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Sign Language Teacher: Education, Salary and Career Info

Sign Language teachers teach American sign language (ASL) as a 'foreign language' to students ranging in age from early childhood to adulthood. Typical requirements for public school teachers include sound knowledge in their subject areas and bachelor's degrees.

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Sign Language Teacher Education

Education requirements for ASL teachers vary based on the level at which they intend to teach. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that teachers working at the college level typically need master's degrees or higher, while those who teach in K-12 public school settings typically need bachelor's degrees and must meet state licensure requirements (www.bls.gov). The American Sign Language Teachers Association (ASLTA) reports that courses in pedagogy and linguistics, second language learning and ASL are required in some cases (www.aslta.org).

ASL teachers who need to earn licensure must demonstrate sign language proficiency. The evidence required to demonstrate proficiency varies by state. Applicants for ASL teaching positions may be asked to show completion of relevant coursework, certification from an organization like the ASLTA or scores from the American Sign Language Proficiency Interview.

Bachelor's Degrees

Individuals who are already proficient in ASL and have four-year degrees in other fields may be able to qualify for sign language teaching positions in some public schools without additional education. However, aspiring sign language teachers who are not proficient will need to boost their skills by enrolling in sign language courses.

Bachelor's degree programs in ASL, sign language teaching and deaf education can all help students develop proficiency. However, deaf education degree programs are primarily designed to prepare graduates to work with deaf students, and do not necessarily provide intensive training in ASL or second language teaching techniques. For ASLTA certification, the coursework requirement can be met by classes in areas like these:

  • Second language teaching
  • ASL teaching theory and methods
  • Linguistics and evaluation
  • Deaf culture

Master's Degrees

Completing master's degree programs in sign language teaching or deaf education can help sign language teachers qualify for jobs at community colleges and universities. Some universities also offer master's degrees in education with concentrations in ASL interpreting or deaf studies. As with bachelor's degree programs, it is important for students to confirm that the master's degree programs they are considering will provide them with sign language and teaching skills that are appropriate for their career goals, since not all degree programs provide comprehensive ASL instruction.

Sign Language Teacher Salary Information

Teacher salaries vary by grade level. Teachers at the secondary level earned a median salary of $55,050 as of May 2012, the BLS reports. Foreign language teachers in colleges and universities, a category that includes those who teach ASL as a foreign language, earned a median wage of $58,670 as of May 2012. Salary varied by industry. Teachers employed by junior colleges earned the most, with a mean annual wage of $76,630.

Career Information for Sign Language Teachers

In addition to meeting state licensure requirements, sign language teachers may also seek certification from the ASLTA. This certification is required for K-12 ASL teachers in some states. To earn provisional certification, applicants must submit portfolios documenting teaching experience and videos that demonstrate both teaching ability and ASL competence.

At the qualified level of ASLTA certification, applicants must document 150 hours of relevant coursework and 240 paid hours of ASL teaching experience. They must also hold associate's degrees or higher and pass written exams. Professional-level certification requires at least a bachelor's degree, as well as an additional 240 hours of teaching experience in ASL or a related area. An interview is also required. In some cases, extensive ASL teaching experience may be substituted for the degree requirement.

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