English as a Second Language (ESL) Teacher Careers: Job & Salary Info

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An English as a Second Language teacher may earn a median salary of around $53,000, but is it worth all the training requirements? Get the truth about job duties and career prospects and decide if the career is right for you.
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Pros and Cons to an English as a Second Language Teacher Career

English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers help immigrants, non-native English speakers and other students learn the English language. Read on to learn about more pros and cons associated with and ESL teaching career.

Pros of Being an ESL Teacher
Job growth expected (7% employment rise between 2014 and 2024)*
Help students from diverse backgrounds who are motivated to learn*
Aid students with practical, concrete speaking and professional issues**
Opportunity to communicate and coach people in own age group**

Cons of Being an ESL Teacher
Advanced education often necessary (57% of ESL teachers have a master's degree)**
Work hours cater to the schedules of adult students*
Many states require licensure*
Coaching and leading students may be difficult, requires sensitivity and patience**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **O*NET OnLine.

Essential Career Info

Job Description and Duties

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most ESL teachers help immigrants to the United States learn English (www.bls.gov), although some others help both young and old non-native English speakers. The focus of the teaching is based on practical learning skills, such as communicating for job interviews, preparing for a citizenship exam or learning the speaking skills necessary for everyday life.

Most ESL teachers work at private educational institutions, according to the BLS. Many state and private school systems hire ESL teachers at the secondary and postsecondary levels. Other ESL teachers work for private firms that provide ESL training to employees. Since you will generally be working with adults as an ESL teacher, you will likely end up working evenings and weekends to accommodate students' work schedules. This does not mean, however, that all ESL teachers teach adults. There are some ESL programs meant specifically for children.

Salary Information

The BLS groups ESL teachers with adult education teachers who commonly teach the General Educational Development (GED) test. The BLS states that the median salary for these professionals calculated to around $49,000 in May 2014. The 10th percentile of workers earned a salary of around $28,000, while the 90th percentile of workers earned a salary of around $81,000. The BLS states that the growth rate for all adult basic and secondary education and literacy teachers will grow by 7% between the 2014-2024 decade, which is about on par with the average occupational growth rate for that time frame.

Career Requirements

Education Requirements

The BLS outlines that the general requirement for ESL teachers is a bachelor's degree. However, employers may prefer a candidate who holds a master's degree. The field of study should be related to education degrees. Some schools offer bachelor's or master's degrees specific to ESL study.

Training and Licensing Requirements

Although it is seen as helpful, knowing another language is not required for ESL teachers. Since one classroom can contain students from a variety of countries and cultures, it is near impossible to know all the native languages of every student. Therefore, most degree programs train ESL teachers in the best methods to inform and communicate with students.

Licensing requirements vary per state. The BLS states that many U.S. states require ESL teachers to follow teacher certification requirements specific to each state. Holding a bachelor's degree and passing a state-sponsored training program might be all that is required for some states.

What do Employers Look for?

Many employers vary on the requirements candidates need to meet. Some do state that a bachelor's degree is required, while others prefer a master's degree or certification. Besides communication skills, some jobs highlight the need for teachers to know information technology so they can communicate with students online or through learning management systems. The following job postings are available as of May 2012:

  • An ELS education center in California needs an ESL instructor to teach four week-long sessions. The instructor will need to have a grading system with testing for students. The instructor will also meet with the academic director to discuss the professional development of students. A bachelor's degree is required, along with six months of prior ESL teaching experience.
  • A New York charter school needs an ESL teacher. The school is focused on students who are training in engineering, construction and architecture. Certification is needed to teach for the school.
  • A Virginia community college wants a ESL teacher for college-level classes. Candidate must hold a master's degree and have some understanding of education technology like learning management systems. Teacher must be available to work days, evenings and weekends.

How to Maximize Your Skills

Continuing Education

Learning additional language skills can help you better understand the best ways to teach ESL to students. Although not required, the BLS states that learning a second language can help you understand the learning strategies needed to teach students English. Another field recommended by the BLS is linguistics, a course of study which analyzes language. Linguistics courses can teach you the ways in which humans learn languages.

Develop Related Skills

Many of the skills you need to become a ESL teacher are more than just basic teaching skills. The BLS highlights how you need to have patience and compassion with students trying to learn English. O*NET Online discusses how your role as a teacher is more geared toward coaching in that you help students better their existing skills by meeting developmental language needs (www.onetonline.org). Taking teaching or coaching classes or enhancing those existing skills is recommended.

