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ESL Teacher Career Guide

How to Become an ESL Teacher

ESL (English as a Second Language) teachers teach English to students who have little to no exposure to the language in their homes. Around 372 million people speak English as their first language, and 611 million people speak English as a second language. Additionally, English is spoken in 146 countries, making it one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. 

ESL teachers help students excel by teaching them how to speak English in a fully immersive environment. ESL teachers are one of the most in-demand teaching positions due to the high number of students wanting to learn English. 

This guide will teach you how to begin the necessary steps to become an ESL teacher.

 

Demonstration Teacher and Host Teacher

What Is an ESL Teacher?

ESL teachers create lessons and plan activities for students who don’t speak English as their first language. They may teach English online or in-person and can work in public or private schools. Although slightly different, ESL is often interchanged with EFL; here’s the difference between the two acronyms: 

  • English as a Second Language (ESL): ESL teachers (or TSL, Teaching English as Second Language) instruct students who live in a country where English is spoken regularly; however, the student usually doesn’t have much exposure to English inside the home. These students need to learn English to go to school or work. 
  • English Language Learners (ELL): ELL teachers refer to those who instruct English Language Learners, or students who are working to learn English along with other subjects in the school day.

In many instances, ESL and ELL are used interchangeably, even though there may be some differences in certification and license.

Most ESL instructors teach students who have little to no exposure to English in their homes. The teacher acts as the students’ primary exposure to English and teaches them to speak, read, write, and understand English. 

ESL teachers do not have to be bilingual. Many ESL classes focus on a classroom technique called “full immersion.” Experts argue that fully immersing the students in English helps them decipher grammar and understand the language faster.

What Does an ESL Teacher Do?

ESL teachers are dedicated teaching professionals who provide instruction to meet the language needs of the students. Some of the most common daily responsibilities include: 

  • Organizing coursework and learning materials for students. 
  • Grading and assessing students' progress. 
  • Addressing all aspects of communication in English.
  • Encouraging students to speak English during class. 
  • Conducting oral tests and presentations.
  • Managing allotted time to maximize student learning.
  • Creating an encouraging and pleasant learning environment.
  • Following national and regional policies for ESL. 

ESL teacher responsibilities may change depending on the students’ needs. Some students may require individual instruction to pass language assessments. 

Where Do ESL Teachers Work?

ESL teachers can work with students in person or from a remote location. They provide essential services to students from across the world. Some of the most common institutions for ESL teachers to work include: 

  • Public primary and secondary schools: ESL teachers may work in public schools to help those who don’t speak English learn the language faster. 
  • Private primary and secondary schools: Some private schools may offer ESL classes to children who are learning English as a second language. 
  • Private tutoring companies: There are dozens of private tutoring companies that hire ESL teachers. These companies exist in-person and online through remote teleconferencing. 
  • International organizations: International organizations often offer EFL classes; however, some may hire ESL teachers.
  • International universities: An international university often sees a variety of individuals who speak a wide number of languages. Offering ESL classes helps many new students enter English-based classes. 

Those interested in ESL teaching positions should be able to find a position in any of the listed institutions and organizations. 

In some cases, ESL teachers may teach private lessons from their home or visit the home of the student. These teachers often use social media and job boards to offer private tutoring and are not affiliated with an organization. 


What Education Does an ESL Teacher Need?

To become an ESL teacher, applicants need to have at least a bachelor’s degree. A bachelor’s degree that licenses a student to teach is key to move forward into an ELL or ESL classroom. They do not have to be bilingual in a second language, though it may help communicate with students with very little English exposure; however, knowing a second language isn’t required. 

Those who have previously taught in the classroom can get further education with a Master of Arts ESL degree or an ESL/ELL certification that will enable them to be licensed for ESL classrooms. 

English Language Learning (PreK–12) – M.A.

An online master's degree for current teachers whose next career...

An online master's degree for current teachers...

