Teaching Careers and Professional Development Updated September 1, 2020

ESL Teacher: Education, Salary and Career Info

By Robbie Bruens

English is one of the three most-used languages in the world, with hundreds of millions of native speakers and nearly a billion people who can understand and speak the language. English-speaking countries also have vast social, political and economic impact. The enormous influence and popularity of English make it a highly desirable language to learn for most of the planet’s population.

English as a second language (ESL) teachers help their students learn how to read, write and speak English. Teaching ESL gives you the opportunity to help others fully participate in English-speaking business, academic and cultural communities. If that sounds like appealing work, you should consider becoming an ESL teacher, also known as an ELL (English language learner) teacher.

This guide shows what it takes to become an ESL/ELL teacher, including the prerequisite education, likely income, and advantages and disadvantages of this career. Browse through the article or use the following links to skip forward to what you’re looking for:

At-a-glance
> ESL teacher job description
> Who makes a good ESL teacher?

Types of ESL teachers
> TESL teachers
> ESOL teachers
> TEFL teachers

Professional development

Related careers
> Jobs beyond teaching

Best of the web
> Sites and Twitter handles to follow

At-a-glance: ESL teachers

 
  TESL teachers ESOL teachers TEFL teachers
Minimum education Bachelor’s degree; master’s preferred Bachelor’s degree; master’s preferred Bachelor’s degree
Estimated annual income $50,280 (BLS)
$45,803 (Glassdoor.com)
$40,173 (PayScale.com)
$54,372 (SalaryExpert.com)
$50,280 (BLS)
$45,803 (Glassdoor.com)
$40,173 (PayScale.com)
$54,372 (SalaryExpert.com)
Depends on country

ESL teacher job description

ESL teachers help their students learn to read, write and speak English. Unlike English (also known as language arts) teachers, ESL teachers educate non-native students who did not grow up speaking the language.

It’s helpful to learn the acronyms that distinguish the many varieties of ESL education:

  • TESOL (teachers of English to speakers of other languages). An umbrella term for people who teach English to non-native speakers.
  • TESL (teaching English as a second language). Teachers who work for public or private K-12 schools. TESL teachers primarily educate children and young adults.
  • ESOL (English speakers of other languages). Teachers working outside the K-12 education system. ESOL teachers work for community colleges, universities/four-year colleges, private tutoring companies, community programs, businesses with large foreign-born worker populations, and online educational programs.
  • TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language). Teachers of English in countries where it is not the primary language. TEFL teachers work for international schools, universities, businesses and other international organizations.
  • ELL (English language learners). Non-native students who are learning English. ELL students frequently enroll concurrently in ESL courses and math, science, history and other courses that enroll native English speakers.

Some schools and programs use these acronyms interchangeably, so be sure to pay attention to context wherever they appear.

You can read more about the precise nature of your duties as an ESL teacher in later sections of this guide that examine TESL, ESOL and TEFL teaching jobs in greater detail.

Who makes a good ESL teacher?

Someone who is:

  • A lover of language and translation
  • Sociable and easy to talk to
  • Patient and resourceful
  • Good at motivating and inspiring students
  • Organized and careful about time management
  • Devoted to learning
  • Able to express ideas precisely in speech and writing
  • Highly knowledgeable about language structure and grammar
  • Qualified with an advanced degree in an education-related field, or a field related to ESL

Interested in becoming an ESL teacher?

Check out this video to get a better sense of what you’ll encounter when pursuing a career as an ESL teacher.

Different types of ESL teachers

As you think about becoming an ESL teacher, you’ll want to decide what type you want to be. Let’s take a look at three varieties of ESL teaching jobs in more detail.

TESL teachers

TESL teachers work in public and private K-12 schools teaching non-native speakers to read, write, understand and speak English. TESL teaching is the most popular form of ESL education in the United States.

Continue reading to learn more about TESL teachers

What TESL teachers do

TESL teachers instruct classrooms of students who are native speakers of languages other than English. Many of these students are immigrants or the children of immigrants. Because English is not the primary language spoken at home, they must learn English in school. TESL teachers take the lead in providing this education.

TESL teachers develop and deliver lessons on English language grammar, vocabulary, spelling, pronunciation, idioms and more. They lead their students through practice conversations and reading and writing exercises. Organizing and encouraging plenty of in-class discussion will immerse students in the English language, leading to faster improvement for all students.

At the beginning of each course, TESL teachers assess the language abilities of their students. These assessments help the teacher identify the strengths and weaknesses of each student and tailor their teaching approach to best fit the entire classroom. TESL teachers assign and grade homework, tests and quizzes that allow them to evaluate student progress and modify lessons accordingly.

