ESL Teacher Requirements with Career Information

Sep 11, 2019

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become an ESL teacher. Get a quick overview of the requirements plus details about academic programs, licensing, job duties and other specifics to find out if this might be the career for you.

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Do you enjoy spending time with students and communicating your understanding of the English language? Then teaching English as a second language may be a possible career for you. You can choose between instructing children or adults and usually there is a considerable amount of flexibility with this job. The educational requirements depend on which route you choose to pursue.

Essential Information

ESL (English as a Second Language) or ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) teachers help culturally diverse students at all grade levels learn how to speak, read and write English. ESL teachers also work in adult literacy programs that may involve adult basic and secondary education, English literacy or a combination of the three. Academic and licensing requirements vary by state and by program. Those interested in teaching ESL should check with their individual state board of education for specific ESL teacher requirements.

Required Education Typically, bachelor's degree at minimum
Other Requirements Teaching license, master's degree and/or certificate, based upon program
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028) 10%* decline (for adult literacy and high school equivalency diploma teachers, including ESL teachers)
Average Salary (2018) $ 58,110* (for adult literacy and high school equivalency diploma teachers, including ESL teachers)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics


A bachelor's degree is typically the minimum educational requirement to become an ESL teacher. ESL teachers at the primary or secondary school levels may also be required to hold a teaching license. At the postsecondary level, many states require ESL teachers to have a graduate degree in ESL instruction, or a master's degree in a related field, such as adult education, English or a foreign language, supplemented by years of experience teaching ESL to adults.

Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) is a news and education resource for ESL teachers at all academic levels. TESOL maintains an updated directory of several hundred institutions in the U.S. and Canada that have degree, certificate or training programs in ESL and related fields. (


According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most states require that ESL or ESOL teachers have some type of certification or license. Public school districts usually require their ESL teachers to hold a valid teaching license, sometimes with an ESL endorsement. Some community colleges may accept candidates with a teaching license as well, especially if a candidate also has experience teaching ESL or working with students from diverse cultural backgrounds.

Continuing Education

As part of their jobs, ESL teachers are expected to keep current with developments in their field. Some states have specific requirements for continuing education. Professional development or continuing education policies are usually made known to ESL teachers at their time of hiring. Workshops and other programs keep ESL teachers current on developments in adult literacy and may require either classroom attendance or distance learning.

Career Information

According to the BLS, many adult literacy and ESL teachers work as part-time or adjunct faculty, and aren't eligible for benefits. Some teachers have full-time jobs in addition to their ESL teaching. Since ESL instruction is often geared to accommodate students who are working or have families, classes are frequently held in the evenings or on weekends.

Job Duties

ESL teachers spend many hours preparing their lessons before class, and evaluating student work outside the classroom. Although knowledge of a foreign language isn't necessary to teach English to non-native speakers, ESL teachers should be creative in finding ways to communicate effectively with their students. ESL teachers should also have well-developed computer skills, since computer applications are increasingly being used in ESL instruction.

In addition to teaching, ESL teachers who work with adults should be prepared to give their students information about community resources, including advice on how to find jobs, housing or health care. It is also helpful for these ESL teachers to be familiar with the rules and regulations regarding student visas, naturalization and citizenship.

Job Outlook

The BLS predicted job decline of 10% for adult literacy and high school equivalency diploma teachers, including ESL teachers, from 2018 to 2028. Although ESL teachers work all over the country, job prospects are often better in areas that have large immigrant populations. The U.S. Census Bureau's annual American Community Survey or ACS ( outlines the U.S. population of foreign-born residents, and indicates in which cities the largest proportions currently reside.

Salary Information

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that, as of May 2018, the average annual salary for adult basic and secondary education and literacy teachers and instructors -- which includes ESL teachers -- was $58,110.

Advancement Opportunities

ESL teachers' advancement opportunities vary according to state and program. A part-time teacher may advance to a full-time staff position when the opportunity opens up; while a qualified teacher may be promoted to program director or coordinator. Some ESL teachers may use their skills and classroom experience to develop curricula or write teaching materials. Other options for ESL instructors include working on ESL-related policy issues for non-profit organizations; or performing research in education for local, state or federal government agencies.

Teaching ESL requirements range from a bachelor's and license for working with kids up to a master's and extensive experience for adults. The field is expected to have average job growth and modest salaries. Cultural understanding and experience is a key to job opportunity and satisfaction, and it's important to remember that ESL instructors often work only part time.

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