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How to Become an ESL Teacher

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As an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher, there are many employment opportunities where you can put your skills to work, both here in the United States and abroad. As an ESL teacher in the United States, you can work with children or adults who are second-language learners, either in an elementary or secondary school setting or by teaching night classes to adults in a local community center or at a local college or university.

Many ESL teachers also choose to teach English internationally. Teaching English in a foreign country is a great way to travel the world while also making money and gaining practical experience as a classroom teacher. And the best part is that you don't have to know a foreign language to find an English teaching job in another country.

If you're wondering how to take advantage of the many opportunities that come with a job teaching English to second-language learners, check out this step-by-step guide on how to become an ESL teacher.

  1. Obtain your bachelor's degree.
  2. Get a graduate degree and a TESOL certification.
  3. Figure out where you want to teach.
  4. Interview and find a job.
  5. Enjoy your new career!

Male teacher standing at the board

Benefits of Teaching English in the United States

Teaching is an incredibly rewarding career path, and teaching English classes to second-language learners is a great way to use your skills and help students of all ages. ESL teachers in the United States have access to a wide variety of resources and support systems that can make teaching more enjoyable and effective, including professional development opportunities and additional certification programs that can help you gain recognition as an expert in your field.

  • You can be flexible with your schedule. There are numerous opportunities outside of the traditional classroom setting where ESL teachers can work. If you prefer to work evenings, you can find a job teaching night classes to adults. If you want to go the traditional route and teach schoolchildren, you'll likely get to have your summers off.
  • Meet a diverse group of students. Teaching international students or those who aren't native English speakers means you'll likely meet a diverse group of students from all over the world. You'll have the opportunity to learn about new cultures and may even pick up some new language skills from your students!
  • Get creative with lesson planning. ESL is a subject where teachers have a bit more freedom in the curriculum development and the activities they choose for their lessons. If you want more autonomy in your lesson planning, ESL is a great subject to teach.

Benefits of Teaching English Abroad

There is a growing demand for native English speakers to teach internationally. In fact, there are more than 1.5 billion people across the world who are learning English as a second language. Since the majority of English speakers across the globe are not native speakers, there are plenty of teaching opportunities for qualified teachers to work abroad. And the job comes with a ton of perks, too!

  • Get paid to travel. It seems like everyone has the travel bug these days. But traveling internationally can be expensive, especially if you're coming from the United States. If you can find a teaching position in Europe or Asia, you'll be able to travel to other countries in those regions more easily and start accumulating those passport stamps.
  • Gain international work experience. Anyone with international work experience on their resume has a competitive edge when job-seeking in the U.S. If you can show that you already have English language teaching experience internationally, you'll be able to negotiate for a higher salary or better position when you return to the U.S.
  • Experience new cultures. Living in a foreign country is a completely different experience than traveling to a foreign country. When you commit to living in another country, you'll immerse yourself in the culture in a way that you wouldn't be able to on a short-term trip.
  • Learn a new language. It usually isn't a requirement to know a foreign language in order to be an English teacher abroad, but why not learn the native language while you're there? You'll likely pick up words and phrases quickly as you begin working with English learners, and you could even find a co-worker to swap language lessons with.

Male teacher presenting equations to students

How to Become an ESL Teacher

The process for becoming an ESL teacher will be slightly different if you choose to work in the United States or if you prefer to work internationally, but the educational background and certification requirements are mostly the same. We'll share the basic steps you'll need to take in order to become an ESL teacher. 

1. Obtain your bachelor's degree.

First, you'll need a minimum of a bachelor's degree in education or a related subject. While you don't necessarily have to have an undergraduate degree in education in order to get your teaching certification (alternative certification routes are available for those with a degree in another field), having a degree in a related field or experience working with English learners may put you above other candidates in the hiring process.

2. Get a graduate degree and a TESOL certification.

In addition to your teaching degree, you'll need a Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) certification, which gives you the additional skills beyond your basic teaching degree required to successfully teach English to second-language learners. One way to do this is by getting a Master's in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, which will give you the added expertise in second language acquisition and a deep understanding of the relationship between language and culture that you will need to be successful in your role as an ESL teacher.

3. Figure out where you want to teach.

Once you have the proper credentials and you've passed all the right exams, you'll need to figure out if you want to teach internationally or in the United States. You'll also need to decide if you prefer to teach in a traditional school, private language school, or in a different educational setting, like night classes at a college or university.

If you need to stay close to family members or if finding a job that provides health insurance or a retirement plan is important to you, finding a job in the United States might be your best choice. If you're a lover of adventure and want to see the world, you may consider finding a job internationally somewhere like South America or Asia, where English teachers are in high demand.

4. Interview and find a job.

There is a high demand for qualified ESL teachers here in the United States and abroad, and your interview will most likely be conducted in English. To stand out from other candidates and put your best face forward, take some time to prepare for your interview.

Make sure you know the job description well and read up on the school or organization you're interviewing with. Bring all your certification credentials with you, and be prepared to answer questions about why you'd be a good fit for the job. You can even practice answering interview questions with a loved one, which may help calm your nerves as your interview day approaches. Check out this article for some other great tips for preparing for a job interview.

If your first interview doesn't seem like a great fit, that's okay. You may choose to interview with several different places before finding the right fit. Remember that the interview process is just as much about you interviewing your potential new employer as it is the other way around.

5. Enjoy your new career!

Once you find the right fit, it's time to start your new career as an ESL teacher! This is the exciting time when you'll get to meet your new colleagues, engage in professional development activities, and begin creating lesson plans. Starting a new career can feel overwhelming at first, but you can take comfort in knowing that your education and training will have you well-prepared for your new role.

FAQs About Teaching English as a Second Language

What are the requirements for teaching English internationally?

Requirements for teaching English internationally will vary from country to country, but here are some general requirements you may need in order to teach English abroad:

  • a bachelor's degree
  • a TESOL certificate (always required)
  • an advanced degree, like a MA in TESOL
  • prior teaching experience
  • a valid passport and work visa

Can I teach with a Master's in TESOL?

Yes! With a Master's in TESOL, you can teach English as a Second Language both domestically and internationally. This graduate degree will give you access to a wide range of career opportunities.

Is an MA in TESOL worth it?

Absolutely! While it is possible to get a TESOL certification without a Master's degree, there are some serious benefits to putting in the extra time and effort for an advanced degree. A Master's in TESOL provides rigorous coursework and will give you the opportunity to participate in a clinical practicum placement where you'll get real-world teaching experience that aligns with your career goals. The courses are specifically aligned with the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation and TESOL International Standards.

Which countries outside the United States pay the most for ESL teachers?

ESL positions in Asia, including in South Korea, China, and Japan, offer the highest average salary for ESL teachers. 

What can I do with a Master's in TESOL degree?

You have plenty of career options with a Master's in TESOL. You can teach English language learners in the United States in public schools or private schools, teach abroad, pursue a doctoral degree, or become a translator or a private tutor.

young asian man teaching a class on language

Start Your New Career as an ESL Teacher With a Master’s in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages at Pepperdine University

Pepperdine University offers a Master's in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages that will prepare you to teach English as a second language to children or adults, both in the United States and abroad, or to pursue doctoral studies.

The MA in TESOL program at Pepperdine University is a customizable, 11-month program that allows you to specialize in one of four pathways: Organizational Leadership and Learning; Leadership in Pre-K to 12 Education; Learning Design and Technology; or Higher Education.

If you're ready to take the next step in your career as an ESL teacher, start by earning your degree at one of the highest-ranked universities in the U.S. Learn more about applying for the MA in TESOL program here.

Need more information before making a decision? Register for an upcoming information session today!