Deaf woman and child learn sign language
Teaching Careers and Professional Development Updated September 1, 2020

American Sign Language Teacher: Job, Education and Salary Information

By Robbie Bruens

If you enjoy helping people who are deaf or hard of hearing, becoming an American Sign Language (ASL) teacher can be an excellent career choice.

ASL teachers specialize in the primary language of the deaf in North America. They help deaf and hearing people integrate in a shared culture and society, and they give deaf students a chance to learn subjects that might otherwise be taught only in spoken language.

This guide will provide an overview of what it takes to become an ASL teacher, including the prerequisite education, likely income, and advantages and disadvantages of this career. Browse through the article or use the following links to skip forward to what you’re looking for:

At-a-glance
> ASL teacher job description
> Who makes a good ASL teacher?

Types of ASL teachers
> ASL teachers for hearing students
> ASL teachers for deaf students and their parents
> ASL classroom interpreters

Professional development
> Continuing education

Related careers
> Jobs beyond teaching

Best of the web
> Sites and Twitter handles to follow

At-a-glance: ASL teachers

ASL teachers for hearing students ASL teachers for deaf students and their parents ASL classroom interpreters
Minimum education Bachelor’s degree; master’s preferred Bachelor’s degree Bachelor’s degree
Estimated annual income $61,380 (BLS)
$45,000 to $60,000 (Indiana School for the Deaf)
$44,000 (Indeed.com)
$61,380 (BLS)
$45,00 to $60,000 (Indiana School for the Deaf)
$44,000 (Indeed.com)
$44,190 (BLS)
$48,360 (Sokanu.com)
$41,790 (Glassdoor.com)
$39,000 (Bridgerland Applied Technology College)
$38,599 (PayScale.com)

ASL teacher job description

It’s important to realize that American Sign Language (ASL) is much more than a means to address the communication challenges of deafness. Effective ASL teachers understand that American Sign Language is embedded in the culture of deaf people — just as spoken languages like English and Italian are to their native speakers.

Thus, ASL teachers are much like all language teachers. They play a key role in helping their students fully participate in deaf culture, while enabling communication between deaf and hearing people.

ASL teachers also empower their students to become more independent and to grow socially in the broader tapestry of cultures that make up our world.

ASL teachers carry out crucial functions in the education and social advancement of deaf people. They teach the practical, functional skills needed for fluent use of ASL. And they have an enormous impact on countless lives in diverse ways:

  • Teaching deaf students how to function in a hearing world
  • Helping deaf students become increasingly independent
  • Inspiring deaf students to dream big and to challenge themselves
  • Giving non-deaf students the chance to learn ASL and communicate with the deaf
  • Enabling both deaf and hearing students to use ASL confidently and fluidly

Who makes a good ASL teacher?

Someone who is:

  • Comfortable with the intricacies and subtleties of social interactions
  • Sociable and easy to talk to
  • Patient and resourceful
  • Good at motivating and inspiring students
  • Organized and careful about time management
  • Devoted to learning
  • Service-oriented
  • Thoughtful about interacting with people from diverse backgrounds
  • Able to express ideas precisely in writing and in oral presentations
  • Qualified with a degree in an education-related field

Different types of ASL teachers

The road to becoming an ASL teacher depends on whether you want to primarily teach ASL to deaf students (and their parents) or to hearing students. Another option is to use ASL to help deaf students learn other subjects. Let’s take a look at each career path in more detail.

ASL teachers for hearing people

You will be teaching ASL to people who can hear. This type of ASL teacher is best compared to a foreign language teacher. Hearing people who want to learn ASL will enroll in your class.

Continue reading to learn more about ASL teachers for hearing people

What ASL teachers for hearing people do

You will be responsible for instructing these hearing students in how to use ASL to communicate effectively.

The job duties of ASL teachers for hearing people may include:

  • Leading students through lessons in ASL vocabulary and grammar
  • Teaching students about important ASL concepts such as topicalization, glossing, classifiers and non-manual markers
  • Helping students with in-class ASL practice
  • Assigning ASL practice homework
  • Testing students on their ability to use ASL to communicate effectively
  • Authoring a syllabus and creating lesson plans
  • Enabling students to participate in ASL immersion in the deaf community
  • Keeping current on important developments and changes in the ASL and deaf communities

The popularity of ASL taught as a foreign language to hearing people is growing. Many high schools and colleges now offer ASL classes, so it’s likely you will teach in either a high school or college.

