ESL Teacher: Job Description and Salary Information

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a teacher of English as a Second Language (ESL). Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and licensure to find out if this is the career for you.

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ESL teaching is often undertaken by recent college graduates with a passion for culture and travel. There are a number of contexts to teach in, depending on the age group and subject matter an individual is best with. Teachers typically have freedom in overall approach, activity type and presentation style.

Essential Information

Teachers who specialize in ESL, or English as a Second Language, instruct students who are native speakers of other languages. ESL teachers can work in English-speaking countries helping immigrants understand their new language or in other countries as foreign language teachers. Some teach children in public or private schools, while others work with adult learners. All need at least a bachelor's degree, and other licensure may be required as well.

Required Education Bachelor's or master's degree, preferably in teaching English as a Second Language, or a graduate certificate in this field
Other Requirements State license required to teach K-12 students in a public school; some states call for certificates or licenses to teach adult education
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 7% for adult literacy and high school equivalency diploma teachers*
Median Salary (2016) $44,357 for English for speakers of other languages teachers**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), **

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ESL Teacher Job Description

ESL teachers can work at the elementary, secondary and post-secondary levels or as adult education instructors providing English instruction to classes or individual students. ESL teachers may require extra training to learn the special needs of adult and child learners.

ESL teachers may develop a curriculum that takes an overall approach to English study or they may focus on a specific aspect of language use, such as life skills, literacy, or vocational and workplace English. Both approaches involve teaching students basic English skills, such as listening, reading, writing and speaking.

Classroom work can consist of rote pronunciation techniques, quizzes, textbooks, videos and computer lessons. Teachers often combine basic studies with real-life interactions involving language use in different situations, such as shopping, schooling, job hunting or working with English-speaking coworkers.

Most ESL teachers may be required to be fluent in another language besides English, in order to communicate with their students. ESL teachers need to be knowledgeable of their students' culture and recognize differences that may affect a student's ability to acclimate to a English-speaking environment.

Salary Information

Many ESL teachers work on a part-time basis and receive hourly wages. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the 2015 median wage for adult education teachers, including teachers of English as a Second Language, was $24.17 an hour. Full-time adult education teachers earned a median salary of $50,280 in 2015. reported in 2016 that the median salary for teachers of English for speakers of other languages was $44,357.

Job opportunities for adult literacy and high school equivalency diploma teachers, which includes ESL teachers, were expected to increase by 7% between 2014 and 2024. This is due to a projected increase in the number of immigrants entering the United States (

ESL teachers usually add certification and specific licensing to a bachelor's degree, and can expect a modest salary and average job growth rates in the U.S. Teachers typically vary between two approaches to language education: holistic or specific use. Regardless, ESL teachers usually need to to possess cultural awareness and an ability to speak and write in a language other than English to perform well on the job.

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