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Job Description for an ESL Teacher

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The acronym ESL refers to people who are learning or teaching English as a second language. These learners may already speak several languages, so the term "English as a second language" may be a misnomer. Whether students speak one or more languages other than English, the role of an ESL teacher is to facilitate the learning of English in a country where it is the primary language.

Job Description

ESL teachers work with students of all ages to increase their proficiency with written and spoken English. Students and their ESL teacher may not have any language in common, so the teacher must use basic explanations to communicate. Instruction involves the use of pictures, demonstrations, repetition and role play. The duties of an ESL teacher include cultural education, with the teacher serving as a bridge between a student's native culture and the new culture experienced in the United States.

You may see other acronyms to describe English language learners (ELLs) and their teachers:

  • TESOL: Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages
  • TESL: Teaching English as a Second Language
  • TEFL: Teaching English as a Foreign Language
  • ESOL: English to Speakers of Other Languages

Education Requirements

ESL teachers provide instruction in a variety of settings. To work in the public school system where students range in age from pre-K through grade 12, you must meet state-specific requirements for licensing, which requires a minimum of a bachelor's degree in an accredited teacher education program. Some teachers earn a bachelor's or master's in TESOL or ESL for the initial certification. Teachers already certified in another content area can earn TESOL certification through graduate coursework.

In private settings, education requirements for teachers are not as strict. Most employers seek individuals with a minimum of a bachelor's degree, preferably in education, with some training or experience with ESL. There are many variations on the English language tutor job description, including volunteer positions that are offered through community centers and outreach programs.

Industry Information

ESL teachers work full time and part time in several environments. Some work in the public school systems. Others are employed by companies with non-English speaking employees or by language academies. Some teachers meet with students in the home, either their homes or the students' homes. Teachers may work with adults or children. They may teach in classroom settings or work with students in small groups or one-on-one. Teachers with advanced degrees and experience may find opportunities as program directors and in teacher training programs.

Years of Experience and Salary

The median salary for ESL teachers in the U.S. is $40,755, meaning half the teachers in the field earn less and half earn more. Earnings depend on geographic location, teacher credentials, employer and years of experience. Public school teachers in New York, for example, earn an average of $79,152 annually, while teachers in South Dakota earn $42,025. Full-time ESL teachers in adult education programs average $48,555 per year. Often, classes are offered during the evening to accommodate students' work schedules, so teachers may only have opportunities to teach part time.

Here are some average annual salary ranges based on years of experience:

  • Entry-level: $24,412 – $42,859
  • Mid-career: $24,676 – $59,361
  • Experienced: $29,705 – $76,085
  • Late-career: $28,906 – $83,870

Job Growth Trend

Opportunities for teachers in all content areas are expected to grow by about 7 percent through 2024, an increase that is about average when compared to growth in other occupations. There are more job openings in states such as Texas and California, which have high immigrant populations.


Denise Dayton is a a freelance writer who specializes in business, education and technology. She has written for, Library Journal, The Searcher, Bureau of Education and Research, and corporate clients.

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