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ESL Teacher Requirements with Career Information

Job Descriptions January 18, 2013

Students from culturally-diverse backgrounds and different grade levels depend on ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) or ESL (English as a Second Language) teachers to teach them how to write, read and speak English. ESL teachers are also involved in adult literacy programs where adults who are non-native speakers in the English language are taught basic skills. English literacy and adult education (both basic and secondary) constitute adult literacy programs that an ESL teacher’s work typically involves. In this article, we will look at the various steps ESL teachers need to take in order to follow a success career path.

ESL Teachers Requirements

There are various academic and licensure prerequisites for ESL teachers depending on the state and the program. There could be a significant difference in the pre-employment requirement for a public school ESL teacher compared to those teachers who are involved in an adult literacy program. Prospective ESL teachers can find out about specific requirements in their state from the appropriate state board.


A prospective ESL teacher is generally expected to possess at least an undergraduate degree. Those who want to teach at a primary or secondary school level are also required to meet licensure norms. In many states, postsecondary ESL teachers are required to possess a master degree in ESL instruction or related field such as a foreign language, adult education or English; they are additionally expected to supplement the qualification with many years of experience imparting ESL instruction to adults. ESL teachers, regardless of their academic levels can depend on an education and news resource known as TESOL, which is an acronym for Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages. In particular, ESL teachers can have access to a directory of 450 schools in Canada and the United States that provide training, certificate and degree programs in ESL and associated fields; this directory is maintained by TESOL (source:


Majority of states have some form of certification or licensure norms in place for ESL or ESOL teachers (source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) ( ESL teachers in public school districts are required to have a valid teaching license, and sometimes are required to have an ESL endorsement. Candidates with a teaching license are accepted by some community colleges especially if they have additional experience as ESL teachers or teaching students from culturally-diverse backgrounds.

Continuing Education

There is an expectation from employers that ESL teachers will keep abreast of developments in the field. In some states, they are specifically required to continue education in order to keep their certification/licensure valid. The organizations make ESL teachers aware of their expectation during the time of employment. ESL teachers can participate in programs such as workshops to stay abreast of developments in the field of adult literacy and may be required to attend classroom lectures or distance learning programs. Benefits that full-time ESL and adult literacy teachers enjoy does not apply to those who work part-time or as adjunct faculty (source: BLS). There are several part-time ESL teachers with full-time occupations who teach during the evenings or on the weekends to accommodate students with families and/or jobs.

Career Information for ESL Teachers

ESL teachers spend many hours preparing their lessons before classes and evaluating students’ work outside the classroom. Although knowledge of a foreign language is not mandatory to those teaching English to non-native speakers, ESL teachers needs to be creative in discovering new ways to interact effectively with their students. ESL teachers need to have well-developed computer skills since computer applications are commonly used in ESL instruction. In addition to teaching, ESL teachers that work with adults needs to be prepared to give their students information about community resources like advice on how to find housing, health care or jobs. It is also useful for ESL teachers to familiarize themselves with the rules and regulations regarding student visa, naturalization and citizenship.

Job Outlook

A faster-than-average job growth of fifteen percent has been projected for ESL teachers and other teachers of adult education during the period from 2008 to 2018 (source: BLS). The optimistic projection is helped by the fact that many ESL positions are part-time assignments with a large turnover; therefore, there should be plenty of employment opportunities for aspiring ESL teachers. Though ESL teachers are employed across the United States, the best prospects exist in regions that have more immigrants.  Illinois, Florida, New Jersey, Texas, New York and California have been named as the six states with the largest immigrant populations (source: Center for Adult English Language Acquisition (CAELA) (

Salary Information

In April 2010, adult education teachers including ESL teachers earned an average annual salary ranging from $32,546 to $47,590 (source:

Advancement Opportunities

Depending on the respective state and the program in which they are affiliated, ESL teachers have a variety of advancement opportunities. A part-time teacher can be promoted to a full-time position, and a qualified teacher can get a promotion to a coordinator or program director. Curriculum and teaching materials can be developed by some ESL teachers by leveraging their skills and teaching experience. ESL teachers can also choose to work in non-profit agencies focusing on ESL-related policy matters relevant to such organizations’ interests. They could choose to conduct educational research for federal, state and local government organizations.

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