What It Takes to Be an ELL Teacher in Public Schools

English is the world’s most spoken language across borders and the most common language in the U.S. English language learning (ELL) programs have become increasingly common in public schools as young students from non-English-speaking cultures enter the U.S. public education system. As these students learn the language while adjusting to public school settings, ELL teachers play a major role in helping them on all fronts.

As of 2020, there was an estimated 5 million English learning students in U.S. public schools. ELL teachers take on a variety of important functions in their schools beyond their classroom instruction to help this large population. In addition, ELL teachers must tailor their lesson plans to suit the unique needs of students learning a new language. Even among fellow educators, ELL teachers often advocate for ELL students and help co-teachers learn to accommodate students learning English.

Learn Essential ELL Teaching Skills at Eastern Washington University

Programs like the online Master of Education (M.Ed.) – Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) program from Eastern Washington University (EWU) offer graduates the skills and knowledge necessary to become effective ELL educators. From understanding language as a system to developing effective, inclusive curriculums, the capabilities graduates gain can better serve their ELL students and the entire school community.

Along with a deep knowledge base and practiced skill set, ELL educators should possess certain qualities to foster a successful classroom environment. The following are some qualities that EWU’s program will instill in its graduates that will prepare them for roles in the TESOL field:


Patience is an essential attribute of an ELL teacher. Learning another language is a challenging process — particularly for adult learners — meaning teachers should prepare to offer extra assistance and avoid becoming frustrated.

According to Colorín Colorado, teachers can help students build confidence by giving them “opportunities for small successes in speaking with you and individual peers before speaking in front of larger groups.”


ELL teachers will often find themselves teaching diverse student groups and sometimes even in several different cities or schools, given the demands of being an ELL educator. To be effective classroom instructors, teachers need to adjust their teaching methods to best suit the needs of their students.

Online education publication Chron notes the best ELL teachers can effectively utilize various teaching methods and integrate concepts relatable to students into their lesson plans.


One of the best ways ELL educators can deepen their cultural understanding and sharpen their teaching tools is by becoming continuous learners.

Chron suggests that ELL educators “incorporate what their students already know into their lessons, and an exceptional teacher has many teaching methods for doing this…” Additionally, they should take time to learn about their students’ cultural backgrounds to better understand and connect with them.


Chron notes that building a rapport with ELL students is one of the keys to their development. As mentioned, educators should take time to learn about their students’ cultures and lived experiences to deepen their connection.

Teachers should also show an interest in the students as people. Building empathetic, strong interpersonal relationships creates a foundation for effective learning in the classroom.


ELL teachers must also be skilled communicators. This includes pronunciation and enunciation, as learners who speak different languages won’t “hear” English words like native speakers do. Words need to be spoken clearly. Educators also need to be concise, efficient communicators who can express ideas in many different ways to ensure that lessons resonate with all demographics of ELL students.

How an Advanced Degree Can Help

EWU’s online M.Ed. – TESOL program equips professionals with the necessary aptitudes to help learners master language skills and succeed in their future professional and personal endeavors. Graduates of an advanced program like that from EWU have the knowledge to apply ELL teaching best practices and utilize a variety of tools (like voice typing, closed captioning, gesture exercises, language toolboxes and more) to help public school students refine their English skills.

Learn more about EWU’s online Master of Education – Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages program.

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