Becoming an ESL Teacher: Education and Career Roadmap

Research the requirements to become an ESL teacher. Learn about the job description and duties, and read the step-by-step process to start a career in the teaching field. View article »

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  • 0:04 How to Become an ESL Teacher
  • 1:48 Step 1: Research Requirements
  • 2:26 Step 2: Obtain Degree
  • 3:26 Step 3: Obtain Certification
  • 3:56 Step 4: Continue Education

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Video Transcript

How to Become an ESL Teacher

There are several roads an aspiring English as a second language (ESL) teacher can go down, from teaching young people in grades K-12 to teaching adults in literacy programs. In either case, these teachers promote the listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills of English language learners. A great deal of empathy and patience may be required when working with students who could become frustrated when trying to learn a new language. This career may also be quite rewarding when teachers are sometimes able to observe how their efforts make large differences in their students' lives.

Degree Level Bachelor's degree (minimum); master's degree may be required
Degree Field Education, adult education, bilingual education
Licensure/Certification Varies by state; some requirements include passing PRAXIS exams and earning bilingual authorization and Crosscultural, Language, and Academic Development (CLAD) certificates
Key Skills Instructional skills, patience, and cultural sensitivity; computer skills with spreadsheet software, data entry software, educational software, and equipment
Median Salary (2016)* $39,956 (for ESL teachers)

Sources: California Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Commission on Teacher Credentialing, O*NET Online, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, *

Step 1: Research Requirements

The first step toward becoming an ESL teacher is to research the requirements for ESL certification. Depending upon one's chosen ESL career path, individuals should research state requirements as well as ESL teaching requirements set forth by academic institutions. Certification of K-12 public school teachers requires a college education, training, and certification exams. Adult education ESL teachers may teach in colleges or universities. Specific requirements for adult ESL teachers may vary depending on the institution.

Step 2: Obtain Degree

The second step towards becoming an ESL teacher is to obtain a postsecondary degree. Teaching ESL children in grades K-12 requires at least a bachelor's degree in education, along with teacher certification. Teaching English to adults doesn't always require a teaching certificate or education degree. Many ESL teachers of adult learners hold degrees in linguistics or English. Some employers of ESL adult teachers may require applicants to have a master's degree.

Success Tip:

  • Complete a student teaching experience. Many teacher education programs require the completion of a field experience, known as student teaching. This experience can be extremely helpful when students are bridging the gap between being students themselves and becoming the teacher. Individuals who aren't enrolled in a teacher preparation course can gain similar hands-on experience by volunteering in schools and after-school organizations.

Step 3: Obtain Certification

The third step towards becoming an ESL teacher is to obtain certification. Requirements for ESL certification vary by state, but certification for teaching U.S. elementary and high school students commonly requires satisfactory PRAXIS test scores. Earning a bachelor's degree and taking a Language Assessment Test are the minimum requirements for teaching adult learners in some states. Other states mandate additional courses to qualify for certification.

Step 4: Continue Education

The forth step towards becoming an ESL teacher is to continue education. To stay informed about vital topics in the ESL teaching field, such as understanding the needs of English language learners, consider joining a professional organization that serves teachers of students from diverse language backgrounds. One such organization is TESOL International Association.

Public school teachers are required to meet professional growth requirements to keep their teaching licenses current. Each state sets its own mandatory minimum hours of professional development, types of mandated professional development, and other certificate renewal requirements. Some states have several certificates and authorizations for ESL teachers.

The steps towards becoming an ESL teacher include researching the certification requirements, obtaining a postsecondary degree, obtaining certification, and continuing education.

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