Master of Education in TESL Addresses a Growing Need

Students in the M.Ed. TESL program take class with Assistant Professor Sarah Hesson.

Students in the M.Ed. TESL program take class with Assistant Professor Sarah Hesson.

As the number of English-language learners in Rhode Island rises, RIC is working to increase the number of teachers prepared to teach English as a second language.

According to Rhode Island KIDS COUNT, a children’s policy and advocacy organization based in Providence, more than 10,200 students in grades K-12 during the 2013-14 academic year were English learners. In Rhode Island, many districts now require that teachers in all subjects be trained to work with students who are learning to speak English. “Especially in districts with a high incidence of English learners, schools want to hire people who are ESL certified,” said Amanda Sox Agudelo, director of the Master of Education in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) program and coordinator of the bilingual certification program at RIC. “It gives schools greater flexibility.”

The M.Ed. TESL program also allows graduates to teach in higher education or to pursue other administrative and international opportunities. The program is distinguished by a balanced approach between theory and practical application. “Our real emphasis is on how you can apply theory in the classroom and use it in your teaching,” said Sox Agudelo. 

In addition, while many TESL programs are designed for those working with PK-12 students, the RIC program also includes those who want to work with adults. “This is an area that is sorely underserved,” said Agudelo. “We have a growing number of adult educators who want to develop good programs for adult learners to give them the skills they need for the workforce and college.”

Mary Steele is a current student and graduate assistant in the M.Ed. TESL program. After a decades-long career in journalism and documentary filmmaking, she knew she wanted to make a career change. For her, teaching ESL is an ideal match for her writing background and passion for service. “I have a desire to be an advocate for others who are trying to gain access to the opportunities that exist here,” said Steele, adding that the RIC program has been a valuable asset in her career transition. “I love learning about learning – it’s exciting to see the way the classroom has changed and the way teaching is thought about.”  

Alumnus Chris Bourret had a full-time job in education when he started the TESL program. “You can tailor the curriculum to fit what your goals are, with a lot of practical experience and theoretical background,” said Bourret. He now works as an academic programs specialist at Rhode Island Family Literacy Initiative in Providence, which offers citizenship classes to refugees and immigrants as well as classes to help adults transition to college. “Teaching ESL is one of those fields where you can really help students achieve an important life goal,” he said. “You learn so much about other cultures, people’s stories and backgrounds.”  

For many prospective ESL teachers, this desire to help others draws them to the field. “There’s nothing more rewarding than seeing a child transform from being withdrawn and isolated at the beginning of the year because he or she doesn’t know English, to making friends and becoming part of the classroom community by the end of the year,” said Sox Agudelo. “It’s an amazing feeling to know you’ve had a hand in that.”

The M.Ed. TESL program will be among those represented at the RIC Graduate Open House on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016. Open house registration is available online at

For more information on the M.Ed. program, visit