Hack College Presents: How To Become An ESL Educator

ESL education

English is one of the most commonly spoken languages worldwide, thanks to a rapid uptick in the number of English teachers. An ESL (English as a Second Language) or ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) educator helps those who are native speakers of other languages become fluent reading, writing and speaking English.

Part I. What is an ESL Educator?

Knowledge of a second language is not required to be an ESL educator, but it can be very helpful in understanding what your students are going through as they learn English. In addition, ESL educators can work in many settings. Read on to find out which one would be best for you.

  • Teaching English Abroad: There are multitudes of opportunities for you to teach English abroad. From Spain to South Korea, private companies hire competent, educated English speakers to teach language skills in the classroom. Teaching jobs are available at all grade levels, and some corporations even hire ESL educators for adult level classes. Most hiring programs will require a bachelor’s degree in any subject, as well as ESL certification. If you’re going this route, be sure to fully research your opportunities to choose the program that best fits your needs.
  • Traditional School Settings: ESL educators are called ELL (English Language Learners) teachers in most traditional school settings. ELL teachers are a staple in most urban school settings as immigrants move their families to American to give their families greater education or economic opportunities. ELL teachers are often adjunct to the classroom and provide pull-outs or one-on-one inclusion experiences (working with the children inside the regular classroom). These teachers may have a degree in education or ELL/ESL education. Some teachers have obtained certification through an accelerated program (with degrees in other areas), but are qualified to teach ELLs.
  • Community Outreach/Adult Education: There are many people living in the United States who do not have the English skills to maintain long-term employment. Community outreach and adult literacy programs are integral for teaching adults how to read, write, and speak the English language. The focus will often be on practical vocabulary for jobs and daily living, while some programs concentrate on the U.S. citizenship exam. Whether the classes are offered through a church, YMCA, or nonprofit organization, these teaching jobs are becoming more common. This type of ESL educator also enjoys a flexible schedule, typically teaching students during their time away from work. Learning English as an adult can be difficult, but this sort of accomplishment can have a very positive impact on fluent speakers and their families.

Your communication skills must be sharp in order to deal with students as well as other teachers or administrators, especially if your school is located in a foreign country where English is not the official language. You must learn to communicate your teaching concepts in a method that works for all students. You will likely be teaching students who do not share the same native language, so your creativity will be crucial to your effectiveness. In addition, cultural sensitivity is crucial. Your students will come from a variety of backgrounds; respect and cultural understanding play a major role, as will a healthy dose of patience.

Salary and Career Outlook

According to 2010 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), median pay for adult literacy and GED teachers (including ESL Educators) was $46,530 per year. The lowest 10% earned less than $27,000; the top 10% earned more than $83,000.

According to the BLS, employment is expected to increase 15% from 2010 to 2020, which is close to the average for all occupations. As of 2010, there are roughly 87,000 jobs available; half are found in educational institutions, including elementary, secondary, and high schools (both public and private), as well as community colleges. Growth in this sector is expected due to rising rates of immigration to the United States, which causes demand for both adult and child ESL and literacy programs.

Part II. Schools for ESL Educators

ESL Educators must earn at least a bachelor’s degree to break into the field. Some jobs will require an education degree. Training may include an internship, student teaching, or residency. If you have an undergraduate degree in something other than ESL, getting a master’s degree or certificate in ESL will qualify you for most jobs. Even while you are teaching, attending professional development classes or workshops will help keep your skills sharp and up-to-date in this ever-changing profession.


This web-based ESL platform offers five courses for those who want to get ESL certification post-degree.

  • Course Requirements: Offerings differ for each course, but all include an interactive course, video tutorials, basic principles of English language learning, and certification upon completion.
  • Specialized Course: The highly interactive IDELT (International Diploma in English Language Teaching – Online) course is in partnership with the University of Northern Colorado and is available for college credit.
  • Accreditation: Accrediting Council for Continuing Education & Training.
  • Cost: Prices range from basic at $220 to the IDELT for $906.
  • Financial Aid: The courses are discounted from their original prices.
  • For the FInancially Savvy: This will help get you a job to teach abroad if you already have a college degree. They even offer job placement services.
  • Who Should Enroll? Whether you’re just testing the water or want a refresher course in ESL, this will not replace getting a bachelor’s degree at an accredited university.

Simmons College

This Boston institution offers a major in General Education and ESL that prepares teachers to work with non-native speakers in the public school system.

  • Course Requirements: A semester abroad is encouraged, and many of the higher level classes include fieldwork. A full list of courses fall under the Education curriculum.
  • Specialized Degrees: This program should be taken concurrently with another major in the liberal arts or sciences.
  • Cost: For undergrads, per term tuition is $16,675. Room and board will cost roughly $13,000 per year. Expect at least $1,000 in additional fees.
  • Financial Aid: Scholarships range from $2,000 to full tuition, and are both need- and merit-based. Simmons offers a full financial aid database.
  • For the FInancially Savvy: Approximately 97% of first-year students receive some form of financial assistance.
  • Who Should Enroll? Full-time undergraduate students who are looking for a more traditional school experience.

Georgia State University

This Atlanta school has a Bachelor of Arts program in Applied Linguistics that prepares students to teach ESL with a thorough analysis of the fundamentals of the English language.

