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Online Degrees

Part of Western Governors University

October 30, 2020

Teaching & Education

How to become an English teacher.

English teacher standing in front of students at desks

Do you love reading, creative writing, and English literature? Would you like to share your passion for the language arts and make a real difference in the lives of students all around you? Now is the perfect time to become an English teacher!

The demand for licensed teachers is at an all-time high, and there are many subject areas that you can choose from. Whether you’re interested in teaching middle school, high school, or post-secondary English, use this guide to learn how to become a successful English teacher. 

You will get insight into the job description of an English teacher, along with education requirements, certifications, requirements for unique age groups of students, and more. You’ll even find detailed English teacher salary and job outlook information. Everything you need to know to pursue the job of your dreams. Let’s get started!

What does an English teacher do?

At the most basic level, English teachers develop their students’ written and verbal communication abilities, covering reading and listening comprehension, critical thinking, language, and problem-solving. These are essential academic skills for your students’ success, regardless of what profession they choose in their future, which is why the role of an English teacher is so important.

Depending on what age group of children you’d like to work with, there are three areas where you can teach English: middle school, high school, and post-secondary. Middle school and high school are often grouped together as "secondary" learning. This is because it comes after elementary education, and is known as the secondary classroom. This then leads students to "post-secondary" education after they graduate from high school. Many teaching certifications reference secondary licensure, which means middle school, junior high, or high school teaching. Let’s review the common activities for each grade level.

Middle school English.

As a middle school English teacher, you’ll enter your students’ lives during a highly impressionable time (ages 11–13) when fitting in is paramount. So not only will your class help students learn the foundations of the English language, but it will also help them learn how to better express themselves and relate to others.

Some of the foundational academic areas you will teach include:

  • Vocabulary

  • Punctuation

  • Sentence and paragraph writing structure

  • Basic essay formulas

  • Writing for different audiences and voices

  • Research methods and presentation skills

You’ll also work on your students’ listening skills, helping them derive meaning from language, both written and verbal communication. And you’ll help them cultivate basic speaking skills, including voice inflection, word choice, and content.

Comprehension is another area of focus for middle school English teachers. You’ll help students not just read but actually understand the text’s content and meaning. This is a crucial part of really understanding a language. And you’ll show them how to apply logic to their reading, writing, and research—which helps develop both their communication and critical-thinking skills.  

High school English.

Even though most high school students (ages 14–18) already know how to speak, read, and write, there’s still a lot that high school English teachers can teach them. Students will learn how to apply the English language for improved communications and comprehension. They’ll also learn both the nuances and power of effective communication—how to be subtle and specific, persuasive and adaptive.

As a high school English teacher, you’ll teach:

  • Advanced foundations—covering grammar, punctuation, syntax, sentence and paragraph structure, and thought organization.
  • Analytical writing—how to produce clear and coherent text that’s appropriate for various audiences, including writing informative and explanatory texts, presenting and supporting claims to analyze substantive topics, and writing or interpreting narratives that relate to the student’s experience.
  • Writing organization and editing—how to sort and select information, organize ideas to meet communication goals, and plan, write, edit, and revise presentations for clearer, more powerful communications.

Of course, most advanced grammar and writing skills are best taught within the context of reading. So the bulk of a high school English teacher’s time is spent covering reading, reading comprehension, and analysis of fictional and non-fictional literature or poetry, as well as grading students’ essays.

What makes being a high school English teacher so rewarding is that the skills they teach directly prepare their students for college. Regardless of their major, the ability to read, write, and communicate effectively makes the difference between post-secondary success or failure.

College and post-secondary English.

As a post-secondary English teacher, you’ll have the most flexibility as to what you teach, choosing to specialize in one of a variety of related subjects, including:

  • English literature
  • Comparative literature
  • Rhetoric and composition
  • Journalism
  • Poetry
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • English studies
  • Media studies
  • Communications
  • Publishing
  • Playwriting and screenwriting
  • Public speaking

Post-secondary teachers can work for community colleges, colleges, and universities, and typically start as adjunct professors, which requires only a graduate degree. Whatever organization you choose to teach in, all positions involve:

  • Forming lesson plans.
  • Presenting materials to students.
  • Responding to students’ learning needs.
  • Evaluating students’ progress.
Teacher in front of white board

How much does an English teacher make?

As a teacher, you’ll earn the same as your colleagues regardless of what discipline you instruct, such as English. Where salaries differ, however, is at what level you teach. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

  • Post-secondary teachers earn the most, with a median yearly salary of $79,540.
  • Middle school and high school (secondary education) teachers earn nearly the same annual average pay at $59,660 and $61,660 respectively.

It’s important to note that at every level, there’s a wide range of what a teacher earns. And this largely depends on their education, years of experience, and school type or location. For example, middle and high school teachers can increase their annual pay by $8,000 (or more) by earning a master’s degree. They can also raise their yearly salary by $10,000 or even $20,000 (or more) depending on how many years of service they have within their school districts.

