Teaching ESL: Education Requirements to Teach Students

Sep 07, 2019

Degrees in teaching ESL typically cover subject areas like language arts and social science. Find out about the curricula of these programs, and learn about career options, job growth and salary info for graduates of teaching ESL programs.

Teaching positions generally require one to have at least a bachelor's degree; teachers, including those teaching English as a Second Language, often need a master's degree to secure licensure. It is helpful if instructors have certification in teaching English as a second language as well.

Essential Information

Teaching ESL is a great career path for people who want to help students whose first language is not English. An undergraduate degree in education is a good start, but a master's degree is required to receive a license in many districts. Master's programs specializing in teaching English as a second language are available and often focus on the theory of English and how to work with multicultural students. A bachelor's program generally takes about four years to complete, and teaching English as a second language (TESL) programs can be completed in a year to a year and a half.

Career High School Teacher Middle School Teacher Adult Literacy and High School Equivalency Diploma Teacher
Required Education Bachelor's degree; Master's degree, especially in teaching English as a second language, required in many districts Bachelor's degree ; Master's degree, especially in teaching English as a second language, required in many districts Bachelor's degree typically required; Master's degree, especially in teaching English as a second language, preferred in many districts
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)* 4% 3% -10% (decline)
Median Salary (2018)* $60,320 $58,600 $53,630

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Options

Many districts require a master's degree to teach students at any level. For ESL teachers, pursuing further education in a program specific to teaching English as a second language can give them a boost in looking for a job. Becoming a certified teacher is also a great choice to help ESL teachers find a job.

High School Teacher

High school teachers work with students in grades nine through twelve to prepare them for college and entering the job market. ESL teachers work specifically with students who do not speak English as a first language, giving them any extra help they need to join the work force. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of high school teaching jobs is expected to increase by 4% from 2018 to 2028 ( The median annual salary for high school teachers was $60,320 as of May 2018.

Middle School Teacher

Middle school teachers help prepare students in sixth through eighth grades for high school. This often involves revisiting curricula from middle school and expanding upon earlier knowledge. For ESL students, teachers provide extra help in learning and speaking English. Jobs in middle school teaching are predicted to increase by 3% from 2018 to 2028 according to the BLS, with these teachers earning a median annual salary of $58,600 in 2018.

Adult Literacy and High School Equivalency Diploma Teacher

Adult literacy teachers help adults with basic skills, including speaking English, as well as helping them to earn their high school diploma or equivalent certification. ESL teachers help people who speak a language other than English as their first language, preparing them to enter a predominantly English-speaking job market. Jobs in adult literacy are expected to decline by 10% from 2016 to 2026. According to the BLS, adult literacy and high school equivalency diploma teachers received a median annual salary of $53,630 in 2018.

Educational Requirements for Teaching ESL

An undergraduate degree in education provides good preparation for continued study in a master's degree program in ESL. These degree programs also provide students with helpful skills, knowledge and experience in teaching. This knowledge can then be applied in classrooms where most students speak little to no English.

According to the BLS, a bachelor's degree may not be sufficient qualification to become a licensed or eligible teacher ( The BLS reports that many cases, all teachers, including ESL teachers, must hold a master's degree to be legally eligible to teach. Some districts require teachers to be licensed, according to the BLS, and this licensure may call for the attainment of a specific level of education in addition to other requirements like passing exams and background checks.

Bachelor of Arts in Education

A bachelor's degree program in education prepares students to teach at the elementary, middle and high school levels. Education students typically choose one school or grade level to focus on. Once they have decided what education level to teach, they usually also choose a subject area. Some common broad subject areas include social science, language arts and science. A student who wants to teach ESL might want to choose a topic, like language arts or English, that is focused on speech, reading and writing. These basic communication skills are the focus of most ESL classes.

Core classes in language arts education usually cover topics such as curriculum development, literacy instruction, interactive communication and student assessment. An undergraduate degree in education also often provides students with practical teaching experiences through required internships. This hands-on teaching component usually allows education students to observe and teach a class.

Master of Arts in English as a Second Language

Master's degree programs in ESL are also referred to as TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language) or TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). These ESL master's degree programs are usually offered by schools of education and require that applicants hold an undergraduate degree in education and have some teaching experience. A Master of Arts in ESL program can often be completed in a year to a year and a half of full-time study.

The curriculum of an ESL master's degree program usually focuses on the theory of ESL teaching, helping students with the process of English language acquisition and working with students from different cultural backgrounds. A capstone research project is also typically required and is submitted towards the end of the program. Students enrolled in core ESL classes receive instruction on language development and linguistics, theories of learning, English language learner assessment, multicultural perspectives and curriculum design.

If you are an education major or considering teaching as a profession and have fluency in a second language, this may be just the field for you. Keep in mind that for licensure, teaching positions require at least a bachelor's degree and, in many cases, a master's degree may be needed as well.

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