Communicating well in English is an important part of living in the U.S., and ESL teachers can be a great help to anyone trying to learn. Find out more about becoming an ESL teacher and the types of degree program that can lead to an ESL teaching career.

If you have a good command of English and a passion for helping people learn, becoming an ESL teacher might be for you. ESL can be one of the most rewarding jobs in education, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), because students attend the courses by choice and are often highly engaged and motivated learners.

What does an ESL teacher do?

Here's a quick list of some of the duties that ESL teachers perform on a regular basis:

  • Planning and delivering lessons about English vocabulary, grammar, syntax and usage
  • Assessing class performance and adapting teaching methods to students' strengths and weaknesses
  • Emphasizing practical words, phrases and language habits that are useful for employment and daily living
  • Connecting students to job services, English discussion clubs or other helpful community resources

Where do ESL teachers work?

BLS numbers show that a majority of ESL teachers work in traditional educational environments, although roughly eight percent of those working in 2016 were self-employed. Here's a rundown of the settings where ESL classes are commonly found, in descending order of the percentage of the ESL workforce employed in each one:

  • Junior colleges
  • Elementary and secondary schools
  • Other types of schools
  • Colleges, universities and professional schools

How to become an ESL teacher

Most ESL teaching careers require that candidates have at least some formal college education, and many ask for a four-year degree at minimum. ESL teacher degree requirements can vary from school to school and from state to state, but here's a simple set of steps that many students follow on the road to becoming an ESL teacher:

  1. Finish high school or earn your equivalency degree
  2. Complete a bachelor's degree in education or a related field with an emphasis on modern languages or a focus on ESL teaching techniques
  3. Participate in an internship or student teaching program (if available)
  4. Obtain teaching certification or licensure in your state (if required)

Many ESL schools also offer online courses for aspiring teachers, which can help you fit your education into your existing schedule. Make time to chat with an advisor about your goals and availability as soon as possible in your degree program.

Exams and licensing for ESL teachers

Most states require that ESL teachers be licensed or certified, although the type of credential that's needed can depend on the type of students you're hoping to teach. Some states accept different teaching certificates for elementary, secondary and adult education, so remember to reach out to someone at your college or on the state board of education for details.

Important skills and abilities for ESL teachers

  • Speaking is an important skill for teachers, since so much of their time is spent delivering lessons to small- or medium-sized classroom groups
  • Speech clarity can help you accurately pronounce English words and communicate them successfully to your students
  • Written expression skills can give you confidence in preparing worksheets and writing sample sentences or paragraphs for your ESL classes to study
  • Learning strategies that you pick up while pursuing your ESL teacher degree will help you quite a bit when trying to reach a wide variety of learners
  • Oral comprehension gives you the ability to hear the nuances of your students' English pronunciation and detect any problems they might be having

ESL teacher salary and career outlook

As with any career, your pay and job outlook if working as an ESL teacher varies by experience, education and location. Here's an idea of the job growth and salary ESL teachers might expect in the coming years:

CareerTotal EmploymentAnnual Mean Wage
English Language and Literature Teachers, Postsecondary67,930$80,180
2019 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2018-28 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics,

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Article Sources
  • Adult Literacy and High School Equivalency Diploma Teachers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed March 26, 2019,
  • Adult Basic and Secondary Education and Literacy Teachers and Instructors, Occupational Information Network, accessed March 26, 2019,
  • BS in Elementary Education: English as a Second Language, Grand Canyon University, accessed March 26, 2019,
  • School pages, accessed March 26, 2019: Bilingual & Multicultural Education (BME), Northern Arizona University,; Adult Education & Literacy, McLennan Community College,; Online Adult Literacy, Virginia Commonwealth University,; Master of Education in Lifelong Learning and Adult Education, Penn State World Campus,; Degree Requirements - Adult Education and Training, Seattle University,;