TESL teachers work with students from many cultural backgrounds. If TESL teachers and their students do not share a common language, they must be especially creative to communicate clearly in the classroom.

TESL teachers typically work five days a week for nine or 10 months of the year. In addition to classroom teaching, they often instruct students one-on-one or in smaller groups outside of class. TESL teachers frequently must set aside time outside the school day to develop lesson content and to grade student work and tests.

Education and certification requirements

A bachelor’s degree and a state-certified teaching credential qualifies you to teach ESL in most public schools. Some states require ESL teachers to have a special type of certification qualifying them to teach English as a second language.

Private schools may not require ESL teachers to have a state teaching certificate, but they still look for job candidates with a bachelor’s degree and a strong background in the English language.

Majoring in education, linguistics, or English as a second language may give you a special advantage in hiring since many schools prefer a teacher with a relevant academic background. If you want a higher salary and better job opportunities, pursue a master’s degree in an education-related field to sharpen your teaching skills.

Income projections

Here are several estimates for a TESL teacher’s average annual salary:

  • Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS): $50,280
  • Glassdoor.com: $45,803
  • PayScale.com: $45,392
  • SalaryExpert.com: $54,372

The Bureau of Labor Statistics includes ESL teachers in a job category that includes GED instructors, adult literacy teachers, and high school equivalency educators. The BLS salary estimate reflects an average across all these professions. The other salary estimates from career-related websites cover TESL and ESOL teachers.

Pros and cons of being a TESL teacher

As you consider this career, make sure to think about the upsides and downsides of becoming a TESL teacher.

Pros

  • Help your students fully integrate into the cultural life of the United States
  • Many full-time jobs come with good benefits
  • Potential to earn job security via tenure
  • You may need only a bachelor’s degree
  • Focus exclusively on teaching and students

Cons

  • Frustrating when dealing with unmotivated or disruptive students
  • Can be difficult to find a great full-time job at a good school
  • Not as prestigious as a professorship in the higher education sector

ESOL teachers

ESOL teachers work with English language learners in community colleges, universities/four-year colleges, private tutoring companies, community organizations and online educational programs.

Continue reading to learn more about ESOL teachers

What ESOL teachers do

ESOL teachers help their students learn to speak, read and write English in courses outside the K-12 school system. Students in ESOL classes are immigrants to the United States or others whose native language is not English.

Because their students usually are adults, ESOL teachers tend to focus more on teaching conversational English and practical vocabulary and grammar useful for job interviews and daily living. ESOL teachers may also help their students prepare to take the U.S. citizenship exam.

Some of the day-to-day duties of ESOL teachers include:

  • Giving students grammar and vocabulary lessons
  • Leading classroom discussion and activities in English
  • Assigning reading and writing homework
  • Talking to students about current events in English
  • Identifying students facing special challenges and developing strategies to help them improve their language skills

Learn why one instructor was inspired to teach ESOL.

Educational and certification requirements

Most employers look for ESOL teachers with a bachelor’s degree and a strong background in teaching or English language instruction.

Majoring in education, linguistics, or English as a second language may give you a special advantage in hiring since many employers prefer a teacher with a relevant academic background. If you want a higher salary and better job opportunities, pursue a master’s degree in an education-related field to sharpen your teaching skills.

Income projections

Here are several estimates for an ESOL teacher’s average annual salary:

  • Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS): $50,280
  • Glassdoor.com: $43,980
  • PayScale.com: $45,392
  • SimplyHired.com: $46,583

The BLS includes ESL teachers in a job category with GED instructors, adult literacy teachers and high school equivalency educators. Their salary estimates reflect an average across all these professions. The other estimates come from career-related websites that do not distinguish between TESL and ESOL teachers in their salary projections.

Pros and cons of being an ESOL teacher

It will help to think through the positive and negative aspects of becoming an ESOL teacher.

Pros

  • Work with students of all ages and backgrounds
  • Help low-income and immigrant students earn an opportunity for better jobs
  • You need only a bachelor’s degree and a strong knowledge of the English language
  • Most programs are voluntary, meaning students are often more motivated than the ones in compulsory public schools

Cons

  • Not as prestigious as other teaching jobs
  • Students may need a lot of support outside of class, including on weekends
  • Some ESOL programs are underfunded or lack administrative support

TEFL teachers

TEFL teachers work in countries where English is not the native language. Their students are learning English as a foreign language so they can participate in both English language culture and the larger economic systems where English is the dominant language.

Continue reading to learn more about TEFL teachers.

