Help me decide my educational path, please.
October 6, 2009 5:00 PM   Subscribe

Do I need a Master's Degree in order to teach ESL to adults in the US?

By next May, I'll have a BA in English with a TESOL certification. I'm pretty sure that this (along with teaching certification) will get me a job in almost any high school across the states, but I'd really like to teach adults.

I understand that in order to teach at the University level I'd need a PhD (that's not going to happen) and that most community colleges require a Master's. But there have to be other opportunities out there that don't require a Master's degree. I've tried googling for the information but all I get are hundreds of schools for TESOL certification.

I am considering applying for grad school, but my main concern is that I have *zero* resources and I'm already in debt up to my ears due to my undergraduate studies. I've been told that fellowships and grants are not guaranteed in my field and I just don't want to go into further debt.

Another concern is that I have bipolar disorder (I was diagnosed with this about 24 years ago) that's controlled with medication. This concerns me because I understand it's much more stressful than undergraduate studies and I'm already having some difficulties here. I can't work and study at the same time, and I understand that fellowships (if I were awarded one) involve teaching while studying... I don't know if I can mentally handle that. This is also one of the reasons why I want to work with adults - obnoxious kids are a big trigger to me, and why I am wary of traveling overseas - I don't want to end up in a country without access to my medication.

If it's any help - I'm 43, and I have no ties to any particular state so I can move anywhere once I graduate. I'm not looking to make major money. I just want to pay my bills, esp. the student loans I've racked up so far. Any suggestions would be great.
posted by patheral to Education (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Have you tried e-mailing a local community college or university and asking exactly what qualifications they look for?
posted by epj at 5:19 PM on October 6, 2009

Response by poster: epj - That's a great idea, and I did think of that. However, I don't plan on staying here and I'm certain that the requirements are different in each state, just as the requirements for teaching in public schools are different in each state.
posted by patheral at 5:27 PM on October 6, 2009

Best answer: The answer I have for you is: definitely not. Adult Education is... not very strictly regulated, compared to K-12. I'm currently an ESL teacher, for adults, and all I have is an unrelated Bachelors degree and an Adult Education certification (which was pretty easy to get, requiring just a couple online trainings and some transcripts and such). Of course, this kind of thing varies by state. But I'm in New York, so I'd imagine lots of states have, if anything, more lax requirements.

The downside of this is that positions for Adult Education are fewer, and paid much worse. Funding is not as reliable since adult education seems to be treated largely as an afterthought, and other people higher up in the business have advised me multiple times that it's not something that you want to make a career out of because things are so unreliable. Also, the jobs range from difficult to impossible to find; most places around here seem to hire on a "friend of a friend" basis before doing a normal hiring process.

So, the thing you're looking for are adult education classes run through a community education division or a school district, or some sort of over-reaching district that does adult/technical/vocational education (or at least that's where my experience lies). But you might have difficulty finding something that you want to settle into.
posted by miraimatt at 5:47 PM on October 6, 2009

Best answer: Have you ever traveled abroad? I am not your doctor and I do not have your condition, but most of the countries (EU and Asia) I have been to have working health care systems and access to prescription medication at a cheaper rate than that of US (in my experience anyway). It would be very odd for you to teach ESL to students but not have any experience living and working in another country yourself. Teaching abroad will add invaluable experience to your skills and give you a world perspective which is important because remember, as an ESL teacher you are not just imparting the grammar but the culture as well.

Most of the teachers I know that work at English Language Programs (I'm talking the full-time, stable, well-paid gigs here) in my area have either a masters OR a BA with at least 2-3 years international experience. So if you do not want to pursue a masters right away, I suggest you go teach abroad first, make money, pay off your debt, and then come back here. And remember, masters programs are VERY different from undergraduate programs. Your instructor and advisors will understand that you have to work, especially if it is a part of the program! I think one receives even more support in a program than out of it because you have others to go to with your problems, vent, etc.

