How To Become a Spanish Teacher

Have you ever thought about what it takes to become a Spanish teacher? Maybe you were on vacation in Spain or Latin America and the natural beauty of the language struck you. Or perhaps you were inspired by everyday interactions with people in your hometown or at your university. Today, Spanish is the most popular second language learned in the United States. We encounter it every day: at school, in the media, and in the workplace. So it should come as no surprise that being able to teach Spanish is a skill that’s in high demand at all levels.

But where do you start? Do you need a bachelor’s degree? Perhaps it isn’t totally clear to you how to become a Spanish teacher, or where to look for work opportunities once you’ve gotten your credential.

We reached out to Doctor Patricia Dickenson, an Associate Professor of Teacher Education at National University to help answer some of these questions. During her education career, Dr. Dickenson has worked as an elementary and middle school classroom teacher and as a consultant for Princeton Review, Harcourt Mathematics, as well as Edtech companies in the Bay Area.

For the past 18 years, Dr. Dickenson has focused on planning and designing instruction.

As the Program Lead for National’s Multiple and Single Subject Credential, every day she deals with questions about obtaining the right credentials, whether that’s a bachelor’s degrees in Spanish, a teaching credential, or online degrees in general. And she’s positively bullish on the outlook for Spanish teachers, especially in the state of California.

“In California, there’s a lot of opportunity with Prop 58 passing,” she says. “It’s going to give schools the choice in terms of what kind of programs they create. If they want to create a bilingual program that has Spanish and English immersion, they can, or if they want to do a dual language program, they can opt to do that too.”

Nationwide, opportunities for Spanish teachers are rising also. In a recent study, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) stated that many schools do not have dedicated foreign language teachers, creating an opportunity for teachers still in the process of obtaining their credential to teach in the classroom provisionally while they do coursework.

As we discovered talking to Dr. Dickenson, teaching Spanish is not only a career that’s in high demand, it is also one that can be tremendously rewarding for those who choose it.

How to Become a Spanish Teacher and How National University Can Help

National University has a special program that allows teacher candidates to get their bachelor’s degree and teaching credential at the same time, shortening the time it takes to get into the classroom and start teaching.

“Typically, a teacher candidate will get their bachelor’s degree, then after they have their bachelor’s confirmed they start a graduate program,” Dr. Dickenson says. “It can take about four years to get your bachelor’s and then an additional year-and-a-half to two more years to get your credential. National lets you get your bachelor’s degree and your teaching credential all in the same program.” And because classes are offered online, you can take them from your home, your desk at work, or wherever you have access to an internet connection.

National’s program is dedicated to preparing teachers thoroughly for all of the challenges they will face in the classroom and incorporates some important requirements, including:

  • Requiring students to take a set of foundational courses to prepare for working in a large, busy classroom, with students with differing needs.
  • Teaching students how to design learning experiences for students of all abilities, and managing different work streams effectively.
  • Offering students opportunities to teach in classrooms and get hands-on experience putting the skills they’ve learned into practice.

Another key aspect of the credentialing program at National is the use of technology in the classroom. “It’s really exciting to see that the state of California is requiring technology integration to be part of the credentialing program,” Dr. Dickenson says. “There are just a lot of great ways you can integrate technology into the classroom and our program emphasizes that.” 

Another big part of what appeals to potential teacher candidates at National is the strong alumni network of former graduates who often act as mentors and supporters. The National teacher education programis the largest in the state and hasgenerated numerous Teacher of the Year candidates both regionally and statewide. Many alumni have referred candidates into the program. Last year, 90 percent of National’s new teacher candidates came in on referral.

What Characteristics Do You Need in Order to Be a Good Spanish Teacher?

Some of the best Spanish teachers (and teachers in general) come from widely varied backgrounds. With this in mind, National’s program isn’t as limiting as those of other schools and credentialing institutions which require you to have already specialized in the area you want to teach in when you were getting your bachelor’s degree. To illustrate this, Dr. Dickenson uses the example of a teacher candidate who majored in history in college but after spending a year traveling in Costa Rica, fell in love with the Spanish language and decided she wanted to pursue teaching it as a career.

