How to Become an ESL Teacher

Awaken people's curiosity. It is enough to open minds, do not overload them. Put there just a spark. Anatole France

An ESL teacher is an English as a Second Language teacher. An ESL teacher must be very patient as his or her students will not be fluent in the English language. The ESL teacher could be required to be bilingual, but this is not always necessary. An ESL teacher will also be highly understanding of cultural difference as students could be from a range of backgrounds. An ESL teacher will also need to be good at research as he or she may spend time researching word equivalents in different languages.

Qualities of an ESL Teacher

An ESL teacher is flexible above all else. This type of teacher may get new students throughout the school year and each could speak a different language. These students may be placed by grade level, not English ability, so a diverse array of students could be present in a single class. The ESL teacher is responsible for assessing the English skills of each student and then teaching a new language to each student. The goal is to work with students to reach a high level of proficiency in English in a short amount of time. The ESL teacher is often the main bridge between the student, parents, and school for any information that may be needed.

An ESL teacher may also need to connect with parents from time to time to make sure parents are aware of classroom progress.

ESL Teacher Job Growth

ESL teachers are projected to have a positive outlook for the next 10 to 15 years. The number of students who are entering school as bilingual or are just learning English is at an all time high. This means ESL teachers are needed at all levels as ESL students can enter at any grade.

What are the Requirements for Teaching ESL?

An English as a Second Language teacher must obtain a Bachelor's Degree and teaching certificate. However, in high need areas, ESL teachers may be offered a form of alternate certification if they are certified as bilingual or in a related area, but this will vary from state to state and possibly district to district. An ESL certification can be obtained from most accredited colleges or universities.

ESL teachers are often required to be certified TESOL teachers. TESOL stands for Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages. Learn more about earning TESOL Certifications and Degrees.

Teacher Education Programs

Most accredited educational institutions offer a dual program in which a student can earn a degree and teacher certification at the same time. If you already have a Bachelor's Degree, you can fulfill the requirements to become an ESL teacher through an alternative program. The candidate will be expected to pass basic proficiency exams in reading, math, and writing. Throughout the educator preparation program, ESL teacher candidates will be expected to complete classes on learning English, language development, and teaching strategies. This is in conjunction with observations within classrooms and student teaching.

Every state has specific requirements for becoming a teacher.

Find Information About Becoming a Teacher In Your State

Each state has different requirements for becoming a certified teacher. To find out specific requirements, click on your state.

Who Will My Students Be?

An ESL teacher will have students of various ages and abilities. ESL students can be any age, but the majority of ESL teachers are found in middle and high school. This does not mean that ESL teachers do not teach elementary levels, but that elementary teachers are often teaching the basics of English in regular classes and ESL students are simply pulled by Title 1 teachers.

English Language Learners

Each of his or her students will be English language learners. Students may be the only English speakers in their homes, which can make parental communication difficult at times. Students may speak a variety of languages and arrive in a class with little to no language instruction.

ESL students are not necessarily struggling students, they are just unfamiliar with the language.

ESL in Middle School and High School

This means that ESL teachers are most needed at the middle and high school levels for older students who are entering the school system at older ages, but not proficient in English. Students in ESL classes will have the same variety of temperaments as all students of similar ages, but have the added frustration of not being able to communicate effectively at all times. This may make ESL teaching challenging, but highly rewarding.

What Does an ESL Teacher Do?

An ESL teacher teaches basic and age appropriate English to students who are not native speakers of the language. These students are typically referred to as ESL students or ELL students (English as a Second Language or English Language Learners).

Assess Students

It is the job of the ESL teacher to assess each student over the course of time and then teach that student the basics and age appropriate areas of English necessary to further their education. Some students may need the very basics of letter sound correspondence, while others may simply need to expand their vocabulary. Is some cases, ESL students will understand a great deal more English than they will speak or read.

On the Job Duties

An ESL teacher will perform duties expected of any teacher in that they will write lesson plans, create hands-on learning experiences, assess students, and work with fellow teachers to help students be successful.

ESL teachers may also be required to do other tasks such as monitoring halls or lunch and recess supervision. Teachers will also be required to meet with parents as well as faculty and staff in order to better student success.

ESL Classroom and Instruction

An ESL classroom will be setup as a typical classroom, but will likely have fewer students. English instruction will be intense for the newest students and extend to meet their needs as further assessment takes place.

ESL Curriculum

Students who are learning English as a Second Language may not be present at all schools, meaning that not all schools or even districts will have a full time ESL teacher. There are some teachers that will travel between schools that have a low ESL population. ESL standards do exist, but materials may be adopted by each district as needed, meaning the ESL teacher may need to supplement the curriculum over time.