Post-secondary teachers typically earn less than their colleagues until they reach tenure, and then they can earn well into the six figures. Again, this is based on how many years they’ve worked as a college professor and on the assumption that they’ve earned a doctoral degree.

Where you choose to work can significantly impact your pay, too. Some states pay public school teachers more than others and some counties, cities, and districts within these states vary widely in their compensation. Additionally, whether you work for a public or private institution will affect your English teacher salary. So it’s important to do your homework before entering the job market.

English teacher career outlook.

The job outlook for all teachers is good. Again, post-secondary educators have the edge with a 9% projected job growth rate over the next 10 years. This is much faster than the averages for all other occupations.

Middle and high school teaching jobs are expected to rise by 4% because experts predict a steady increase in the number of students enrolling in public schools over the next decade. Thus, the number of classes needed to accommodate these students—and the number of teachers required to instruct them—is likely to rise.

Of course, your state’s budget ultimately influences how many new teaching positions will be created. But now is an opportune time to become a teacher because many are retiring or exiting the profession. Also, holding an advanced degree in English, literature, or a related subject can help you stay competitive in the future job market.

Common traits and essential skills for English teachers.

Patience is probably the number one trait for English teachers since you’ll be working with both children and adults, all with varying personalities, behaviors, and learning aptitudes. In addition to being patient, top educators are:

  • Flexible
  • Organized
  • Creative
  • Intuitive
  • Well-spoken
  • Collaborative
  • Adaptive
  • Results-oriented
  • Confident

Essential skills that can help your English teaching career include:

  • Time management—you’ll need to juggle multiple projects and turn in grades by set deadlines.
  • Leadership—you’ll need to know how to motivate people and keep them on track.
  • Critical thinking—you’ll need to be able to solve problems quickly.
  • Computers and technology—you’ll need to be able to use spreadsheets, create PowerPoints, teach classes online, and probably navigate a learning management platform.

As an English teacher, having a good sense of humor can go a long way in making your job more enjoyable and building rapport with your students. You should try to make your lessons relatable and fun and not be afraid to have a laugh with your kids along the way. The happier your students are in the classroom, the more open they’ll be to learning—and loving—English.

How do I become an English teacher?

To become a qualified English teacher, you’ll need to complete the following four steps:

  1. Get your bachelor’s degree in English.

  2. Complete your student teaching internship in English or another related subject that you prefer, like literature or reading.

  3. Take and pass your state’s teacher certification test(s), such as the PRAXIS. You may also need to complete a criminal background check.

  4. Apply for your teaching license. Note: some states will allow you to apply for your license after you’ve already gained employment if the school year is starting soon or has already begun. It's important to research certification requirements in your state.

After you become a teacher, there are several ways to continue your education, raise your salary, and advance your career, such as getting your National Board Certification or earning a master’s degree.

Bachelor’s degree in English.

To pursue a job in teaching, you must earn a bachelor’s degree. Although an English degree or related coursework is required in some states, other states allow you to teach any subject, as long as you pass its PRAXIS exam.

One route that many aspiring teachers are taking, especially during the pandemic, is to earn their teaching degrees online. Not all online programs are alike, however. To get a teaching degree that employers will respect, you must make sure that your program:

  • Is fully accredited with degree recognition in all 50 states.
  • Includes a teacher preparation program—with classroom management and teaching strategies courses, plus student teaching experience.
  • Prepares you to pass state certifications and licensure requirements.

WGU has offered many different teaching degrees online for nearly two decades and meets all of these criteria, including AAQEP and CAEP accreditation—the gold standard of excellence. Thanks to its competency-based education model, WGU is also an excellent choice if you’re looking to work full time while earning your degree or finish your teaching degree faster.

Master’s degree in English.

You can also get your master’s degree online for teaching English. This can help you:

  • Be a more desirable candidate in highly competitive school districts.
  • Earn a significant raise in pay.
  • Become a lead teacher in your English department.
  • Avoid layoffs due to state budget cuts.

Again, you’ll want to look for a degree program that is accredited and one that meets student teaching requirements and prepares you for state certification exams and licensure (if you’re not already an English teacher).

If you’d like to become an English professor, earning your master’s degree is a must. This will help you land a teaching position at a community college or an adjunct or associate teaching role at a university.

While in school, you should participate in any internships or employment opportunities that can enhance your teaching and research experience. This will improve your odds of getting the job that you want. And you’ll need to eventually earn your Ph.D. if you want to advance your career as a professor at a four-year college or university.

With the ability to earn your degree online, at home, and on your schedule, following your dreams of becoming an English teacher is definitely within reach! You can use your passion for the written and spoken word to make a big impact on our kids’ lives—and our nation’s future. Now’s the time to begin.

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