Insights from the School of Education and Social Policy at Merrimack College

English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers have become increasingly important as more children enter the public school system from other countries and homes where English is not spoken. ESL teachers provide formal education to these students, preparing them to succeed in the American school system, workplace, and society.

Although considered supplementary in many parts of the country, ESL is a focus in Massachusetts. The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has launched an initiative that is committed “to address the persistent gap in academic proficiency experienced by ELL (English Language Learner)  students.”

This focus in Massachusetts has led to a rising interest in earning a master’s degree in education that focuses on English as a Second Language and becoming an ESL teacher.

The Demand Is High

ESL teachers are in demand because of the continued growth in the number of children from foreign countries immigrating to the United States. Once these children enroll in schools, teachers are needed who can effectively teach them the English language.

The state of Massachusetts lists ESL as one of the areas where there is a teacher shortage in the state, according to information from the U.S. Department of Education reported on by

In 2015, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reported that 27% of school districts with ESL job openings “found them very difficult or impossible to fill, more than for many other teaching fields,” according to ThoughtCo. The demand has only increased since then.

NCES estimates that there were 4.9 million public school students in 2016 who were English Learners.  (they are referred to as English Learners now)

What You Learn in a Graduate Program

The graduate program from Merrimack College prepares students for a career teaching linguistically and culturally diverse students in PreK-6th grade classrooms. The 36-credit course prepares graduates to earn their Initial License from the state of Massachusetts.

The program is also approved by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and is aligned with the Massachusetts Professional Standards for Teachers and Subject Matter Knowledge requirements.

The class combines coursework with experience-based learning. Students graduate with expertise in:

  • Subject matter knowledge
  • Curriculum design
  • Instructional strategies
  • Observation and assessment
  • Communication
  • Effective collaboration with families and the community

In addition to the eight courses in the online degree program, Merrimack College helps teachers acquire field-based experiences in schools located in Massachusetts. There are three pre-practicums (15 hours per pre-practicum) and a 450-hour full practicum.

For those who wish to address this critical need in education, earning a master’s degree that focuses on ESL can prepare them for some of the best jobs in this niche of the teaching profession. With the need especially high in Massachusetts, there’s never been a better time for teachers to make the transition.