An online master's degree for current teachers whose next career goal includes a focus on teaching in ELL or ESL settings.

  • Time: 62% of grads earned this degree within 18 months.
  • Tuition and fees: $3,935 per 6-month term.

Coursework in this program includes:

  • Culture
  • Language production, theory, and acquisition
  • Theories of second language acquisition and grammar
  • Planning, implementing, and managing instruction
  • Assessment theory and practice
  • Professional role of the ELL teacher
  • ELL-specific pedagogy
  • Research foundations
  • Other courses, including a field experience in a K–12 classroom that serves English language learners.

Grow your teaching career on a commitment to ensuring language barriers don't become a barrier to learning with this education master's degree.

English Language Learning (PreK–12) Endorsement Preparation Program

An online program for currently licensed elementary and...

An online program for currently licensed...

An online program for currently licensed elementary and secondary school teachers who desire to be licensed to teach in ELL or ESL settings.

Become highly qualified in ELL or ESL, increase your career opportunities, earn re-licensure points, and possibly become eligible for lane changes leading to increased salary.

  • Time: 80% of grads finish within 18 months.
  • Tuition and fees: $3,935 per 6-month term.

Coursework you will complete in this program:

  • Culture
  • Language production, theory, and acquisition
  • Theories of second language acquisition and grammar
  • Planning, implementing, and managing instruction
  • Assessment theory and practice
  • Professional role of the ELL teacher
  • ELL-specific pedagogy
  • Field experience in a K–12 classroom that serves English language learners

Advance your teaching career and help ensure language barriers don't become a barrier to learning.


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English teacher standing in front of students at desks

What Skills Does an ESL Teacher Need?

ESL teachers are patient individuals who enjoy helping others learn valuable skills. By teaching English, ESL teachers help their students excel in their personal relationships, education, and careers.

  • Prior teaching experience: ESL teachers need to have teaching experience (either in a casual or professional setting) to help them meet the needs of their students. 
  • Proficient in English: These teachers must be proficient in English to teach their students how to listen, speak, read, and write in English. 
  • Interpersonal skills: Teachers need to connect with their students to help them excel in and out of the classroom. 
  • Patience: Within a classroom, teachers must have patience. Learning a second language can be difficult, and teachers must have the patience to help struggling students. 
  • Communication skills: When learning a new language, students will need to feel like they can communicate with the teacher, even if they speak different languages at first. 
  • Flexibility: Teachers must remain flexible, both inside and outside of the classroom, to deal with various problems and concerns. 
  • Creativity: Creative teachers who come up with ways to help their students excel will have the most success in their classrooms. 

Teachers should also know about managing a classroom and about cultural awareness.

How Much Does an ESL Teacher Make?

$55,350

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average ESL teacher salary is $55,350 per year. The top 10% of ESL teachers make more than $95,630 per year, and the lowest 10% make less than $32,120 per year. 

Salaries vary based on location, experience, and industry. For example, on the one hand, an ESL teacher working in elementary and secondary schools earns, on average, $61,410 per year. On the other hand, an ESL teacher working in colleges and universities makes an average of $50,720 per year. 

What Is the Job Outlook for an ESL Teacher?

4%

Elementary school teachers and high school teachers are expected to see a 4% growth by the year 2029. This is about as fast as the national average for career growth. Having an ESL or ELL endorsement enables teachers to have additional licenses and credentials that give them more job stability and opportunity. This boost to your résumé can help you be an ideal candidate for a wide variety of teaching jobs.

What Certifications Does an ESL Teacher Need?

Varies

If teaching in the United States, ESL teachers will need to pay close attention to their state’s teaching requirements. Each state requires different teaching certifications to be hired as an ESL teacher. 

Most states require an ESL certification. Those interested in receiving ESL certification can take an ESL certification to learn more about ESL teaching and be prepared for licensure. 

Interested in Becoming an ESL Teacher?

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