  • Course Requirements: Courses to complete a B.A. in Applied Linguistics include foreign language requirements, one in a commonly taught language. Interesting electives are available.
  • Specialized Degrees: Students in the Language Studies Program can earn a Certificate in TEFL to use while seeking teach abroad employment..
  • Cost: Per semester, resident tuition and fees are $4,832. Nonresidents will pay $13,937. Use the cost calculator to determine the price with room and board.
  • Financial Aid: Scholarships are available, as well as grants that work like a gift. If you plan to teach in a high-need school, TEACH Grant offers $4,000 per year.
  • For the FInancially Savvy: GSU will help you get your career off the ground with links to jobs stateside and abroad. Establishing residency will help your cost.
  • Who Should Enroll? Students who want the whole linguistics picture. Earn anything from a B.A. to a Ph.D. at GSU.

University of Alabama at Birmingham

UAB’s School of Education offers three graduate programs for teaching ESL, with many learning platforms including blended courses, Saturday classes, summer institutes, and practical workshops.

  • Course Requirements: Course maps are available for traditional, alternative, and international Master of Arts In Education (M.A.Ed) programs. Details about each innovative program are provided.
  • Specialized Degrees: UAB’s program consists of two degrees: an M.A.Ed in ESL and an Educational Specialist (EdS) degree in education.
  • Cost: Resident graduate students pay $335/credit for tuition ($530 for the first credit hour). Nonresidents pay $788/credit ($983 for the first credit hour). Other miscellaneous fees apply.
  • Financial Aid: Scholarships, grants, and work study positions are available on top of traditional federal grants and loans.
  • For the FInancially Savvy: Resident status will cut your cost in half.
  • Who Should Enroll? Students who want a highly focused, flexible course of study to teach children, adults, or abroad.

Hamline University

This St. Paul university offers several affordable options for ESL educators from certificates to master’s degrees.

  • Specialized Degrees and Cost: Adult ESL Certificate is for those with a degree who want certification to teach adults (eight credits at $255/credit), ESL Licensure is for those with a degree and teaching certification (25 credits at $374/credit), M.A. in ESL is a thesis program offered online and in class (34-43 credits at $374/credit)
  • Financial Aid: A large number of financial aid options exist for every type of student depending on your program. Hamline also links to many outside scholarships.
  • For the FInancially Savvy: Hamline is an extremely affordable university located in a city with a relatively low cost of living.
  • Who Should Enroll? Hamline has affordable opportunities for certificate, degree, and master’s seeking students flexible options. The faculty is experienced and classes small.

New School for Public Engagement

This Big Apple institution offers an M.A. in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. The M.A. in TESOL can be completed totally online or a combination of online and in class.

  • Course Requirements/Concentrations: Course work will differ within concentrations, such as teaching or curriculum development. Fifteen credit hours are allotted to core courses, and another 15 will cover the student’s concentration.
  • Cost: Courses cost $1,255 per credit, with another $330 in fees per year. Students earn at least 30 credits to graduate, and this amounts to nearly $40,000 not including room and board.
  • Accreditation: New York State Board of Regents and the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Financial Aid: In addition to standard federal loans, grants, and work study, the New School offers awards based on need, merit, or a combination.
  • For the FInancially Savvy: The guided project or practicum will enhance your resume, putting you on the top of the pile. Students who start in the summer can finish in 3 terms. You can transfer up to six credits. Military discounts apply.
  • Who Should Enroll? Students with a bachelor’s degree who need the flexibility of online learning but hope to glean some expertise from stellar instructors.

Part III. Breaking Into the Field

  • Resumes: If your ESL job will be your first official job since college, be sure that you are also listing internships and volunteer work experiences. Your resume should list your previous jobs, as well as your skills. Whether you’ve specifically worked with adults in a community setting, or small children at a preschool, be sure to include those details.
  • Cover Letters: Show off your personality and highlight anything that is specific to the job you’re hoping to land. Expand on the reasons you feel you are a perfect fit for any position. Mention the company and position you’re applying for, and end with a call to action.
  • Portfolios: ESL educators should create and keep a portfolio of activities or photo documentation of your relevant work. Demonstrate your applied skills. Even if you haven’t been in a paid position as of yet, your classes and internships should have yielded plenty of work to put in a portfolio.
  • Online Platforms: If your school isn’t hooking you into a great internship or practicum, explore options online. Make sure you are an active member of web-based groups who share insights or activities with one another.

5 Great ESL Teacher Web References

  1. TESOL is an international organization that showcases journals, newsletters, conferences, career options, and tons of other resources. Staying connected in the field will benefit you greatly. Membership fees are nominal for what you’ll gain.
  2. Purdue’s Online Writing Lab has a list of ESL teacher resources, as well as grammar and writing worksheets and labs that are ideal for an aspiring ESL instructor.
  3. Judie Haynes’ EverythingESL touches on several topics pertinent to teaching ESL. Don’t miss the Challenges for ELLs in Content Area Learning, which will provide insight into what you must overcome to reach your English language learners for all content areas.
  4. Teachitworld is an online resource featuring games and activities for teen and adult English learners. A paid membership will get you audio resources and other documents that are organized by topic and level.
  5. The English Language Learner’s Alliance is a nonprofit in the Pacific Northwest that helps adults with their English fluency. There are several projects like this all over the U.S. Find one in your area so that you can guide your adult ELLs to additional practice.

The Rewards of Teaching ESL

Becoming an ESL educator is a great way to invest in your community or explore the world. Teaching children English will broaden their life long education. Adults studying ESL are highly motivated and usually attend classes by choice, and enabling these individuals to broaden their skill sets — and in some cases, earn U.S. citizenship — can prove to be extremely rewarding.