ESL (English Second Language): Adult Education for ESL Teachers

An education or certification in English as a second language could land you a job teaching in a school, college, university or even overseas. The educational requirements for these jobs vary. Read on to find out what kinds of ESL programs are available and to get career prospect information.

Education Options

There are a variety of educational paths in ESL teaching, and your desired career determines the type of credential you'll need. For example, you'll need to become certified as a teacher to teach ESL to elementary or secondary school students, while a bachelor's degree can suffice for teaching adult learners. A graduate degree is needed to teach ESL at the college level, while you might only need to complete a short certificate program to teach students abroad.

Teaching Elementary or Secondary School Students

In order to teach ESL at the elementary, middle or high school level you will need a background in education sufficient to earn teacher certification in your state, then you will also need additional coursework in the area of second language learning (as well as some coursework in bilingualism and biculturalism) in order to earn endorsement in ESL.

There are bachelor's degree programs available that help students with teacher certification for a particular grade level, such as early childhood education or elementary education. Students in these programs take professional education courses in subject areas like mathematics, science, social studies, language arts, student assessment, reading instruction and second language teaching. Some ESL concentration requirements may include courses in special education, diversity, children's literature, second language literacy, language acquisition and the structure of the English language. Student teaching is also required.

Teaching Adult Learners

To teach ESL at the adult education level you should have at least a bachelor's degree in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) or Teaching English for Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). You could also hold a bachelor's in English, linguistics or a related subject with a TESL certificate.

Teaching College or University Students

ESL instructors at the college or university level will need at least a master's degree in TESL or TESOL, although a PhD is preferred for instruction at an advanced level. Such instruction might occur when working with students from other countries whose English may be fluent but who may be struggling with terminology particular to the subject they are studying. Some schools offer ESOL master's programs with a concentration in adult education, and online study is possible.

Students in a master's program often complete field experiences and study topics that include TESOL pedagogy, ESL instruction, assessment, literacy, linguistics, reading and multicultural education. PhD programs usually require that students know a second language themselves. Courses in a PhD program may include quantitative and qualitative research, ESL studies, curriculum design, world English and language testing.

Teaching Abroad

If you think you would like to travel the world, a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) or TESOL certificate will allow you to do just that. You can even study abroad to receive your internationally recognized TEFL or TESOL certificate - programs are offered in such locations as the Philippines, India, Thailand, Vietnam, France, Spain, Italy, Argentina, and Costa Rica. You can earn your certificate, and then stay in-country (or travel to a new one) to start your new career right away.

Career Information

Overall, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects ESL teachers at the elementary school, middle school and high school levels to have good job prospects between 2012 and 2022 ( This is because these positions can be hard to fill. The BLS expects elementary and middle school teachers to have about average 12% job growth, while high school teachers will have slower-than-average job growth at a rate of 6%. Additionally, the BLS expects adult literacy and high school equivalency diploma teachers to have about average 9% job growth, while postsecondary teachers of the English language and literature will experience 12% job growth.

According to, most elementary teachers with ESL certification earned between $34,095 and $65,876 a year in May 2014, while most middle school teachers made between $24,378 and $83,191. Most high school teachers with ESL certification were paid between $35,479 and $69,043. ESL teachers in general typically made between $24,242 and $57,459 a year. The BLS also reported in May 2013 that most postsecondary English language and literature teachers made between $32,610 and $116,460 annually.

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