ERIC Identifier: ED413794
Publication Date: 1997-10-00
Author: Florez, MaryAnn Cunningham
Source: Adjunct ERIC
Clearinghouse for ESL Literacy Education Washington DC., National Clearinghouse
for ESL Literacy Education Washington DC.
The Adult ESL Teaching Profession. ERIC Digest.
According to the 1995 National Household Survey, 4 million adults in the
United States are studying English as a second language (ESL) or would like to
be (National Center for Education Statistics, 1997). Approximately two thirds of
adult education programs currently provide instructional services for
non-English speakers (Fitzgerald, 1995).
This digest examines the emerging profession of teaching ESL to adults who
live and work in the United States. It offers suggestions both for beginning a
career in this field and for continuing to grow as a professional.
WHAT AN ADULT ESL TEACHER DOES
The fundamental duty of a
teacher of adult ESL is to facilitate the development of communication skills in
English, either in a classroom setting or in a one-on-one tutoring structure. In
many program settings, teachers must also include substantive content beyond
language instruction, such as employment skills, survival skills, cultural
information, or American history and citizenship facts. Teachers must also take
into consideration the implications of the learners' cultural differences and
cultural adjustment processes. Other duties may include any combination of
materials development or selection, lesson planning, curriculum development,
assessment and evaluation, and even counseling or referrals.
Programs in which adult ESL teachers work vary widely in terms of "setting":
community-based organization site, correctional facility, private educational
institution, workplace site, community college; "program type": academic,
nonacademic, prevocational, vocational, workplace, survival ESL, citizenship;
"approach": family literacy, participatory, whole language, tutorial; "learner
group": adults, college students, refugees, out-of-school youth, prisoners,
high-level professionals; and "timing": part-time, day, evening, full-time
(Guth, 1993; Wrigley, 1991). Each of these characteristics influences the
specific nature of the teacher's work. Positions are also available in
administration, research, and in policy and nonprofit organizations that support
adult ESL programs (Parsons, 1995).
CHALLENGES AND REWARDS
Although the work of the adult ESL
teacher is varied and rewarding, there are challenges. As Willett and Jeannot
(1993, p. 477) indicate, "Teachers in the field of adult ESL literacy work in
the margins. They work in left-over spaces, with inappropriate materials, under
unpleasant conditions, for little money or professional status, with students
who are ignored and excluded by the dominant society." Most teachers are part-
time, hourly employees teaching in more than one program. Turnover rates are
high, and burn-out is common (Chisman, Wrigley, & Ewen, 1993; Kutner, 1992).
Adult ESL professionals often feel that recognition and compensation are less
than adequate and that their programs are given a low status relative to other
adult education components (Chisman et al, 1993; Pennington, 1992).
So why do people continue to pursue careers in adult ESL? Why are so many
willing to meet the job's demands for flexibility, creativity, sensitivity, and
commitment? Many ESL teachers identify themselves as intrinsically motivated,
focusing on rewards that are less tangible than financial compensation or
professional status and recognition: social service, creativity, connectedness
to others, and sense of accomplishment (Pennington, 1992). Further,
practitioners of adult ESL tend to exhibit the behavior of "culturally relevant
teachers" in that they are aware of their own cultural experiences, have a
desire to learn from other cultures, and are interested in cross-cultural
communication (Ernst, 1993, p. 7). Because of this, they have strong feelings of
commitment to and responsibility for the English learners in their classes .
BACKGROUND AND TRAINING
Traditionally, adult ESL teachers
come to their jobs from a variety of backgrounds, combining formal and informal
training and experiences (Wrigley, 1991). In some states, there is still no
requirement beyond a college degree to teach adult ESL. But within the field
itself, the need for increased professionalization has prompted a concern for a
clear articulation of qualifications that both calls for formal training and
acknowledges the value of experience (Crandall, 1993; Crandall, 1994; Wrigley,
1991; Wrigley & Guth, 1992).
Prospective ESL teachers should have some knowledge about second language
acquisition and teaching (Crandall, 1993; Wrigley & Guth, 1991). Because
many teachers come from K-12 or similar settings with limited exposure to
adults, it is important as well that they acquire an understanding of how adults
learn (Chisman et al, 1993; Pelavin, 1994).
The most common options for formal training are the certificate in TESOL and
the Master's degree, although alternative structures are being explored for pre-
and in-service education and professional development. These include mentoring,
reflective teaching, and applied science models (Crandall, 1994; Terdy, 1993).
The certificate in TESOL usually consists of 18-21 graduate credits from a
university or teacher-training program. Master's degrees (M.Ed. TESOL, M.A. or
M.S. in Linguistics, M.A. in English with emphasis in ESL, M.A.T. with emphasis
in TESOL) usually require 30-36 hours of graduate level credits, depending upon
thesis and practicum requirements (Parsons, 1995). Typical course topics include
principles of linguistics, second language acquisition theory, phonetics,
psycholinguistics, and ESL teaching methods. Although not all MA programs offer
courses specifically designed for individuals who wish to teach adults, Master's
degrees offer the ESL professional--including those who want to work with
adults--the most varied employment options.
Practical experience, such as volunteer teaching, tutoring, or working as an
aide in an ESL class, is useful. Personal experience in learning another
language, adapting to a new culture, or interacting with adults in an
educational context is also helpful, as is familiarity with the lives and
concerns of the target learners (Ernst, 1993).
HOW AND WHERE TO START
"Explore" your career options.