“Our program is flexible,” she says. “If you can demonstrate subject matter knowledge by passing the CSET, we’ll authorize you through our coursework to become a Spanish teacher. Other programs don’t have that flexibility.”

And since Spanish is taught at all levels, from Kindergarten through twelfth grade, National’s curriculum also helps aspiring teachers choose which level they want to teach at. “That’s what really leads to a long-term career in education,” Dr. Dickenson explains. She goes on to point out that secondary students are more autonomous and can have more critical thinking conversations, while younger kids enjoy learning through games and auditory stimulation among other techniques. “It just depends on what age group you want to connect with,” she says.

At National, the curriculum teaches you how to connect with a broad spectrum of students with widely varied learning styles. For example, with younger children, “You might start with basic things, like colors and numbers,” Dr. Dickenson says. “And then try to integrate music and art so that you make it fun and engaging for every student in your classroom.”

What Kinds of Opportunities Are There for Spanish Teachers Both in California and Nationwide?

When you are credentialed as a Spanish teacher, there are a lot of opportunities to work in the State of California and nationwide. Since the passage of Prop 58 in 2016, California schools can now decide which languages their students will be taught in in their classrooms, opening up numerous possibilities and opportunities for Spanish teachers and teachers who can teach other subjects in a bilingual classroom.

Remember, in California, you can work not only as a Spanish teacher but also as a bilingual teacher in schools that are changing their classrooms in order to offer subjects and curriculums in multiple languages. “Typically, Spanish has been taught just in secondary schools. But because of Prop 58 in California, school’s have the choice about what kinds of programs they create,” explains Dr. Dickenson. “If a school wants to create a program where students have part of the day in English and part of the day in Spanish, they can do that.”

Nationally, the number of opportunities are growing also. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of high school teachers, including Spanish teachers, is projected to grow 8 percent from 2016 to 2026 with a median wage of $59,170. (In 2017, the median salary for secondary school teachers stood at around $77,390 in California.) The study goes on to note that many schools are reporting that they are having trouble filling teaching positions for certain subjects, including English as a second language, and that teachers with education in those subjects and certifications will have better job prospects. “Rising student enrollment should increase demand for high school teachers,” according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. “But that employment growth will vary by region.”

While the classroom is the most popular employment destination for Spanish teachers, those with a Spanish-language degree and fluency in the language can also work in translation, the legal profession, social work, media, and communications, politics, and military and government jobs.

If You Become a Spanish Teacher, What Challenges Will You Face?

Depending on where you wind up working and what sorts of student populations you teach, you can expect to face a number of challenges. Dr. Dickenson faced extreme poverty at one of the first schools she taught at. “When I started teaching I was working in South LA,” she says. “It was a high poverty, high needs school with 99% of the students on a free and reduced lunch which means that their families were living below the poverty line.”  Teacher candidates who work in affluent also face their own set of challenges including social anxiety and competition, pressure from parents, and pressure to achieve high test scores.

According to Dr. Dickenson, flexibility, personal reflection, and a strong desire to make strong connections will result in a rewarding career path. “It’s a profession where you’re constantly growing and reflecting,” she says. “That’s definitely embedded in our program at National, the ability to reflect on what you did and what you can do better and how you can make connections with your students and have a more meaningful practice.”

The general population in the state of California, and nationally, is extremely diverse and growing more and more diverse by the day. Students with special needs are integrated into many classrooms; many students are not native English speakers and students may come from varying socio-economic backgrounds and have behavioral issues that require different approaches to learning than their classmates. “Teachers need to know how to take a concept that they’re trying to teach and present it in multiple ways, so that the students have access to the subject and have the opportunity to make personal connections with what you’re teaching,” says Dr. Dickenson.

What Is Rewarding About the Profession?