However, take miraimatt's advice into account as well - unfortunately, adult ESL programs tend to be few and far in between and are generally not stable, well-paying gigs. Hence, that is why it is better to have a masters - you can demand more pay and be more competitive for those few jobs.

Good luck - and don't rule out kids as well. I used to think as you do, but changed my mind after giving it a chance. If anything, I think adults are harder to work with but you'll experience that for yourself!
posted by tastycracker at 6:25 PM on October 6, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks miraimatt and tastycracker...

I have considered going abroad, I really have. I researched it thoroughly once. I might still do that if I don't go through with grad school. Several things hold me back: I have *zero* resources which means I'd be going overseas with nothing but the shirt on my back and a promise in my pocket (job offer), and that's a scary thought. I have bipolar (as mentioned before). I only speak English, despite two years of Spanish classes. And (most importantly) I'm absolutely terrified of flying.

I'm sure all of these can be overcome, but it's easier said than done.
posted by patheral at 6:52 PM on October 6, 2009

I got a job teaching adults basic computer skill classes, and I have no advanced degree or certification, but I did have experience teaching due to my Peace Corps service.

Cast a wide net in your search - not just ESL specific classes. You could probably teach the classes that I do. I teach very basic computer skills. My job is through a non-profit, and I have seen similar positions offered through other large-ish non-profits.

However, I would get paid more if I had some more education and worked for a community college.

Get some experience through volunteering. There are tons of (local) opportunities out there.
posted by soupy at 7:40 PM on October 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

Something to keep in mind about going overseas, in case you do look in that direction. At least in Asia, entry-level positions usually go to younger people. In Japan it's not uncommon to see 'Age up to 30' tacked on to job advertisements. In some senses, there is a premium placed on youth and energy versus age and experience. I would say that teaching abroad, at least in Asia, might be more difficult for you because of the age difference, and suggest that getting qualifications that will match positions at home are probably best.

If you're not planning on staying in your area, why not call, as epj said, community colleges/vocational schools, but in areas you think you might move to?
posted by Ghidorah at 8:11 PM on October 6, 2009

I'm pretty sure that this (along with teaching certification) will get me a job in almost any high school across the states,

Also, in case it ever comes up in your thinking... not in CT without special dispensation, and even then you'd need to get your Master's within a few years. Most other states care a lot less.

And yeah, my experience has been that Adult Ed is pretty lax about qualifications, and thus also pretty lax about actually hiring people and paying them decently.
posted by teishu at 11:54 PM on October 6, 2009

Just a thought, but have you noticed all the little barriers you have put up for yourself, against your own success? Some of them may be excuses against something you reeeallly don't want to do, but many of them can be gotten around if you want to make progress towards your career. For example:

I'm certain that the requirements are different in each state, just as the requirements for teaching in public schools are different in each state.
...Well, email schools or accreditaiton agencies in DIFFERENT states, and get a comparison going of their requirements, job opportunities, and how much it would take you to meet them. It's one email, a bunch of google searches, and a little editing.

I only speak English,
...And this is what friends and your employer are there to help with. More, I'm fully convinced that having been a language learner makes you a better language teacher.

And (most importantly) I'm absolutely terrified of flying.
You'd let one 5-12 hour flight, which could be survived on some pills, or avoided by taking a boat or a lot of buses, keep you from qualifications for your career?

I also want to second people who are saying that if you do some research into
medical systems abroad, you will find that many of them have better access to and costs for treatment/medication than the US, especially for foreign residents.
posted by whatzit at 12:10 AM on October 7, 2009

I teach adults ESL in California. I do not have a Masters degree (although I do have a TESL certificate from a state university). My bachelor's degree is in another subject entirely (Physics). It pays the bills for me, currently working part-time, teaching 21 hours a week.
posted by Rash at 11:47 AM on October 7, 2009

Response by poster: I appreciate everyone's input, and y'all have given me much food for thought. I'm going to take everyone's advice and insight and think it over some more. I have a couple of months before I have to make the big leap into applying for grad school (or not), so I'll definitely have some deciding to do.

posted by patheral at 12:55 PM on October 7, 2009

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