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Teaching English in Connecticut

This week we continue with our series on teaching English in different contexts. In the post below, Corey Gonzales lets us know about her experience living and teaching in Connecticut.

My Story

I began my teaching career in Hawaii. I had heard some negative things about teaching in public, secondary schools in Hawaii, so I decided to enroll at one of the universities to get my MA TESOL degree. After one year teaching in a private English school, the Navy relocated my husband and I to Connecticut.This move was filled not only with ‘one of the worst winters we’ve had in years’, but also a strange sense of reverse culture shock. Hawaii and Connecticut are radically different. When living on Oahu, I felt like I was actually living in a different country. I was constantly surrounded by other cultures, languages, foods; but in Connecticut I found myself living in a place that was definitely America.

Prior to arriving in Connecticut, I had started looking at school districts near the Navy base in Groton, but I had been unable to find anything. I have my teaching certificates in ELA (English Language Arts) in 7-12 classrooms and TESOL in pre-K through 12th grade. By the time I got to Connecticut, however, I had only applied for one job -- a middle school ESL teacher position. I continued the search, slowly expanding the area in which I was searching. By March, I hadn’t heard anything, so I applied to teach as a substitute. I worked as a sub through the end of the year.

Most of the schools where I subbed during that year were in urban areas. These schools had large populations of EL(English Learner) students, who were either in ESL or bilingual (Spanish-English) classes. Many of these English language learners were identified as ‘New Arrivals’ meaning they had been in the US for 30 months or less. Most of the students I met who did not speak English were Spanish speakers (they make up around 70% of the total EL population in CT), and the majority of those students were from Puerto Rico. The fact that I hadn’t spoken Spanish in the three years I spent living in Hawaii was extremely unhelpful. As I have discovered, having a TESOL degree is helpful, but being bilingual (in Spanish) is one of the more valuable skills a teacher can have in Connecticut.

As a sub, I moved around to many different schools, including pre-K classrooms and schools in urban districts--places I hadn’t even thought about teaching in, but discovered that I loved them. However, I really needed more reliable work. I started searching for jobs at the community colleges and universities, even though I wasn’t sure I would be qualified to teach there. I figured my MA could help and that there might be colleges that had programs for non-native speakers of English. I had worked with college students and adults in Hawaii and had enjoyed the experience. I had also begun to look at schools and districts that were an hour away; needless to say I was getting a bit desperate. In June, I was hired to teach at the American English Language Institute at the University of Connecticut (UCAELI) for one of their summer sessions, and around the same time I got a job with the Connecticut Technical High School system as a TESOL instructor.

As an instructor at the American English Language Institute at the University of Connecticut (UCAELI), I worked with students who had been conditionally accepted to UCONN, PhD students, and students who were simply studying English abroad for the summer. While I was there we had large groups of students from both Mexico and Taiwan who came each summer. I only worked at UCAELI during the summer and then taught at the high school during the academic year. I returned the following summer to UCAELI, but after the subsequent school year, I decided to enjoy the summer vacation. I missed the students, but enjoyed the break from teaching for eight weeks.

Types of Jobs

There are TESOL jobs across the state in many different capacities. These jobs include K-12 teachers, tutors, adult ed teachers, and university IEP (Intensive English Program) teachers and ESL program directors. If you have the right qualifications, working as an ELA teacher in a public school (as opposed to an ESL teacher) might be a possibility as well. In general, it seems as though openings for K-12 teachers in urban areas are the most plentiful.

General requirements As a public school teacher, you are required to have a teaching certificate in addition to BA/MA degrees. You may also need to take the PRAXIS Subject Assessment if you want to teach English Language Arts. I was able to get my certification to teach ESL without having to take the PRAXIS; apparently my MATESOL degree was enough.

As a teacher with the UCAELI, I was required to have either a Master’s degree or a Ph.D. (in fields including Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), Linguistics, Communication Studies or English.) While the universities require post-baccalaureate degrees, there are also other adult education programs that don’t require advanced degrees, but may require adult-ed certification if they are associated with a school district. Pay The pay for K-12 ESL teachers depends on the district where you work. As you might expect, the districts in the more expensive parts of Connecticut do pay better; districts in more rural areas do not pay as well. The pay for IEP programs varies as well depending on the type of university which holds the program. Though salaries can vary, on average, English teachers can earn about $20 an hour.

Working conditions Connecticut is one of the more expensive states to live in, and just like anywhere else, teaching isn’t a very lucrative job. Depending on which city you live in and what kind of housing you’re looking for, a full-time teaching job is going to be the best bet. There doesn’t seem to be a dramatic shift in the number of EL students in public schools, but due to the current political climate, jobs teaching at universities with a higher number of international students (like UCONN) might not be able to consistently offer the same number of teaching hours year to year. The second summer I was teaching at UCAELI, I taught fewer hours due to lower enrollment numbers. Substitute and part-time teaching jobs don’t offer the same security and benefits as full-time jobs, and some teachers I know also have part-time jobs outside of teaching or are involved with direct sales. Where to find jobs The state TESOL chapter, ConnTESOL, is a great resource for teachers looking for jobs, finding resources, or attending conferences. Other websites, like Indeed or CTREAP list teaching jobs as well. While subbing in a school district might help with getting a job, a lot of school districts use Kelly Educational Staffing and therefore do not hire their own subs.

Tips The good news for EL teachers moving to Connecticut is that there is an extremely high number of EL students, especially in public schools. Although, as I mentioned before, being bilingual in Spanish and English increases your chances of getting hired. Because of state laws, if there are 20 or more non-native speakers of English in a school that speak the same language and have limited English proficiency, schools are required to offer bilingual education services. In 2015, one quarter of the public schools in CT were required to provide bilingual services. The one setback, it would appear, about teaching in public schools in CT is the teacher certification requirements are much higher in CT than in other states.

Overall, I have loved living and teaching in Connecticut. I am currently going back to school to obtain a sixth-year degree and an additional certification in reading as I have been working in literacy classrooms with both native and non-native speakers and readers of English.

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