ESL Teacher - Education Requirements for Teaching ESL Classes

Sep 26, 2019

Teaching English as a second language can be rewarding for someone with patience, a high degree of cultural sensitivity, and a knack for teaching. A bachelor's degree is often required, as is licensure, for which requirements vary by state. Job growth should be as fast as average in the coming decade.

Essential Information

English as a second language (ESL) teachers are instrumental in helping immigrants learn how to speak, write and read English in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and other English-speaking nations. Education and licensure requirements vary from country to country, but in the United States, a bachelor's degree and teacher licensure is typically required. Many ESL teachers choose to further their education and earn a master's degree.

Required Education Bachelor's or master's degree
Licensure State teacher license required to teach in public school districts in the U.S.
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028) 10% decline for adult basic and secondary education literacy teachers*
Average Salary (2018) $58,110 annually for adult basic and secondary education literacy teachers*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Education Requirements for ESL Teachers

ESL teacher requirements vary from one state to the next. General teaching skills are needed to effectively run classes, plan relevant lessons and assign meaningful homework. In addition, ESL teachers must know how to work with K-12 students or adults who are learning English for the first time. While they may have a mastery of their own languages, ESL students are new to English, including its grammar rules, pronunciation and word meanings. Thus, the ESL teacher must be able to adapt instructional techniques and find creative ways to interpret information to meet the students' diverse needs.

Preparation for the job involves completing coursework for a bachelor's or master's degree. In addition to learning how to run a class, the teacher-in-training learns how to use a variety of computer software tools. Training also involves learning about different cultures and mastering the best teaching methods for English learners. Coursework for a teaching English as a second language major may include applied linguistics and intercultural communication, as well as a semester of student teaching.


After college graduation, most states require that ESL teaching candidates obtain teaching licenses for jobs in public programs. Private schools may have different licensing requirements. Some states require a specific adult-education license.

Continuing Education

An ESL teacher with a bachelor's degree may decide to obtain a master's degree to open up greater job prospects. Additionally, many programs require teachers to continue their professional development through classes and workshops in order to stay current on the best teaching practices. Some of these continuing education programs are available online.

Teaching ESL Classes

An ESL teacher's classroom may be in a traditional school setting, or they may be in community centers or night-school locations. The job may be a full-time or part-time position and may offer benefits. Often, students are adults who need to develop basic English conversational skills to communicate at work and in other real-life situations. In some ESL adult-education programs, the teacher also serves as a community resource, helping students connect with job-placement firms or healthcare centers.

Career Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that adult literacy and GED teaching jobs were predicted to decrease 10% from 2018-2028. Since immigration was expected to rise during that decade, ESL teachers should be in greater demand. The BLS stated that adult basic and secondary education literacy teachers made an average salary of $58,110 per year as of May 2018.

To summarize, teaching English as a second language involves instructing students whose first language is not English, and usually requires a minimum of a bachelor's degree. These teachers can work in any type of school setting, including as a private tutor. The position requires patience, creativity, and excellent communication skills.

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