Story Teacher Preparation

California Needs A Lot More English Teachers. Luckily, the CSU Is Preparing Them.

Hazel Kelly

More than 40 percent of Californians speak a language other than English at home. But to move ahead, most need to speak, read and write English well. Enter the CSU’s many programs for teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL).

Adult English-language learners make up a large part of adult education in th​e U.S., especially in California. The CSU is preparing graduates to navigate the diverse needs of these students. Photo courtesy of CSU Chico


Marguerite Ann Snow, Ph.D., has taught English all over the world — from Hong Kong to Tanzania — but she knows how important it is for people to learn the language right here in her home state. In fact, 44 percent of California residents over the age of 5 speak a language other than English at home.

"The thirst for English is worldwide, but the need at home in California is so, so great," says Dr. Snow, chair of the Division of Applied and Advanced Studies in Education at California State University, Los Angeles and a TESOL faculty member.

The two-time Fulbright scholar is rightly proud of her campus' mast​​er's program in TESOL, the acronym for "teaching English to speakers of other languages." Graduates are prepared to meet the specific needs of adult English language learners (ELLs) in California, no matter where they end up teaching.

More Options for Adult Learners

When it comes to educating English language learners, early is always better, of course. But that's not always possible.   

Non-English speakers who move to California in middle school or high school essentially run out of time to learn the language of their adopted country. That's a big challenge to overcome, says Snow. 

Fortunately, more community colleges offer for-credit ESL (English as a second language) programs, she says, so students can get up to speed and then transfer to a CSU or UC campus. If an adult ELL doesn't want to earn college credit, many colleges also have noncredit courses that focus on more practical instruction.

There's so much demand, in fact, that ESL is one of the fastest-growing programs in community colleges and other adult education programs.

Megan Ernst is a 2005 graduate of Cal State LA's TESOL master's program. "The act of teaching language … is fascinating to me, but teaching at the community college level is the most fulfilling," says Ernst, who began by teaching English in Spain and now serves as chair of the noncredit ESL division at Glendale Community College in southern California. "After returning to the U.S., I began working with immigrant groups and that's when the spark really happened."

Teaching English to immigrants gives them a tremendous opportunity, stresses Ernst, since they may be ignored or even rejected by society. Some of her students try to learn English so they can go to college or improve their job prospects; others take classes to help with basic life skills, such as the parent or grandparent who needs to talk with their kids' teachers or get around town more easily.

​​​TESOL at the CSU: A Look at Two Campuses

At least 13 CSU campuses offer TESOL-focused master's degrees; some offer a graduate TESOL certificate. Many also have undergraduate TESOL programs, including an undergraduate certificate. TESOL graduate certificates are recognized by private institutions, adult schools and community college programs for teaching ESL. Some organizations may require a master's in TESOL or linguistics in addition to the TESOL certificate. (Those who wish to teach ESL in California's K-12 public schools must earn a teaching credential through the Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC), and in some cases, must also earn a Bilingual Authorization in the targeted language.) Here's a deeper dive into TESOL-focused programs offered by two CSU campuses:

  • Cal State LA: As mentioned above, California State University, Los Angeles offers two post-baccalaureate certificates and a TESOL master's program, which prepares teachers for a wide variety of positions, from teaching ESL in K-12 schools to adult education and teaching abroad. One of the most popular career avenues is teaching ESL at the community college level.  Dr. Ann Snow thinks that's one of the best jobs in the world: "Community colleges have an ethos of really supporting their students and preparing them well, because that's their job to help them learn to transfer," she explains. "And the teaching load is reasonable, the pay is good, so as a result, jobs are really competitive." Many of Snow's TESOL master's graduates are also teaching in intensive English programs called the English Language Program (ELP) at Cal State LA. These are programs for non-matriculated students, often international students in the U.S. on an F1 visa who are trying to improve their English well enough to pass the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) exam and transfer to a college of their choice. Not near LA? Most CSU campuses have a similar program through their extended education division, says Snow.
  • Stanislaus State: California State University, Stanislaus offers an undergraduate TESOL certificate as well as a bachelor's in liberal studies with a TESOL concentration, and soon will offer a master's in rhetoric and the teaching of writing (RTW) with a TESOL concentration, says Mirta Maldonado, Ph.D., assistant professor of English and TESOL program director at Stanislaus State. The bachelor's option is ideal for students who may eventually seek their California P-12 teaching credential, "because we know they're going to have [English-language learners] in their classrooms," Dr. Maldonado explains, adding that for a program that's producing future teachers, this  program "makes sure that they at least get some kind of TESOL experience," even if they are not going to teach ESL in primary or secondary education. 

Where a TESOL Degree Can Take You

A TESOL graduate might go on to teach English abroad in Europe, Asia or other parts of the world. "And some students will use our master's as a launching pad for doctoral study, where they go into applied linguistics," Snow says, adding that still other graduates might do research for Educational Testing Service, for example, the organization that administers the TOEFL exam international students must pass in order to begin their postsecondary education in the U.S. 

I find it so rewarding when a student says, for example, 'Teacher, I went to the store yesterday and actually understood what they said!'" — Megan Ernst, Glendale Community College 

"Some of our students eventually want to open their own language school, where they might focus on business English," she notes, adding that they may return to, say, Korea, and open a school, bringing in executives from Samsung who want to learn English to conduct international business.

"I find it so rewarding when a student says for example, 'Teacher, I went to the store yesterday and actually understood what they said!' They gain confidence in their own abilities and start to feel more connected to their community," notes Megan Ernst.

Making connections across the cultural divide is another thing that comes out of Ernst's classes in Glendale, which often feature a lively exchange between speakers of Armenian, Farsi, Spanish, Russian, Arabic and Korean.

"Beautiful things happen here," she says, since people from some of these cultures might not speak to each other in day-to-day life, but, through ESL classes, they have conversations in English and forge new friendships and mutual cultural appreciation.

Teaching English to speakers of other languages is all about equity, says Mirta Maldonado, Ph.D., assistant professor of English and TESOL program director at California State University, Stanislaus. "We can't talk about TESOL or bilingual programs and anything that's focused on language education without talking about equity."

"We are a linguistically diverse community as a country and as a state, and if we keep TESOL alive and keep facilitating these programs, it's just going to help us become more conscious about how we teach anybody who comes to California or the United States and wants to have a chance," Dr. Maldonado says.

Adds Snow, "Thank goodness we're in California, where we have a governor, a legislature, and Chancellor Timothy P. White, UC President Janet Napolitano and California Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley, who all understand the power and importance of diversity."

Stay tuned for a follow-up story on how the CSU is preparing educators to meet the needs of K-12 English language learners. Visit Teacher and Educator Preparation for more information. The TESOL International Association offers additional resources for those who may be interested in a TESOL-related career.​​