The teaching profession, and teaching Spanish in particular, can be incredibly rewarding both personally and professionally. What could be more rewarding than seeing an individual grow over time and fulfill their potential as a direct result of the skills you help them achieve? Naturally, the rewards of being a Spanish teacher vary along with the challenges you face and where you decide to work, but generally speaking, it’s a profession that can change lives.

A Chance to Reflect

Teaching Spanish or teaching in a bilingual classroom, whether it’s in California or another state, will require you to constantly be growing and reflecting on your experiences both inside and outside of the classroom. “There’s a lot of research to show that teacher reflection is critical to growing and staying in this profession,” Dr. Dickenson says. This idea is embedded into National’s curriculum where students are taught to constantly reflect on what has worked and what hasn’t in their lesson plans and to evolve to meet their student’s needs.

An Opportunity to Make Personal Connections

Dr. Dickenson believes that a rewarding career begins with the connection you make with your students and the connection that you help them make with the subject matter. These connections help students see how what they learn can impact their relationships and other areas in their lives. “We have a strong component on social-emotional learning,” she says. “So that aspect on how you build student relationships, how you support students in developing social and interactive skills and how you can help them thrive in a school environment, is central to what we’re trying to do.”

How Does the BA in Spanish Program Relate to the Inspired Teaching and Learning Preliminary Single Subject Teaching Credential (California)?

The Inspired Teaching and Learning with a Single Subject Teaching Credential is a program that National offers for students who want to become the kind of teacher their students will talk about for years. If you watched Dead Poets Society or Stand and Deliver and thought, “I could be a teacher like that!” then this might be the program for you.

All Single Subject candidates take the following courses:

Each of these courses focuses on teaching academic language and designing instruction for a specific discipline. Candidates do not take specific methodology in their subject area. The emphasis in the program is on instructional design through the lens of universal design for learning. 

The program provides the necessary skills to give academic instruction to your students and empower them beyond the classroom. You will learn how to create a classroom environment that is an equitable, inclusive community, that fosters emotional support, and that helps students develop social-emotional skills that will affect them far into their adult years.

Do I Still Have to Take the CSET If I Get My Credential at National?

The CSET (California Subject Examination for Teachers) is a test that teachers completing a credential in the State of California are required to take. Teacher candidates who pursue a single subject credential in Math or English through National will have met the California Commission of Teaching Credential requirements for subject matter competence. For all other subject areas including science, multiple subject, languages and physical education, they will have to demonstrate subject matter competence by taking the CSET.

How Is Getting Credentialed Nationally Different Than Getting Credentialed in the State of California?

Getting licensed to teach any subject in a public K-12 classroom varies from state to state, private schools typically do not require licensure. 

Outside of California, licensure requirements include but are not necessarily limited to:

  • Completion of a bachelor’s degree.
  • Completion of a teacher education program.
  • Passing of a state-specific licensing exam.
  • Passing of a criminal background check.

Some states require a special license or endorsement in order to teach Spanish, such as a proficiency test, and some states go so far as to require a master’s degree.

So, Is Becoming a Spanish Teacher Right for Me?

There are many reasons why an individual can be inspired to become a Spanish teacher — from a chance encounter while traveling, to running into someone at your local market that you wanted to better communicate with, to wanting to help bilingual children learn at the same pace and feel just as included as children who are native English speakers.

Veteran-founded, non-profit and fully accredited, National University is officially designated as a Hispanic-serving institution. Students from all 50 states and 65 countries participate in our educational programs, making National a truly global learning environment.

National is home to many future educators; we are a leader in credentialing California teachers, accredited by the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) and the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE). Numerous NU alumni have been recognized as district and state Teacher of the Year. If becoming a Spanish teacher is your passion, National University’s programs can help you achieve your goal. If you are interested in learning more about how to become a Spanish teacher, please visit our program page. You can also find more information about education, teaching techniques, and other educational resources on Dr. Dickenson’s blog.