Education and certification requirements

Requirements to become ASL teachers for hearing people depend on employer type. If you work for a high school, you may only need a bachelor’s degree and a teaching credential/license. If you work for a college or university, you may be expected to have a master’s degree or additional advanced education. Having certifications from a respected organization such as the American Sign Language Teachers Association (ASLTA) can help you secure a better ASL teaching job.

Income projections

Take a look at these annual salary estimates for ASL teachers:

  • $61,380 (BLS)
  • $45,000 to $60,000 (Indiana School for the Deaf)
  • $44,000 (Indeed.com)

The BLS estimate averages all salaries for foreign language instructors. The other salary estimates include all types of ASL teachers, both for hearing people and for the deaf and their parents.

Pros and cons of being an ASL teacher for hearing people

It helps to think through the positive and negative aspects of becoming an ASL teacher.

Pros

  • Salary is above U.S. median household income
  • Many full-time jobs come with good benefits
  • Potential to earn job security via tenure
  • Time off for summer and winter vacations
  • Can be very fulfilling to help students learn a new way to communicate

Cons

  • Teaching license may be required for some jobs
  • Master’s degree may be required for some jobs
  • Frequently need to take on additional responsibilities such as learning online class management systems, participating in college faculty committees and going to training workshops

ASL teachers for deaf students and their parents

Deaf children born to deaf parents who already use ASL will begin to acquire ASL naturally in the same way that a hearing child learns spoken language from hearing parents. However, nine out of 10 children who are born deaf have hearing parents.

Continue reading to learn more about ASL teachers for deaf students and their parents

What ASL teachers for deaf students and their parents do

Hearing parents of deaf children with no prior experience with ASL usually must find help to introduce ASL to their deaf children. That’s where ASL teachers for deaf students and their parents come in. Hearing parents who choose to learn ASL often learn it along with their deaf child.

This type of ASL teacher teaches very young deaf children and adult parents with hearing abilities. Their work often resembles private tutors, in that they work with deaf children and their parents in intimate one-on-one settings. In other cases, they may work in classrooms with groups of deaf children and their parents.

Here are some of their main responsibilities:

  • Immersing deaf children in ASL grammar and vocabulary
  • Constantly communicating with deaf children using ASL to answer their questions and just joke around and have fun
  • Teaching hearing parents about deaf culture and important ASL concepts such as topicalization, glossing, classifiers and non-manual markers
  • Integrating hearing parents into the deaf community

Education and certification requirements

You’ll need to earn at least a bachelor’s degree. In some cases, a teaching credential or certification from an organization such as the American Sign Language Teachers Association (ASLTA) may be required. Other employers may expect you to have a master’s degree or additional degrees in ASL, deaf studies or an education-related field.

Income projections

Take a look at these annual salary estimates for ASL teachers:

  • $61,380 (BLS)
  • $45,000 to $60,000 (Indiana School for the Deaf)
  • $44,000.com (Indeed.com)

The BLS estimate averages all salaries for foreign language instructors. The other salary estimates include all types of ASL teachers, both for hearing people and for the deaf and their parents.

Pros and cons of being an ASL teacher for deaf students and their parents

These are the key advantages and disadvantages of becoming an elementary and secondary school ASL teacher:

Pros

  • Intervene very early in the lives of deaf children when your impact will be greatest
  • Help families who need support
  • Bring families together by helping them learn how to communicate and express themselves
  • Self-employment can mean flexibility and ample opportunities for time off

Cons

  • Lower pay than other teachers in some cases
  • Job can be dependent on level of public funding for disabled community
  • May work only for rich families
  • Self-employment can mean pay and work availability can vary

ASL classroom interpreters

Deaf students want to learn math, science, literature, social studies and all the other subjects that hearing students learn. But when these classes are taught in spoken language by hearing teachers, deaf students can participate fully only if they have the help of an ASL classroom interpreter.

