shortly before the class is scheduled to begin, since final decisions may be based on the levels of student registration.

Where can I find out about job openings?

  • Contact the director of the Adult Education/ESL program at your community college or local community-based organizations.
  • Browse the Illinois TESOL-BE website for job postings of ESL and Adult Education positions in Illinois.
  • Watch the bulletin board at the ALRC, where job openings are posted.
  • Other ESL teaching opportunities in and out of the country abound on the web. A search for "ESL teaching jobs" will net you many web sites.


Have other questions? Contact Laurie Martin, lmartin@cntrmail.org , or Catherine Porter, cporter@cntrmail.org , 224-366-8500.

Adult Learning Resource Center, 2626 S. Clearbrook Drive, Arlington Heights, IL 60005-4626, Phone 224-366-8500, Fax  847-378-6225 ©2004