What Is an ESOL Teacher?

Explore the career requirements for an English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) teacher. Get the facts about education requirements, licensure, job duties and employment to determine if this is career is right for you. Schools offering Teaching & Learning degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is an ESOL Teacher?

An English as a Second Language (ESOL) teacher instructs non-English speaking individuals on the fundamentals of the English language so that they can communicate with others. ESOL teachers may be employed at various education levels. For instance, they may teach English to adult immigrants and others whose first language is not English, in order to help them build the language skills they need to get a job and navigate daily activities like shopping and transportation. Some ESOL teachers work in elementary, middle or high schools, where they help students build the speaking, listening and reading skills they need for academic success, as well as social interactions and daily living.

Get an overview of this career through the information in the table below.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree; master's degree preferred
Education Field of Study Education, English
Key Responsibilities Support non-English speakers as they learn to read, write and speak English, develop lesson plans, assess student progress
Certification Public school teachers must be licensed; state certification requirements vary
Job Growth (2014-2024) 6% (middle school teachers)*
6% (high school teachers)*
7% (adult literacy and high school equivalency diploma teachers)*
Median Salary (2017) $39,028 (for all ESOL teachers)**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Payscale.com

What Training Do ESOL Teachers Need?

At a minimum, most states require you to have a bachelor's degree to become an ESOL teacher. However, most college and university programs for ESOL teachers are post-baccalaureate certificate and master's degree programs. A bachelor's degree is the basic admission standard for these programs, and some require you major in teacher education. Many schools also prefer that you to be fluent in one or more foreign languages prior to enrolling. You can usually complete a certificate program in a year or less, and a master's degree program generally takes about two years.

Programs for ESOL teachers provide you with a base of education theory and practical experience interacting with, assessing and instructing students who understand little or no English. In the process, you'll integrate the techniques that work best for you and develop your own presentation style. Topics you'll commonly encounter in certificate and degree programs include theories of language acquisition, ESOL teaching methods, English syntax, phonology and curriculum design.

Where Could I Work?

Many positions are available at 2-year and 4-year postsecondary schools, elementary and secondary schools and non-profit organizations. You could also consider working as a private tutor. Some programs, usually at the master's degree level, allow you to participate in overseas internships that you might be able to extend into permanent employment.

In 2014, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that approximately 77,500 people worked as adult basic and secondary education and literacy teachers and instructors, including ESOL teachers (www.bls.gov). The BLS anticipated an increase of 7% in employment in the field between 2014 and 2024. A rising immigrant population during the period may create a strong demand for ESOL teachers.

What Duties Will I Have?

You'll primarily help non-English speakers acquire the ability to speak, read and write in English. Like teachers of any other subject, you'll create lesson plans, lead classroom sessions, assign homework and give tests. Your specific subject matter would generally include vocabulary, spelling, verb conjugation, grammar and pronunciation. You'll also help students learn to understand American culture and assist them with finding job placement, healthcare and access to vocational training or college.

There are likely to be small variations in your duties depending on your work setting. For example, if you're a private tutor you might need to devote more effort to assessing the language capabilities and learning needs of individual clients. If you teach for a nonprofit organization, you could have to tailor your lesson plan to the training needs specific to the organization. At an elementary, secondary or postsecondary school, you might have to attend faculty meetings.

Will I Need a Teaching License?

Depending on where you work, you could need to obtain a teaching license with a special ESOL endorsement issued by your state. Usually, if you work in public service or academia, you'll need some form of licensure. You'll be required to hold at least a bachelor's degree and complete some educational training, though specific state requirements vary. You'll usually need to pass the PRAXIS test for your teaching license, and some states require that you take additional testing to teach non-English students.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

As an adult educator, you could also specialize in an area other than ESOL. For instance, you could teach courses that prepare adults for the high school equivalency exam. In this job, you would cover topics in language arts, math, science and social studies. You need to have at least a bachelor's degree for the job. If you would rather teach younger students, you could choose a job as a middle or high school teacher with a specialization in a subject such as biology or history. In these jobs, you might also have supervisory duties outside the classroom, like lunchroom monitoring. To work in public school, you need to have a bachelor's degree and a license.

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