ESL Teaching Jobs & Job Description

Teachers who educate students on English as a second language need to be insightful and sensitive as well as aware of the multiculturalism in their classroom and beyond its door. ESL teachers work at both the elementary and secondary levels and the job looks different at each:

ESL Elementary Teacher

ESL teachers at the elementary level are focused on teaching young language learners to use English in a variety of settings. They may:

  • Teach English for a variety of social settings
  • Teach English to achieve academics in all subject areas
  • Teach students to become effective self-advocates in English
  • Teach students to use effective learning strategies
  • Help students with cultural elements of the English speaking classroom
  • Help students advocate for their parents for necessary business and social transactions
  • Act as a point of reference for greater community resources for immigrants and language learning
  • Promote awareness of ESL in the context of the school and community
  • Be a knowledgeable point of reference for cultural mores and traditions of students' countries and cultures
  • Develop appropriate instructional strategies
  • Use a variety of instructional and assessment skills to ensure robust learning occurs
  • Understand and use a student's rate of acculturation
  • Be empathetic to a student's migration experience and its stressors
  • Be aware of the level of development in a student's first language and how this may impact ESL learning
  • Be aware of student's prior experiences with English and English speaking culture
  • Scaffold student's learning using their prior learning in their first language
  • Be mindful of whether or not learning disabilities are a factor
  • Create a caring and supportive ESL classroom environment
  • Provide appropriate amounts of ESL support as students learn the language
  • Provide extracurricular and in-classroom opportunities for English interaction
  • Be empathetic to student emotions that surface in the learning situation
  • Identify reasons for listening to English - for information, to interact socially, to follow direction
  • Demonstrate how to listen effectively in English
  • Evaluate student's English comprehension and listening strategies, model more sophisticated strategies as students skills progress
  • Teach students to check for understanding by retelling a story or text in English and in their first language
  • Teach students to ask meaningful questions about the story in English
  • Help students discern explicit and implicit information from the story and non-verbal markers - i.e. vocal intonation and facial expression of the reader. This often has a cultural component.
  • Identify whether a text is fact or fiction based on evidence from the story
  • Teach students how to communicate information in a clear manner using standard English constructs
  • Teach students to identify text and literary features in English fiction; relate to first language fiction where possible and applicable
  • Teach children to read English with both fluency and comprehension
  • Help students produce a variety of texts and media texts in English
  • Assist and advocate for students creating English work in the rest of their subject load

ESL High School Teacher

Much like the ESL teacher at the elementary level, the secondary ESL teacher has many cultural and linguistic decisions to make - and to help students make! - from minute to minute in the classroom. Secondary ESL teacher roles look like this:

  • Advocate for students' ESL needs with other course teachers
  • Focus students on making gains in the language as a whole, not simply to use ESL class time for homework catch-up
  • Provide frequent opportunities to produce language in written and oral formats
  • Help students produce a variety of texts and media texts in English
  • Assist and advocate for students creating English work in the rest of their subject load
  • Teach English for a variety of increasingly complex social settings
  • Teach students to become effective self-advocates in English in a variety of settings for high school and the wider world
  • Teach students to use effective learning strategies applicable to inside and outside the classroom
  • Help students with cultural elements of the English speaking classroom, as well as norms and mores of English culture
  • Lead students in how to advocate for their parents for necessary business and social transactions
  • Act as a point of reference for greater community resources for immigrants and ESL language learning
  • Promote awareness of ESL in the context of the school and community
  • Be a knowledgeable point of reference for cultural mores and traditions of students' countries and cultures - other teachers may require a subject matter expert with an educational perspective
  • Develop appropriate instructional strategies that work with a student's skill level
  • Use a variety of instructional and assessment skills to ensure robust learning occurs, identify problems and remediate solutions
  • Understand and use a student's rate of acculturation to their advantage in the classroom
  • Be empathetic to a student's migration experience and its stressors
  • Be aware of the level of development, academic knowledge and metacognition in a student's first language and how this may impact ESL
  • Be aware of student's prior experiences with English and English speaking culture
  • Scaffold student's learning using their prior learning in their first language
  • Be mindful of whether or not learning disabilities are a factor
  • Create an empathetic and supportive ESL classroom environment both between colleagues and students and between peers
  • Provide appropriate amounts of ESL support as ESL learners progress
  • Provide strategies like cooperative learning to maximize ESL time
  • Teach students to write longer texts to convey information
  • Teach students to write longer text to express ideas using different formats
  • Teach students to use a variety of idea linkages and transitional phrasing to showcase sophistication with English
  • Teach students to use accurate grammatical and syntactical structures and conventions
  • Help students use pre-writing, drafting and editing strategies to produce polished works
  • Help students determine appropriate register and style for a variety of texts they may create
  • Help students gain knowledge about the secondary school system and post-secondary options
  • Teach students a variety of time-management, study and preparation tactics
  • Identify the purpose of different school and community resources

Licensed and ESL teachers have a number of career paths open to them. Read on to learn more.

Where Can Certified ESL Teachers Teach?

A certified ESL teacher is capable of teaching at any private, public, or charter school. However, ESL students are less likely to be present at private or charter schools and higher grade levels are more likely to have ESL teachers within a school.

Focusing mainly on public schools, an ESL teacher may travel between schools to serve small populations of students or may be full time at a larger middle or high school. These teachers will be responsible for teaching English to non-native speakers.

If a private or charter school does have an ESL teacher, the teacher can expect an even smaller population of students. Private schools may also require religious or group affiliations prior to hiring. Regardless of what type of school an ESL teacher chooses, the higher the population of non-native speakers in the area, the more likely an ESL job will be available.

ESL Teacher Organizations & Associations

What is the Salary of an ESL Teacher?

On average, ESL teachers make between $40,095 (Payscale.com) and $48,590 (BLS.gov) when beginning their careers. Teachers certified to teach English as a Second Language (ESL) make, on average, $8,000 more a year in the public school system. The reasons for this are twofold. Generally teaching salaries are higher in the public system. The public system also has a higher demographic of students needing ESL programming. Teachers who continue to advance their education and professional development credentials can earn an additional $10,000 on average between a starting salary with a BA degree and completion of an M.Ed.

Our Teacher Salary page will give you more information about a teacher's annual income and the benefits associated with it.