national
Skip to content Skip to Live Chat
Close Nav

Online Degrees

Part of Western Governors University

English Teacher Career Guide

How to Become an English Teacher

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!

English teacher standing in front of students at desks

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.

Grade Levels

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.  

 

A high school teacher selects a student with their hands raised.

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.

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.
“After graduating from WGU, and through all the rigor and quality of instruction that I received in the educational field, I was awarded Hawaii District Teacher of the Year in 2012.” Amoreena Nestman
M.A. Teaching – Elementary Education

What Education Does an English Teacher Need?

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 Teaching

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.

Master's Degree in English Teaching

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.

Best Degrees for English Teaching

Teaching, English Education (Secondary) – M.A.

An online teaching master's degree and teacher certification...

An online teaching master's degree and teacher...

An online teaching master's degree and teacher certification program for aspiring middle or high school English teachers who already have a bachelor's degree in a non-teaching field.

Leads to teacher licensure. Specific grade levels will vary depending on licensure in your state.

  • Time: 74% of graduates finish this online English degree program within 18 months.
  • Tuition and fees: $3,685 per 6-month term.

Candidates for this high school English teaching program often include:

  • Aspiring junior high and high school English teachers who currently hold a bachelor's degree but lack a teaching license
  • Substitute teachers
  • Career-changers with a passion for English
  • School paraprofessionals
  • Others who feel the call to teach

This secondary English MAT program includes courses in the foundations of teaching, instructional planning and presentation, English content, research, and pedagogy. It requires in-classroom observation and a term of full-time demonstration teaching. This online English degree prepares students for teaching certification in any of the 50 states.


Next Start Date

Start the 1st of any month—as soon as you complete enrollment!

Apply Today

Our online university degree programs start on the first of every month, all year long.

No need to wait for spring or fall semester. It's back-to-school time at WGU year-round. Get started by talking to an Enrollment Counselor today, and you'll be on your way to realizing your dream of a bachelor's or master's degree—sooner than you might think!

Learn about online college admissions at WGU.


How Do I Become a Licensed English Teacher?

Each state will have unique requirements on the path to becoming a licensed teacher, so it's important to research and work with your state Board of Education in order to understand the requirements. For most states, you will need at least a bachelor's degree or a master's degree in the education field of your specialty. You will need in-classroom experience, to pass a background check, and to pass licensing exams in order to be certified.

Edited Book Stack

What Skills Does an English Teacher Need?

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.
  • A good sense of humor—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. 

How much does an English teacher make?

$61,000

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.

What is the job outlook for English teachers?

4%

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.

Do I have to have a license to become a teacher?

Yes

In order to teach in public schools in every state you will have to be a licensed teacher. Additionally in most private schools you will also need a license in order to be in the classroom. This is to protect students and ensure the educators they interact with are qualified and safe. Background checks and licensing tests ensure that teachers who are licensed are credentialed and acceptable for teaching. 

Interested in becoming an English teacher?

Learn more about degree programs that can prepare you for this meaningful career.

View degree programs