Other Careers to Consider

Adult Education Teachers

If you want to help adult students succeed, but you want to work more generally instead of just teaching the English language, you might be interested in being an adult education teacher. Adult education teachers teach five subjects areas, including reading, mathematics, writing, social studies and general science. Often, the students are in the program to complete their GED, so the adult education teacher will test them on these subjects. Besides teaching the five different subjects, adult education teachers might provide career advice, critical and problem-solving skills, as well as communication skills. The BLS calculates adult education salary and career prospect data with ESL teachers. This means the BLS projects adult education teachers to see employment growth of about 15% between 2010-2020 with a median salary of around $47,000.

Career Education Teachers

If you want to help students, specifically children and teenagers, learn about careers, but do not want to focus on learning a language, you might want to become a career education teacher. A career education teacher is typically a middle or high school teacher who develops professional skills in students. According to the BLS, many career education teachers help students learn about business or a pre-professional form of work like automobile work. The BLS states that career education teachers for middle schools earned an annual median salary of around $54,000 in May 2011. For high school, career education teachers earned an annual median salary of around $55,000 in May 2011. Middle school career education teachers should see employment growth of 9% between 2010-2020. This is contrast to high school career education teachers, for whom the BLS reported only a 1% growth rate between 2010-2020.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Purdue University Global

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master: Teaching (for Aspiring Teachers: Grades 5-12)
      • Master: Education (for Practicing Teachers: K-12)
      • Master: Higher Education - College Teaching/Learning
    Bachelor's
      • BS in Early Childhood Administration
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • EdD in Organizational Leadership - Special Education
      • Ed.D. in Organizational Leadership - Behavioral Health
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      • MA in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages
      • MA in Curriculum and Instruction
      • M.Ed. in Special Education: Cross-Categorical
      • M.Ed. in Master of Education in Early Childhood Education and Early Childhood Special Education-ITL
      • M.Ed. in Master of Education in Early Childhood Education and Early Childhood Special Education-NITL
      • M.A. in Communication with an Emphasis in Education
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Arts in English for Secondary Education
      • Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education with an Emphasis in English as a Second Language
      • BS in Elementary Education / Special Education (Dual Major)
      • BS in Early Childhood
      • B.S. in Early Childhood Education and Early Childhood Special Education
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    3. Notre Dame de Namur University

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      • Master of Arts in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages
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    4. The George Washington University

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      • Masters in Interdisciplinary Secondary Transition Services
      • Master of Arts in Education and Human Development in Special Education for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Learners
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    5. Colorado State University Global

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      • MS - Teaching and Learning
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    6. Regent University

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      • Master of Arts in Practical Theology - Intercultural Studies
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    7. Concordia University Portland

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      • M.S. - Curriculum & Instruction: ESOL (K-Adult)
      • Master of Education - Curriculum & Instruction: Leadership
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  • Online Programs Available
    8. Saint Mary's University of Minnesota

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      • Master of Arts in Special Education
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    9. Penn Foster High School

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    High School Diploma
      • HS Diploma
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    10. Saint Joseph's University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS in Education - Special Education: Autism
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Featured Schools

Purdue University Global

  • Master: Teaching (for Aspiring Teachers: Grades 5-12)
  • Master: Education (for Practicing Teachers: K-12)
  • BS in Early Childhood Administration

Which subject are you interested in?

Grand Canyon University

  • EdD in Organizational Leadership - Special Education
  • MA in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages
  • Bachelor of Arts in English for Secondary Education

What is your highest level of education?

Notre Dame de Namur University

  • Master of Arts in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages

What is your highest level of education completed?

The George Washington University

  • Masters in Interdisciplinary Secondary Transition Services
  • Master of Arts in Education and Human Development in Special Education for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Learners
  • Master of Arts in Education and Human Development in Organizational Leadership and Learning

What is your highest level of education?

Colorado State University Global

  • MS - Teaching and Learning

What is your highest level of education?

Regent University

  • Master of Arts in Practical Theology - Intercultural Studies
  • Master of Arts in Practical Theology - Interdisciplinary Studies
  • Master of Divinity - Intercultural Studies

What is your highest level of education completed?

Concordia University Portland

  • M.S. - Curriculum & Instruction: ESOL (K-Adult)
  • Master of Education - Curriculum & Instruction: Leadership
  • M.S. - Curriculum & Instruction: English Language Development

What is your highest level of education?

Saint Mary's University of Minnesota

  • Master of Arts in Special Education

What is your highest level of education completed?