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How to Become an ESL Teacher

Majors Overview November 19, 2012

Requirements for Becoming an ESL Teacher

The job of an English as a second language (ESL) teacher is to help a student whose native language isn’t English to become proficient in reading, writing and conversing in English. Another term for ESL is ESOL, an abbreviation for English for speakers of other languages. ESL teachers focus on practical English skills as used in conversation and job settings. Students get introduced by ESL teachers to the language or learn from them to operate in an English language-based environment.

The minimum educational requirement for prospective ESL teachers is a bachelor degree in English as a second language or in adult education. To work as an ESL teacher, you must have a license certificate. Prior teaching experience will prove useful in getting hired. You will need to have patience and the ability to get along with students from diverse cultural backgrounds apart from great communication skills. Other than that, you need to have computer skills translating into familiarity with desktop publishing and training software apart from the ability to use MS-Excel. (Source: O Net Online, US Bureau of Labor Statistics).

You have several colleges and universities to choose from in order to obtain a bachelor degree in education, the coursework includes common school subjects as well as on-the-job teaching experience under the supervision of a licensed teacher. In this article, I’ll take a look at the academic requirements you need to satisfy before being able to pursue a career as an elementary school teacher:

Bachelor Degree

To begin, earning a bachelor degree in teaching is the bare minimum to becoming a professional ESL teacher.  Majority of teachers pursue a degree in English, education with a strong bilingual concentration, or writing/teaching English as a foreign language.  Coursework is geared towards showing you how to: (a) instruct people from diverse cultural backgrounds, (b) develop plans for lessons, (c ) work with students who have learning disabilities, (d) motivate adult students, and (e) use technology to teach. You will find learning a second language – such as Chinese — will be beneficial, though this is not necessary to become a good ESL teacher. In case you’ve decided to pursue a second language, you could complete a graduate, undergraduate or certificate courses.

ESL Training

After you earn a bachelor degree, you will need to complete an ESL training course. You should target a certification examination such as TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages). You will need training in order to carry on a conversation and teaching grammar after assessing student’s language skills. Prior teaching experience is not a criterion for ESL training, there are courses devised to prepare teachers who already hold a teaching licenses.


The third step is acheiving a teaching license that is important if you want to pursue a professional career as an ESL teacher. There are state-wise variations in the requirements for licensure. Aspiring ESL teachers should do some research about the legal requirements specifically towards the location they intend to seek employment.

A bachelor degree and completion of an approved teacher training course are standard requirements that are common in most states. In some states, licensure requirements might be specified for adult education teachers that may apply to an ESL teacher. Passing a teaching examination and submitting to a background check may be mandatory requirements.


ESL teachers can gain experience in various settings such as corporations, community colleges, adult schools, intensive English language courses, international education curses, elementary schools and high schools. You would be a preferred candidate for employment, if you’ve decided to move abroad.

Teaching English as a Second Language Statistics

esl classes

Top Schools For Teaching English as a Second Language Programs

School Name Tuition Size Degrees Granted Degrees Granted By Type
University of Phoenix – Online
Phoenix, AZ
$10,025 249,490 685 Certificate (685)
Grand Canyon University
Phoenix, AZ
$16,500 18,946 218 Master’s (218)
Learnet Academy
Los Angeles, CA
$5,500 Unknown 133 Certificate (133)
New York English & Business
New York, NY
$14,774 583 128 Certificate (128)
Hamline University
Saint Paul, MN
$31,994 1,921 115 Certificate (76), Master’s (39)
New York University
New York, NY
$38,765 21,759 103 Certificate (7), Master’s (93), Doctoral (3)
Henderson State University
Arkadelphia, AR
$12,620 3,106 100 Certificate (100)
Management Resources Institute
Miami, FL
Unknown Unknown 95 Certificate (95)

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