Is an Effective Teacher Effective for all Students?

Just a little while ago, we shared findings from a Gates Foundation study which stated that teachers have the biggest influence on student academic achievement. The study answered a big question that is on every parent’s, teacher’s, and administrator’s mind, and the results led us to ask ourselves another question. Is an effective teacher, without ESL certification, just as effective with her ELL students as with her native English speaking students? Or is good teaching not enough to close the linguistic gap?

Stanford University recently conducted a study in Florida schools to answer these questions, questions that grow increasingly important as the English language learner population continues to grow. The results surprised us: an effective teacher, even without ESL training, will be effective with ELL students. But before you start writing off ESL programs and certifications, wait a bit more: if an effective teacher speaks the student’s native language and/or has ESL certification or training, she will have the most success teaching ELLs.

Despite what this study and others show, only about 20 states require that ELL educators hold a certification or endorsement, leaving many educators feeling unprepared.

For those who have unexpectedly received a couple tier one or two ELLs and are not quite sure what the first step is, here are a few tips from a Harvard University study to guide you in the right direction.

Your Main Goal is “Robust Literacy Instruction.”

“Robust literacy instruction” entails explicit, systematic instruction in

Your Priorities as a Teacher of Tier 1 ELL Students

  • Oral language development

  • Writing skills development

  • Word reading and spelling skills

  • Reading fluency and ease

  • Content-based reading comprehension instruction

Make Every Lesson a Literacy-Focused Lesson


  • Discuss topics in class to build knowledge

  • Analyze ideas during conversations

  • Build up a vocabulary to navigate conflict.


  • Read and listen to many genres of books

  • Always have a purpose when you read

  • Write reading responses

In short, if you’re thinking about completing some form of ESL certification, it’s worth it. Regardless of the years of experience you have and the effectiveness of your teaching, ESL training prepares you to be the most effective teacher possible for ELLs. You will better understand your students’ cultural and linguistic backgrounds and that will help you develop a clear set of expectations for them.