Becoming an ESL Teacher: Job Description & Salary Info

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What are the pros and cons of an ESL teacher career? Get real job descriptions, career outlooks and salary info to see if becoming an ESL teacher is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Being an ESL Teacher

ESL (English as a second language) teachers help students learn to read, write and speak English, in public and private schools as well as in adult education classes. Check out these pros and cons to see if becoming an ESL teacher is a good fit for you.

Pros of Being an ESL Teacher
Average demand for ESL teachers between 2012-2022 (9% employment growth for adult education teachers, 12% for elementary school teachers)*
Comfortable salary ($52,830 mean annual salary)*
Can work in a variety of settings (community colleges, public schools, etc.)*
Chance to give back and help immigrants succeed*
Opportunity to learn about new cultures and ways of life*

Cons of Being an ESL Teacher
Job requires a good amount of schooling (master's degree preferred)*
Work can be emotionally draining and challenging*
Pressure to make sure students achieve and learn English*
Need to maintain a flexible schedule of teaching and meeting with students*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career Info

Job Description

ESL teachers focus on teaching students how to read, write and speak English. The majority of your students often speak little to no English, which means you'll need to be able to understand different cultures and find strategies to communicate. As a teacher, you'll be in charge of a classroom, giving you the opportunity to create lessons, assign homework and exams and grade students on their progress. In addition, each student is likely to progress differently, so you'll need to track each student's progress and figure out academic plans in case they fall behind in their English language lessons.

You may also be help your students gain basic skills to enter the workforce and transition into American society. If you have students who are immigrants, then part of your lessons may focus on helping them study for and pass a citizenship test. ESL teachers may also be called upon to engage in community outreach as a way to help students connect to health care and family support services.

Career Growth and Salary Stats

The job outlook for adult education teachers looks positive. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the employment of adult literacy teachers should grow by 9% between 2012 and 2022. The demand stems from a growing number of immigrants coming to the United States, which creates a need for properly trained ESL teachers who can teach them English and how to transition into daily life in America.

ESL teachers are able to make a decent living. The BLS finds that adult literacy teachers made an average annual salary of $52,830, as of May 2014. Depending on where you teach, you may be able to earn as little as $31,000 or as much as $63,000, according to the BLS.

The BLS reports an expected job growth for elementary school teachers at 12% between 2012-2022, with even more job opportunities for ESL teachers. The average annual salary for these teachers is $56,830, as of May 2014.

Education Requirements

You may be able to find work with a bachelor's degree, but it's more common for ESL teachers to hold a master's degree. Your undergraduate and graduate studies will need to focus on education and you may be able to find a college that offers a concentration in adult education or English as a second language. Undergraduate studies will take you about four years with an additional two years for a master's degree.

Your undergraduate and graduate classes will cover a mix of topics, including the study of linguistics and language theory. You'll learn how to teach language to adults and how to factor in their cultures and life experiences.

Licensure and Certification

Colleges and universities also offer certificate programs as a supplement to your undergraduate and graduate studies. As part of the certificate programs, you'll learn specific skills designed for ESL teachers, like language acquisition, bilingual assessment and teaching methods. You are also likely to learn about the latest research trends in adult education on the latest teaching styles and trends in ESL teaching.

Along with your college degrees, many states require ESL and adult education teachers to become licensed or certificated before they can teach. You'll need to hold a bachelor's degree and pass a certification test that qualifies you to teacher ESL. To work in public schools, you'll also need a teaching license.

Job Postings From Real Employers

All types of organizations are hiring ESL teachers across the country. In addition to education requirements, employers look for applicants with experience working with English language learners. Check out these real job openings posted by the Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) in April 2012:

  • A public university in Oregon is looking for multiple ESL teachers who can teach English to incoming college students. You'll spend a lot of time creating lessons and working with international and immigrant students. The job requires a master's degree in linguistics or a related field, as well as ESL teaching experience.
  • A private college in New York is hiring two full-time ESL teachers. You'll work with students, administer examinations and lead professional development workshops. The job requires a master's degree and ESL teaching experience.
  • A public university in Alabama seeks an ESL teacher who can teach at the college's English Language Institute. You'll need at least a master's degree in a field that relates to ESL instruction and previous teaching experience to be considered for the position.

How to Get an Edge in the Field

The best way to build your skills is by gaining teaching experience because many employers look for applicants who have experience in the classroom. Aside from that, there are organizations, like the Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), that regularly host workshops and conferences for ESL teachers. There are also online resource centers that connect you to other ESL teachers and online classes. These types of organizations also offer grants and funding opportunities that can support activities for your classrooms.