What TEFL teachers do

Hundreds of millions of people around the world want to learn English. International schools, universities, businesses and other organizations based in foreign countries seek out native English speakers to teach eager ELL students. TEFL teachers travel abroad to help fulfill this demand for English language education.

TEFL teachers are responsible for the following job duties:

  • Planning, preparing and delivering English lessons
  • Facilitating English language discussion during class time
  • Encouraging students to communicate with one another using the English grammar and vocabulary they’re learning in each lesson
  • Preparing teaching materials such as assignments, quizzes, tests, essay prompts and informational handouts
  • Working with students to improve listening, speaking, reading and writing skills via individual and group sessions
  • Talking with students about current events in English
  • Checking and grading homework and tests
  • Hosting and/or attending English-language social events

This video features advice on teaching English abroad:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2iYRh8amuOY

Educational and certification requirements

Requirements for working as a TEFL teacher vary widely depending on the employer. The most common requirement is to be a native English speaker. The second-most-common requirement is that you have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university.

Employers may also seek a variety of other requirements, including special training and certification, past teaching experience or even a “North American” accent.

Income projections

TEFL teacher income can vary considerably based on country. TEFL teachers in wealthy countries such as Japan, South Korea or the United Arab Emirates earn a lot more than those teaching in poorer nations such as Thailand or Guatemala. Here are a handful of estimates of monthly incomes for TEFL teachers in various locations:

  • United Arab Emirates:  $2,200 to $3,200
  • Saudi Arabia: $2,200 to $3,200
  • Japan: $2,400 to $2,600
  • Taiwan: $2,100 to $2,400
  • South Korea: $1,900 to $2,100
  • China: $1,600 to $2,300
  • Malaysia: $1,000 to $1,500
  • Vietnam: $1,000 to $1,200
  • Thailand: $700 to $1,200

Within each country, you will find further variance depending on a variety of factors. What age group you teach, whether you’re in a rural or urban area, and previous professional experience all influence your potential pay.

You should also research the cost of living in each country. A wealthy country may pay more, but the cost of living may eat up much of your salary. Some programs also include living accommodations and cost-of-living allowances in their compensation packages.

Pros and cons of being a TEFL teacher

It will help to think through the positive and negative aspects of becoming a TEFL teacher.

Pros

  • A great opportunity to travel and see the world while pursuing your career goals
  • Immerse yourself in a foreign culture
  • Serve as a positive role model for youth in another country
  • Take breaks between courses for vacation and other opportunities

Cons

  • The job will take you far away from your home, friends and family for an extended time
  • Potential to feel isolated in a foreign, unknown place
  • Can be demanding to keep students engaged and focused

Professional development for ESL teachers

To begin pursuing a career as an ESL teacher, you’ll want to develop your pedagogical skills and improve your professional connections. Completing an advanced degree in education or applying for a student teaching internship or related research fellowship will help you accomplish these goals.

You should also look into professional organizations for ESL teachers. Getting involved in TESOL International or the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language will give you access to networking opportunities, skills training workshops and much more.

Benefits of continuing education

Pursuing an advanced degree can open up new job opportunities and expand your earning power as an ESL teacher.

Jobs for ESL teachers beyond teaching

With additional education or certification, ESL teachers may become librarians, instructional coordinators, assistant principals, principals or an educational administrator at a college or university.

Librarian: A master’s degree in library science (MLS) is generally required for employment. Some states also require librarians to pass a standardized test.

Instructional coordinator: Instructional coordinators generally need to complete a master’s degree related to a subject like curriculum and instruction, and they may be required to have a teaching or education administrator license.

Academic advisor: With a master’s degree in an education-related field, you can transition into being an academic advisor at either the K-12 or college/university level.

Education consultant: ESL teachers can become education consultants if they want to tackle challenges in a variety of schools and education systems. You’ll probably need an advanced degree in an education-related subject.

Education policy analyst: With an advanced degree in an education-related subject, ESL teachers can become policy analysts and examine big-picture issues affecting education nationwide.

School principal: ESL teachers wishing to become a school principal should seriously consider earning a master’s degree in an education-related field. Most states also require public school principals to be licensed as school administrators.

Educational administrator: Depending upon the position, either a bachelor’s or master’s degree may be required. For a higher-level position such as dean or president, a master’s degree or doctorate in educational leadership may be required.

Best of the web: our favorite ESL teacher blogs, websites and Twitter handles

The web makes it easy for us to stay connected to prominent ESL educators. Here is a list of our favorite websites and Twitter handles, in no particular order.

Favorite ESL websites and blogs

Favorite ESL Twitter handles

Online games for ESL students

    You may also like to read

    Tags: ,