How Can I Become an Adult ESL Teacher?

Research what it takes to become an adult ESL teacher. Learn about education requirements, job duties, wages and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Teaching ESL degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is an Adult ESL Teacher?

English as a second language (ESL) teachers teach individuals whose first language is something other than English how to read, write and speak the English language. Typically, the adults you teach have as their primary goal communicating (speaking and writing) well enough in English that they can obtain a job. You may focus on a particular field, like business or medical, in order to help students learn the appropriate vocabulary to be successful in their job. Read more about adult ESL teachers in the table below.

Degree RequiredBachelor's degree
Bachelor's degree plus certificate
Education Field of StudyEducation
Adult ESL teaching
Key ResponsibilitiesTeach adults who are not native English speakers to read, write and speak English
Develop educational strategies to motivate students and assist learning
Utilize quizzes, textbooks and various media to promote learning
Licensure/CertificationLicensure required but varies by state
Job Growth (2014-2024)7% for adult literacy and high school equivalency diploma teachers*
Median Salary (2016)$40,173**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **PayScale

What Would I Do as an Adult ESL Teacher?

When you work with adults as an English as a second language teacher, you are responsible for teaching non-native English speaking individuals how to read, write and speak the English language. You typically teach adults who have the primary goal of communicating and writing in English so that they might obtain a job.

It might be helpful if you are fluent in another language, but it is not required to earn a position in the field. You generally work with adults from several different language backgrounds at the same time. You need to rely on creative communication skills and lessons to reach out to the specific needs and goals of your adult students.

What Education Might I Need?

Most states require you to have at least a bachelor's degree in education or a similar field before you can work as an ESL teacher. Some might also require you to have some graduate education. Many universities offer graduate-level certificate programs for aspiring ESL teachers within their continuing education or professional development departments.

A graduate certificate program in adult ESL teaching gives you with the basic skills and training necessary to teach students from other cultural and language backgrounds. This may be taken after completion of a bachelor's degree program in any other field, including English. It may stand in place of or complement a master's degree, providing you with a background in second language acquisition theory, teaching techniques and linguistics.

Will I Need Licensure or Certification?

If you aspire to work in a public adult education center or government-run program, you may be required to gain licensure before you can hold a position as an ESL teacher. Each state has its own specific requirements for gaining licensure. Some merely require you to gain a public school teacher license, while others require you to also gain specialized adult education licensure.

What's My Potential Career Outlook?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn't have specific data related to adult ESL teachers, but did report that adult literacy and high school equivalency diploma education teachers held more than 77,500 jobs in 2014 ( Employment in this field is expected to grow by 7% from 2014-2024, an average rate of growth.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

You could also choose to work as a teacher at the high school level, teaching either English or Spanish, though you may have to alter your bachelor's degree to focus on that specific area. If you are more interested in working with younger children, you could work as an elementary or middle school teacher as well. You also may want to consider a career in translation, as this career would require fluency in two languages.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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