Selected Moments of the 20th Century

A work in progress edited by Daniel Schugurensky
Department of Adult Education and Counselling Psychology,
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)


Stricter standards required for teachers of English as a Second Language

In October 1998, Dr. Razika Sanaoui presented TESL Ontario (the association of Teachers of English as a Second Language in the province of Ontario, Canada) with recommendations for a Protocol and Uniform Certification Standards for Non-Credit Adult ESL Instructors. Dr. Sanaoui is an Associate Professor of Linguistics at the University of York who wrote a number of publications on second language teaching, learning and acquisition. In addition, she has undertaken an extensive research on computer communications in second language acquisition. Her recommendations were discussed, analyzed and finally supported by the Steering Committee of the TESL Ontario. The Steering Committee, in turn, was responsible for setting up and implementing all the certification requirements.

This event was significant and important not only to all ESL and ELD (English Literacy Development) professionals, but also to the entire field of Teaching English as a Second Language in the province of Ontario. Thanks to this event, the autonomy and authority of TESL Ontario as a professional organization was finally established and the organizationís importance has grown ever since. At the present time, TESL Ontario is, and most probably will remain so, the only institution responsible for issuing the TESL Ontario Certificates for teachers delivering ESL lessons to adults in non-credit programs in the province. This certificate is required in order to teach English in private language schools for foreign students (visitors). It is also required for teaching in co-op programs for foreign-trained professionals, and to become an instructor in LINC ((Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada), a federal government program for all eligible adult immigrants to Canada which offers free language training for adult newcomers. After the 1998 recommendations, most of ESL positions in Ontario require the TESL certificate in one form or another.

It is worth mentioning that TESL Ontario is a part of a nationwide ESL organization called TESL Canada. TESL Canada has its branches in each province in Canada. TESL Canada is the national federation of English as a Second Language teachers, learners and learner advocates. Currently, all the provinces that are a part of TESL Canada have specific certification requirements for its members. Despite the differences in requirements, there are two common denominators. All provincial ESL organizations require its members to have specific ESL training as well as a certain number of teaching hours in order to be certified.

TESL Canada is an affiliate of TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages). As of August 2003, TESOL was affiliated with 88 independent organizations (43 in the United States and 45 outside the United States) with a total membership of more than 40,000 professionals. TESOL membership spans all the continents around the globe. The general tendency for all those independent organizations is to have a unique yet standarized set of requirements for teacher certification.

Before October 1998, a general understanding was that the only skills a person needed to possess in order to teach ESL were to have a fun and energetic personality, and to speak English well, preferably as a native, first language speaker. The decision by the Steering Committee to implement certification recommendations changed this perspective completely. Decades of research on second language acquisition and on the most effective ways of teaching a second language strongly indicate that becoming a good ESL teacher requires specialized, highly professional training and a lot of supervised practice.

Since the October 1998 recommendations, applicants for the Ontario TESL Certificate have been subjected to a set of ever-growing requirements. Official transcripts, practicum documentation and certificates of TESL course work have to be submitted, together with the English language proficiency proof. The requirements are getting stricter and stricter each year. For example, when I applied for my certificate in 2001, I was not required to submit English test results. Neither was I required to present a specific certificate in TESL training, let alone 250 hours of it. In addition, the requirements for membersí re-certification are becoming more clearly defined.

This standard-setting practice and the increased need for credentials is a reflection of more widespread tendencies in education in general. As a direct result of the October 1998 decision, educational institutions training future ESL teachers will have to be officially recognized by TESL Ontario. A number of specific requirements in terms of curriculum highlights, number of training hours and years in operation have been established. Consequently, it seems as if TESL Ontario is becoming more of a professional organization. As such, it will be able to lobby for better benefits and compensation for its members. Today, some holders of the TESL Ontario Certificate make as much money an hour as sales clerks do. However, if TESL Ontario raises standards and requires its members to live up to its certification standards, a natural consequence would be higher professional and financial benefits.

Last but not least, because TESL Ontario is part of a bigger net of affiliated organizations (Teachers of English to Students of Other Languages, or TESL), it is a clog in a more complicated machine, and reflects global trends towards equivalency, standardization and uniformity. With the immigration population growing every year in Ontario, it is reasonable to expect that the field of ESL will be growing considerably in the near future. In order to ensure that ESL teachers are properly trained and deliver quality education, the need for higher and uniform standards is indeed justified. The October 1998 decision to establish and implement standards for certification will have ripple effect on many ESL years to come.


Poonwassie, Deo, and Anne Poonwassie (eds.) 2001. Fundamentals of Adult Education. Thompson Publishing, Toronto.

Sanaoui, R. 1997. Directory of ESL teacher preparation programs in Ontario. Toronto: TESL Ontario


Prepared by Agnes Dworakowska, OISE/UT, 2004

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