Contact Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL, Inc.). TESOL,
Inc. (703-836-0774; http://www.tesol.edu), in Alexandria, VA, is a professional
organization for teachers of English to speakers of other languages. It produces
publications that examine both the ESL and EFL (English as a foreign language)
teaching professions. Some TESOL publications providing references and practical
advice to the ESL professional include "More than a Native Speaker"(1996) by Don
Snow; "The ELT Guide" (1997); "The ESL/EFL Job Search Handbook" (Parsons, 1995);
and "Directory of Professional Preparation Programs in TESOL in the United
States and Canada, 1995-97."
"Volunteer" as a teacher or tutor in your area and gain first-hand experience
which will inform and advance your decisions about a career in the adult ESL
teaching field. Contact your local public school; volunteers may be needed for
its adult programs. Investigate refugee programs and community-based
organizations, as they often rely on volunteers to provide instruction. For
general information on opportunities in your area, contact the National Literacy
Hotline (800-228-8813), or organizations like Literacy Volunteers of America
(315-472-0001; http://archon.educ.kent.edu/LVA/) or Laubach Literacy
"Join" a professional organization and reap the benefits of affiliation with
an extensive support system. TESOL, Inc. and its state and regional affiliates
offer professionals in ESL a variety of opportunities for networking and
"Read" publications about teaching ESL. As described above, TESOL, Inc. is a
comprehensive source of journals, newsletters, and reference books. Other
organizations also disseminate free or low-cost materials that inform
prospective and current professionals alike. Some of these organizations are the
National Clearinghouse for ESL Literacy Education, publishers of this digest
(NCLE, 202-429-9292; http://www.cal.org/ncle); the National Institute for
Literacy (NIFL, 202-632-1500; http://novel.nifl.gov); and the system of State
Literacy Resource Centers (SLRCs). Contact NIFL for centers in your area or
visit NIFL's SLRC webpage at http://novel.nifl.gov/hubsmap.htm. Finally,
publishers such as Addison Wesley Longman (800-266-8855), Cambridge University
Press (800-872-7423), Heinle and Heinle (800-237-0053), and New Reader's Press
(800-448-8878) are recognized sources of materials on the methodology, theory,
and practice of teaching ESL.
"Connect" to the Internet to see what issues are of current interest in ESL.
World Wide Web sites like Dave's ESL Cafe (http://www.pacificnet.net/
sperling/eslcafe.html), Linguistic Funland TESL
(http://www.linguistic-funland.com/tesl.html), and Hands-on English
(http://www.4w.com/hoe) provide teaching tips, sample activities, job listings,
general advice, and links to other relevant sites.
Listservs offer an opportunity, via an e-mail forum, to share information on
teaching ESL. Two active listservs addressing issues in adult ESL are NIFL-ESL
and TESL-L. To subscribe to NIFL-ESL, send an e-mail message to [email protected] or
visit http://novel.nifl.gov/nifl-esl/subscribe-esl.html. To subscribe to TESL-L,
send an e-mail message to [email protected] with a blank subject line and
the message Subscribe TESL-L yourfirstname yourlastname.
"Attend" workshops, summer institutes, conferences, or other training events
for exposure to the latest theories, methods, techniques, and issues in teaching
ESL and for the opportunity to network with experts and practicing
professionals. TESOL maintains a list of conferences and professional
development activities on its web site
(http://www.tesol.edu/isaffil/isaffil.html), as well as information about its
own annual conference (http://www.tesol.edu/conv/t98.html).
Chisman, F., Wrigley, H., & Ewen, D. (1993).
"ESL and the American dream: Report on an investigation of English as a second
language service for adults." Washington, DC: Southport Institute for Policy
Analysis. (ED 373 585)
Crandall, J. (1993). Professionalism and professionalization of adult ESL
literacy. "TESOL Quarterly, 27"(3), 497-515.
Crandall, J. (1994). "Creating a professional workforce in adult ESL
literacy." ERIC Digest. Washington, DC: National Clearinghouse for ESL Literacy
Ernst, G. (1993). "Mirrors of difference: Critical perspectives of
bilingual/ESL and mainstream teachers on pedagogy, language, and culture."
Atlanta, GA: Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association.
(ED 361 823)
Fitzgerald, N. (1995). "ESL instruction in adult education: Findings from a
national evaluation. ERIC Digest." Washington, DC: National Clearinghouse for
ESL Literacy Education.
Guth, G. (1993). Profiles of adult ESL programs. "TESOL Quarterly, 27"(3),
Kutner, M. (1992). "Staff development for ABE and ESL teachers and
volunteers." ERIC Digest. Washington, DC: National Clearinghouse for ESL
National Center for Education Statistics. (1997). "Participation of adults in
English as a second language classes: 1994-95." Washington, DC: Author.
Parsons, A. (Ed.) (1995). "The ESL/EFL job search handbook." Alexandria, VA:
Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Inc. (TESOL).
Pelavin Associates, Inc. (1994). "Developing a plan for effective ABE/ESL
staff development: Implications and recommendations from the study of ABE/ESL
instructor training approaches." Washington, DC, San Francisco, CA, and Des
Plaines, IL: Pelavin Associates, San Francisco State University, and Adult
Learning Resource Center. (ED 373 595)
Pennington, M. (1992). Work satisfaction and the ESL profession. "Language,
Culture, and Curriculum, 4"(1), 59-86.
Terdy, D. (1993). Profiles of adult ESL teacher education programs: Flexible
approaches to staff development. "TESOL Quarterly, 27"(3), 537-541.
Willett, J., & Jeannot, M. (1993). Resistance to taking a critical
stance. "TESOL Quarterly, 27"(3), 477-495.
Wrigley, H. (1991). Language and literacy teachers: Diverse backgrounds,
common concerns. "TESOL Adult Education Newsletter, 16"(1), 1-4.
Wrigley, H., & Guth, G. (1992). "Bringing literacy to life: Issues and
options in adult ESL literacy." San Mateo, CA: Aguirre International. (ED 348