Alternative Career Fields

Librarian

If you aren't interested in becoming an ESL teacher, but still want to help students and give back to the community, consider becoming a librarian. You'll be able to work within a community or school library providing visitors with help on how to research topics and find the right books. To become a librarian, you'll need at least a master's degree and possibly a teaching certificate. The outlook for librarians is not as strong as ESL teachers. The BLS projects a 7% employment growth between 2010 and 2020. The average salary for librarians is $57,000 a year, according to BLS figures from May 2011.

School and Career Counselor

If you still want to work within a school setting, consider a career as a school or career counselor. This job allows you to help students meet academic and personal goals in school. You can help them plan out their courses and find the right career. The demand for school and career counselors looks good with a 19% growth in employment between 2010 and 2020, according to the BLS. Much like an ESL teaching career, you'll need a master's degree that relates to counseling or school counseling to find work.

Social Worker

Another option is to become a social worker. With this career path, you'll be able to connect people of all backgrounds to social services and help them overcome personal challenges. Social workers are expected to be in high demand in the coming years as the BLS projects a 25% growth in the employment of social workers between 2010 and 2020. They can work in a variety of settings, including schools, hospitals, government agencies and community organizations.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. George Mason University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Education in Special Education, specializing in Applied Behavior Analysis
      • Master of Education in Special Education, specializing in Applied Behavior Analysis
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Saint John's University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Ph.D. in Literacy
      • Ph.D. in Literacy: Educational Leadership
      • Ph.D. in Literacy: Special Education
      • Ph.D. in Literacy: Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL)
      • Ph.D in Literacy: Literacy
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Concordia University Portland

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • EdD Professional Leadership, Inquiry, and Transformation
    Master's
      • M.S. - Curriculum & Instruction: ESOL (K-Adult)
      • Master of Education - Curriculum & Instruction: Leadership
      • M.S. - Curriculum & Instruction: English Language Development
      • MEd in Curriculum and Instruction - STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math)
      • M.S. - Curriculum & Instruction: The Inclusive Classroom (SPED)
      • MEd in Curriculum and Instruction - Early Childhood Education
  • Campus and Online Programs
    4. Full Sail University

    Program Options

    Certificate
      • Cert - English As A Second Language (Campus)
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • PhD in Education - English Second Other Language/ESOL
      • Ed.D. - English Second Other Language/ESOL
      • PhD in Education - Curriculum and Teaching
      • PhD in Education - Special Education
      • PhD - International Education
      • Ed.D. - Special Education
    Master's
      • MAT - English Language Learning
      • M.Ed. - English Second Other Language/ESOL
      • M.Ed. - Curriculum and Teaching
      • M.Ed. - International Education
      • MEd - General Education
      • MEd - Special Education
    Certificate
      • Education Specialist - English Second Language
      • Education Specialist - Curriculum and Teaching
      • Education Specialist - Special Education
      • Education Specialist - Global Training and Development
      • Education Specialist - Early Childhood Education
  • Online Programs Available
    6. American InterContinental University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master: Education - Curriculum and Instruction
      • Master: Education - Leadership in Educational Organizations
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Purdue University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Education in Special Education
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Saint Joseph's University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS - Special Education with Autism Specialization
      • MS in Education - Special Education - Master's Only
      • MS in Education - Special Education and Special Education Certification
      • MS - Special Education with Wilson Reading Certificate
    Certificate
      • Certificate - Special Education
      • Certificate - Online Accelerated Teacher (OATCERT)
  • Online Programs Available
    9. Saint Mary's University of Minnesota

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Special Education
  • Online Programs Available
    10. Penn Foster High School

    Program Options

    High School Diploma
      • Penn Foster High School with Early College Courses
      • HS Diploma

Featured Schools

George Mason University

  • Master of Education in Special Education, specializing in Applied Behavior Analysis

What is your highest level of education?

Saint John's University

  • Ph.D. in Literacy
  • Ph.D. in Literacy: Educational Leadership
  • Ph.D. in Literacy: Special Education

What is your highest level of education?

Concordia University Portland

  • EdD Professional Leadership, Inquiry, and Transformation
  • M.S. - Curriculum & Instruction: ESOL (K-Adult)
  • Master of Education - Curriculum & Instruction: Leadership

What is your highest level of education?

Full Sail University

  • Cert - English As A Second Language (Campus)

What is your highest level of education?

Northcentral University

  • PhD in Education - English Second Other Language/ESOL
  • MAT - English Language Learning
  • Education Specialist - English Second Language

What is your highest level of education?

American InterContinental University

  • Master: Education - Curriculum and Instruction
  • Master: Education - Leadership in Educational Organizations

Are you a US citizen?

Purdue University

  • Master of Science in Education in Special Education

What is your highest level of education?

Saint Joseph's University

  • MS - Special Education with Autism Specialization
  • MS in Education - Special Education - Master's Only
  • Certificate - Special Education
  • Certificate - Online Accelerated Teacher (OATCERT)

What is your highest level of education completed?