Continue reading to learn more about ASL classroom interpreters

What ASL classroom interpreters do

ASL classroom interpreters sit across from a deaf student, or stand in front of the class if there are several deaf students. As the teacher speaks, the ASL classroom interpreter will translate the teacher’s words into ASL signs that the deaf student can understand.

ASL classroom interpreters may help deaf students learn in elementary and secondary schools as well as colleges and universities.

Education and certification requirements

ASL classroom interpreters typically need at least a bachelor’s degree. However, the most essential qualification is a mastery of two languages: spoken English and American Sign Language.

Additional qualifications can be helpful in proving your preparedness for the job. Such qualifications can include certifications from the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf or a master’s degree in an education or ASL-related field.

Income projections

Here are several annual salary estimates for ASL classroom interpreters:

  • BLS: $44,190
  • Sokanu.com: $48,360
  • Glassdoor.com: $41,790
  • Bridgerland Applied Technology College: $39,000
  • PayScale.com: $38,599

Keep in mind some of these projections include income estimates for interpreters of other foreign languages in addition to ASL classroom interpreters.

Pros and cons of being an ASL classroom interpreter

Consider both the advantages and disadvantages of becoming an ASL teacher at a four-year college or university.

Pros

  • Help deaf students learn and integrate into education system
  • Great job opportunities due to a shortage of interpreters for the deaf
  • BLS projects strong job growth of 46 percent over the next 10 years
  • Work in a learning-driven environment
  • Provide services to the disabled
  • Self-employment allows for a great deal of independence

Cons

  • Work requires high degree of concentration and can be mentally exhausting
  • Self-employment can mean pay and work availability will vary
  • Responsible for the accuracy and clarity of all translations
  • Some jobs offer low pay and few benefits

Professional development for ASL teachers

If you are serious about becoming an ASL teacher, you’ll want to start pursuing professional development opportunities. Many universities and colleges offer degree programs in American Sign Language and Deaf Studies.

You may also gain qualified experience as an ASL teacher with the goal of eventually getting a certification from the American Sign Language Teachers Association (ASLTA). The ASLTA also hosts workshops and annual professional development conferences. Look into the American Sign Language Proficiency Interview (ASLPI), a set of standardized tests that measure ASL fluency.

Alternatively, you can pursue certifications from the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf or the National Association of the Deaf. The National Technical Institute for the Deaf also offers seminars and workshops that can help you beef up your skills while making professional connections with other people in the ASL and deaf community.

It generally takes a minimum of five years of intensive language study and immersion to develop advanced levels of proficiency with ASL, so get started as soon as you can.

Benefits of continuing education

To become an ASL teacher at any level, you should seriously consider certification or an advanced degree. Becoming a great ASL teacher requires an advanced level of proficiency with American Sign Language along with great teaching skills. If you already have ASL proficiency, consider pursuing an advanced degree in an education-related field to balance your knowledge with highly effective teaching skills.

Jobs for ASL teachers beyond teaching

With additional education or certification, ASL teachers may become librarians, instructional coordinators, assistant principals, principals or an educational administrator at a college or university.

Librarian: A master’s degree in library science (MLS) is generally required for employment. Some states also require librarians to pass a standardized test.

Instructional coordinator: Instructional coordinators generally need to complete a master’s degree related to a subject like curriculum and instruction, and they may be required to have a teaching or education administrator license.

Academic advisor: With a master’s degree in an education-related field, you can transition into being an academic advisor at either the K-12 or college/university level.

Education consultant: ASL teachers can become education consultants if they want to tackle challenges in a variety of schools and education systems. You’ll probably need an advanced degree in an education-related subject.

Education policy analyst: With an advanced degree in an education-related subject, ASL teachers can become policy analysts and examine big-picture issues affecting education nationwide.

School principal: ASL teachers wishing to become a school principal should seriously consider earning a master’s degree in an education-related field. Most states also require public school principals to be licensed as school administrators.

Educational administrator: Depending upon the position, either a bachelor’s or master’s degree may be required. For a higher-level position such as dean or president, a master’s degree or doctorate in educational leadership may be required.

Best of the web: our favorite ASL teacher blogs and websites

The web makes it easy for us to stay connected to prominent ASL scholars and educators. Here is a list of our favorite websites and Twitter handles, in no particular order.

Favorite ASL educator websites and blogs

Favorite ASL education Twitter handles

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