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Best Online Master’s Degrees in: Teaching ESL

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Editor's Picks: Online Schools for Teaching ESL


The University of Southern California (USC) allows students to complete course work and assignment at times that are flexible and convenient for them. It even offers students a mobile app, available on iPhone, iPad, and Android phones, which allows students to access recorded lectures, course content, and videos. Students can even access intra-school social networks, view classmates' postings on discussion boards, and contribute their own. USC students have 24/7 access to self-paced course work.

Career Support

The Master of Arts in Teaching TESOL program at the University of Southern California (USC) wins this category for providing the best career support services. Housed within the Rossier School of Education, the MAT TESOL program allows students to participate in fieldwork within their own community. Students have access to a number of web-based seminars, provided by USC's career services department. Counselors are available to provide career advice, resume and cover letter writing tips, and more. Students also have access to job listings and networking events. U.S. News & World Report ranks USC's MAT programs second in the nation in the category of student services and technology.

Financial Support

Online students at the University of Southern California (USC) have the opportunity to apply for a variety of scholarships offered by the Rossier School of Education. Financial aid is also available.

Technology Support

The University of Northern Colorado provides technical support to students 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Students can contact the Help Desk by phone or online. The Blackboard Blog offers up-to-date status information.

Student Engagement

University of Southern California (USC) uses 2SC, an advanced web-based technology, allowing MAT@USC students to engage with their peers through social networking platforms and face-to-face interactive technology. USC simulates the personal classroom experience through this learning management system. A mobile app allows students to check discussion boards, view lectures, and more — without having to lug around a laptop.

Library and Research Support

The University of Nebraska offers the best library and research support services to online students. In addition to accessing electronic resources, students can receive books, journal articles, books, and other materials by mail. Distance education and eCampus librarians specifically serve online students.

Learning Support

The Master of Arts in Teaching TESOL program at the University of Southern California (USC) wins the award for providing the best learning support services. Students enrolled in the Rossier School of Education's online programs receive guidance from academic advisors who assist in course selection and offer tutoring in key subject areas. In fact, U.S. News & World Report ranks Rossier Online second in the nation among online graduate education programs in this category.

Faculty Credentials

The online Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction, with a concentration in English as a second language, at the University of Nebraska wins the award for faculty credentials. At the University of Nebraska, 100% of teachers have at least two years of experience teaching in the online environment. Instructors are required to receive training in online instruction, which is financed by the school. On average, instructors have six years of experience in online teaching. The University of Nebraska's online graduate education programs rank fourth in the nation for faculty credentials and training, according to U.S. News & World Report.

Faculty Accessibility

The Linguistically Diverse Education Master of Arts in Teaching or Endorsement-only programs at the University of Northern Colorado rank the highest for faculty accessibility. In fact, U.S. News & World Report ranks the University of Northern Colorado first among all schools that offer online education programs at the master's degree level. Students can expect professors to respond to questions sent via email within 24 hours, and instructors hold, on average, three office hours per week.

Alumni Engagement

The University of Southern California (USC) offers the best support services to alumni. MAT@USC students use 2SC, an interactive web-based platform, to stay in touch with classmates and professors. Students retain access to previous course work and can maintain an online portfolio of their work. Online students have access to alumni resources and become part of the Trojan Family Network.

Explore a Master's Degree in Teaching ESL

Online master's degree programs in teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) are designed to prepare graduates to work with students whose first language is not English. Upon completion of the program, they will be equipped with the analytical, problem-solving, and instructional skills they need to become leaders in the classroom. Graduates may pursue careers working directly with students, in curriculum development, or education administration. Most positions will be with public or private schools, but other opportunities with tutoring or curriculum development companies, and even child care facilities, may be available.

Online students have the option to continue working while earning their degree, adjusting their course load as needed to fit with their personal and professional lives. Since students can enroll full or part time, the average length of time it takes to complete this type of program can range from one to three years. Additionally, the number of transfer credits brought in and any breaks taken from the program can also influence how long it takes for a student to reach graduation.

Class Curriculum

Students enrolled in an online master's degree program in teaching ESL will complete a variety of survey, seminar, field work, and research courses. Common topics covered in this type of program include language production and acquisition, assessment theory and practice, instructional techniques, culture, and pedagogy. Some specific examples of courses that may be required are:

  • Linguistic and Language Development. This type of course provides an overview of phonetics, phonology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics. Students will also learn about word patterns, sentence structure, sound-letter correspondence, and letter-word formation.
  • Language and Culture. This survey course will explore the culture and communities of minority students. Discussion topics include the role of biculturalism, cultural transmission, acculturation, and assimilation in language development.
  • Applied Field Research. Graduate students will spend time working in actual classrooms and identify a particular problem of interest to them. They will then complete a research project based on this field work.

Assignments are likely to include readings, research papers and projects, situational exercises, and presentations. Students should also be prepared to commit a significant number of hours to classroom observation and field research courses. Depending on the program's specific requirements, students may then be expected to complete a capstone project with this research to demonstrate their ability to apply the concepts and principles they have learned throughout the program in a practical setting.

Building a Career

Graduates with a master's degree in teaching ESL are equipped with the necessary problem-solving, analytical, and instructional skills to be effective leaders in the classroom. Other career opportunities may be found in education administration, curriculum development, or child care. These jobs will mostly be found at schools, both public and private. However, other openings with private companies may also be available. For those working in public K-12 schools, all states require teacher certification, which may or may not be incorporated into the master's degree curriculum.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for adult literacy teachers is expected to increase by 15% from 2010 to 2020. This is on pace with the 14% growth expected for all occupations over this time period. Adult literacy teachers earned a median annual wage of $46,530. Elementary and secondary schools were the largest employers of ESL teachers, followed by junior colleges. However, note that starting salaries and job openings can vary based on location, level of work experience, education, the specific employer, and the general economic climate.