Teaching ESL in the United States – Interview with Jenna Francisco

I teach English as a Second Language (ESL) in the United States.  I actually got started teaching English in the Czech Republic 15 years ago.  After a year of teaching there, I came back to the U.S. and got a master’s degree in linguistics with a TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) emphasis.  I have been teaching full time since 2000, first at Ohio University for two years and then at Cosumnes River College in Sacramento, California, since 2002.

Where did you teach?

ESL students

What are the perks of teaching here?

The best thing about teaching ESL in the U.S. is the diversity of the students.  Having a diverse group of students is interesting and less challenging than teaching a homogeneous group.  They are more eager to learn because they want to communicate with each other and with the larger society of native English speakers.

Another perk is that college instructors get a lot of time off.  I have four months off a year, and I don’t have to teach in the summers unless I want to make extra money.

Would you recommend teaching in this specific location?

I teach at a community college in California, and I would definitely recommend this type of setting to anyone.  The pay is good (for a teacher), I have a lot of flexibility in choosing what I teach and what my schedule is, and the students are great.  Of course, the student population is a bit different in every region and even in different neighbourhoods, but in general, the population in California is diverse ethnically and in terms of age, religion, and English goals.  My students have included such an array of characters, from Buddhist monks and pastors to former doctors and beekeepers, from Yemeni mothers and Hmong refugees to young, totally Americanized Vietnamese and Mexican immigrants.


What is a typical salary for an ESL teacher in your region?

Teaching at a community college in California pays pretty well, but there is a big difference between adjunct (part-time) and full-time work.  Adjunct professors (and yes, they are considered professors since they teach at the college level and have an M.A. or higher) can make between $60 and $100 per teaching hour, depending on education level and experience, plus benefits.  However, they usually have to work at at least 2 different colleges and have less job stability.  Full-time professors make between $50,000 and $100,000 per year, depending on education and years of experience. That includes full benefits and summers off; in addition, most are eligible for tenure after 4 years, guaranteeing long-term job stability.

Are there any specific education requirements to find a teaching position?

To teach in higher education in the U.S., you must have a Master’s degree in TESOL, Applied Linguistics, Linguistics with a TESOL emphasis, or a related field.  To teach in an adult school or K-12 school, you must have a B.A. with a teaching credential.

In your opinion, is this a good destination for a first time teacher?

Yes and no.  Yes because there are a lot of different places you can work and because the students are so wonderful and really show you that you are making a difference in their lives.  No because the job market can be competitive, especially for permanent (full-time) positions, and because part-time instructors are always at risk of losing their jobs when the economy weakens.  However, if you are an innovative, dedicated, and professional teacher and have a strong education in the field, I think California, especially the community colleges, are an excellent place to work, and if you are a new teacher, you can come here and start building a rewarding career.

Students learning English

In your opinion, what qualities do you feel an ideal ESL teacher possesses?

I think an ideal ESL teacher has the following qualities:


A commitment to making the class about the students, not about the teacher

Experience that allows the teacher to empathize with the students

Competence, meaning knowledge of grammar, sentence structure, pronunciation rules, effective ESL reading and writing strategies, etc.

The ability to be strict and create focused lessons with activities that keep students engaged and motivated

Can you tell us a bit about your travel blog and what readers can expect to find?

My travel blog is called This Is My Happiness and covers my favorite topics: culture, art, and travel. My aim is to provide readers with a deeper understanding of destinations and to promote quality travel, with an emphasis on slow, experiential, respectful travel choices. I write a lot about California (my home state), Brazil (my husband’s native country), and Europe (my favorite continent).

Can you briefly tell us about your upcoming travel plans?

I will be in beautiful Pacific Grove, on the coast of California near Monterey, in January.  In the spring I will travel in California, and we will go to Seattle and Vancouver in the summer.  Some possible destinations for the rest of the year include Portugal, England, Italy, Bali, Japan, the Grand Canyon, and Brazil, but honestly my travel plans for 2013 are still up in the air.

Jenna runs This Is My Happiness, a blog about culture, art, and travel, and writes for the new website Travel Mindset, launching in January, 2013.  She enjoys writing about what makes places unique in an effort to provide a deeper look at travel destinations, especially California, Brazil, and Italy.  You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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