English as a Second Language (ESL) Teachers


Education and Training Requirements

High School

While in high school, courses in English, foreign language, and social studies will help build your knowledge of languages and different cultures. Joining a Spanish, French, German, or other language club is a good way to immerse yourself in a different language than your own. Better yet, become a foreign exchange student or host a student from another country. Participate in community multicultural events and volunteer at community relocation centers. Many churches, mosques, and temples also have refugee assistance programs that can offer excellent exposure to helping people from other countries. 

Postsecondary Training

Teaching certificate requirements vary by state. There are about 550 accredited teacher education programs in the United States and most are designed to meet the requirements of the state in which they are located. The Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation provides information on teacher education programs. Some states may require that prospective teachers pass a test before being admitted to an education program.

Students may choose to major in ESL or major in education with a concentration in ESL as a subject area. Student teaching is almost always required in a teaching program. Prospective teachers are placed in a school with a full-time teacher to observe the class, learn how to prepare lesson plans, and actually work with students and other teachers. Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) International Association offers the TESOL English Language Professional's Resource Guide at its Web site, http://englishlanguageprofessionalsresourceguide.com. It features approximately 450 college-level academic and training programs in English as a second language and related fields in the United States and Canada.

Besides licensure and courses in education, teachers at the secondary level usually need 24 to 36 credit hours of college work in ESL-related classes. Some states may require a master's degree.

ESL teachers of adult students do not need an education degree or a license. There are a variety of training programs available for ESL teachers of adults. These programs usually last from four to 12 weeks and upon successful completion, a diploma or teaching certificate is awarded.


The TESOL International Association offers certificate programs that help students master the theory and practice of English language teaching, learn how to teach English language courses online, and prepare to work in leadership, administrative, and management roles in various kinds of English language teaching organizations and institutions. Visit http://www.tesol.org/attend-and-learn/certificate-leadership-programs for more information. Additionally, some colleges and universities offer graduate certificates in teaching adult education or English for speakers of other languages.

Other Education or Training

Pursuing continuing education is an excellent way to keep your skills up to date and improve your chances of landing a job. The TESOL International Association provides online courses, virtual seminars, academies, and symposia, and workshops and other educational offerings at its annual conference. Recent offerings included Grammar 1: Phrasal Structures, Using Technology to Promote Collaborative Classroom Practices, and The Keys to Success in Teaching English to Young Learners.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

In addition to becoming certified to teach, many teachers become certified in ESL or bilingual education. More than 40 states and the District of Columbia offer ESL teacher certification or endorsement. Contact your state's department of education for information on requirements in your state. Some states require continuing education courses in order to maintain teaching certificates. Overseas employers of ESL teachers may also require a certificate and prior teaching experience.

Teachers in public schools must be licensed under regulations established by the department of education of the state in which they teach. Not all states require licensure for teachers in private or parochial schools. Prospective ESL teachers should check the specific requirements of the state where they plan to teach.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Experience as a student teacher is frequently required to become an ESL educator. This training is offered as part of formal postsecondary teacher education programs.

To be a successful ESL teacher, you must be patient and have the ability to relate to people of other nationalities and cultures. You should have an interest in the history and traditions of other countries and nationalities. An ability to relate to people from all walks of life is also necessary to be successful as an ESL teacher.

ESL instructors who teach adults should be aware of the different ways people absorb information and be able to adapt their teaching skills to successfully teach older students.