ESL Teacher Career Overview: Salary, Skills, and Education


ESL Teacher Career Overview: Salary, Skills, and Education


ESL (English as a Second Language) teachers instruct students whose primary language is not English. Their efforts give non-native speakers the tools and confidence to read, write, and converse in what for them is a foreign language. Acquiring such abilities can make a huge difference in their lives—from better comprehension of what’s going on around them to improving prospects for academic and career success.

Might you enjoy the challenges and rewards that come from teaching ELLs (English Language Learners)? Here’s a look at what’s involved in a career as an ESL teacher.

ESL Teacher Salary and Job Description

The average annual salary for an ESL teacher is $45,544, according to

ESL teachers strive to help their students communicate in English. They also may assist them in understanding American customs and culture in order to function better within a local, business, or academic community.

Common tasks performed by ESL teachers include:

  • Developing student skills through textbook or reading assignments, watching videos, rote pronunciation exercises, multimedia presentations, practice scenarios, and other means
  • Evaluating progress through grading assignments and offering feedback
  • Brainstorming solutions to obstacles that individuals or the group encounter when trying to grasp certain concepts
  • Determining what phrases and other information might be most important for students to acquire based on factors such as age, location, or career choice

Desirable Skills for ESL Teachers

To keep students motivated, ESL teachers should be patient, encouraging, and should understand the challenges of learning a new language. Good ESL instructors also realize that people don’t all grasp things the same way, so they persevere to discover what works best for each individual. An appreciation for cultural differences likewise serves an ESL teacher well, as does comfort interacting with people from various backgrounds.

ESL Teacher Education and Certification

ESL teachers commonly hold a bachelor’s degree in education or a similar field. If focusing on a particular age group, such as early childhood or adult learners, it’s advantageous to have specific training in that area. Similarly, it’s helpful for someone who wants to concentrate on teaching a certain cultural group (such as Latino Americans) to know the students’ native tongue. (Note, though, that teaching English as a second language does not always require being bilingual.)

ESL positions typically call for TEFL, TESL, or TESOL certification. Though employers accept any (or all) of these certifications, some are more appropriate than others, depending on where you want to teach.

People heading abroad tend to pursue a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate. During the TEFL course, you’ll learn how to teach English to non-native speakers in a country where English is not commonly spoken. The TEFL certification is the most widely recognized teaching certification in non-native English speaking countries.

The TESL certification (Teaching English as a Second Language), is similar to the TEFL in that it prepares you to teach English to non-native speakers. The difference, however, is that the TESL certification is primarily for teachers who want to teach in a country where English is widely spoken.

Lastly, the TESOL certification (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) is a combination certification. It provides training in teaching English to non-native speakers, whether English is commonly spoken in a country or not.

One final word of advice on certifications: Unlike other certifications and licenses in the U.S., TEFL, TESL, and TESOL certification programs are not regulated. Make sure you do your homework to ensure that you are taking your certification classes from a reputable provider.

Work Environment

Public and private schools in the United States hire ESL teachers to assist students whose native language is not English. These professionals may work one-on-one with certain pupils or conduct group lessons during the school day. If hired to instruct adult learners, classes may take place in the evening or on weekends to best accommodate the needs of full-time workers.

Job prospects for ESL teachers wishing to work within the U.S. school system vary by region. Urban areas with substantial immigrant populations tend to possess the most need, and states such as California, Texas, and Florida sometimes have difficulty filling all available roles. As each state has its own requirements for teaching ESL, aspiring instructors should look into particulars before heading into the job market.

ESL teachers looking for an international adventure often opt to teach students abroad. Japan, China, South Korea, Russia, and the United Arab Emirates are a few of the places where demand for services can be high. In addition to opportunities to teach traditional-age students, ESL teachers sometimes find on-site work with individual firms that want their staff to gain proficiency in business English.

For people who would like to teach English to eager learners in another country without traveling there, online platforms provide such an outlet.

VIPKID, for example, offers high-quality English education to children in China and frequently hires ESL teachers. Interaction takes place using a computer, webcam, and microphone. Teachers benefit from working at home and creating schedules that fit their needs.

Similar online set-ups exist to instruct adults interested in honing their English skills. The Really Great Teacher Company (TRGTC) and Fluent City are just two of the organizations that have posted ESL positions on FlexJobs in the past. If you enjoy working with mature learners who are looking to expand their command of the English language to further their careers or academic studies, this can be a rewarding utilization of your skills.

Find an ESL Teaching Job

Want to learn more about opportunities for ESL teachers? Peruse individual postings in the FlexJobs database. You’ll discover additional information about what roles are out there and which skills and qualifications employers are looking for.

Not a FlexJobs member? Join today and get full access to ESL job posts, career advice, interview tips, and more! 

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