‘ESL’ stands for ‘English as a second language.’ An ESL teacher teaches non-native English speakers how to read, write and speak in English. ESL teachers do not need to speak any language other than English. In fact, the vast majority of ESL teachers ONLY speak English.
There is a large market for ESL teachers all over the world because English speaking countries have dominated the world’s economy for the past two centuries. In other words, English is the language of money and business. Sure, countries such as India and China are turning into economic powerhouses, but students in India and China are studying the English language from a very young age. These societies are very intelligent and know how important it is to be able to communicate in English.
There’s also a domestic market for ESL teachers in The United States. Millions and millions of immigrants pour into The United States every year. Most of them speak broken English. These peoples’ inability to speak English often prevents them from finding good jobs as well as making friends. Many immigrants feel isolated from American society because they can only interact with fellow immigrants. Many public schools, for example, issue publications in Spanish as well as English. Unfortunately, many immigrants in the United States don’t seek out language instruction, but those who do employ ESL teachers.
How To Become An ESL Teacher
First off, if you want to be an ESL teacher, it helps tremendously to have a college degree because it makes you more marketable. If you don’t have a college degree, you’re going to have to work harder to gain experience and build credibility. It's a good idea to at the very least matriculate to an online undergraduate program, even if it’s just a two-year degree. If you choose to pursue any teaching job without a college degree, you have an uphill battle in front of you, but with hard work and patience, you can still succeed.
The traditional path, however, is to graduate from college—a four year degree or a two year degree. If you have a college degree, you'll have a solid base to build off of. Once you have your degree, there are two ways to get ‘certified’ to be an ESL teacher. One is to complete an ESL certificate, and the other is to receive a Master’s Degree in TESOL. TESOL is short for ‘teaching English to speakers of other languages.’ ESL and TESOL are the same thing for the purposes of this article. Don’t let the terminology mix you up.
Okay. So, you can pursue a Master’s Degree in TESOL which is a great qualification. If you have a Master’s Degree in TESOL, you’ll have no problem finding a job as an ESL teacher whether in the United States or abroad. To teach ESL in the United States at a community college or a public school, you need a Master’s Degree in TESOL. Many TESOL Master’s programs are run completely online. The New School in New York City, for example, has an online TESOL Master’s program that’s ranked very highly and well respected throughout the world.
There are two downsides to getting a Master’s in TESOL. First, the degree takes two years to complete if you’re a full time student. Most people are part time students so they complete the degree in three years. The second downside is that a Master’s Degree can be expensive, in the $50,000 range for the best programs such as The New School’s. Some schools offer financial aid, but financial aid packages are extremely competitive. Some state schools have lower tuition for in state students, but still you’re looking at $15,000 for a generously priced, in state degree.
The other option you have is to complete a TESOL certificate program which isn’t as intensive, expensive or time consuming. With a TESOL certificate, you’ll have no problem finding jobs abroad in Asia, the Middle East, South America and Europe. It’ll be hard to find consistent, paying ESL jobs in the United States with only a TESOL certificate unless you're a private tutor. That said, ESL jobs abroad pay the same, if not more, than ESL jobs in The United States.
Many colleges, community colleges and independent companies (such as TESOL itself, go to TESOL.org) offer TESOL certificates. I received my TESOL certificate from Hunter College in New York City. Hunter College offers job placement assistants for all of its TESOL certificate graduates.
TESOL certificates are considerably cheaper than Master’s programs. Certain companies such as Global Nomad, pair job placement with certificate services. For around $1,000 plus airfare, Global Nomad will ship you off somewhere in the world. You’ll study abroad for a month or two to receive your TESOL certificate, and once you have the certificate, Global Nomad will assist you in finding an ESL job abroad. Be careful though—there are many scams that claim to run on the same model as Global Nomad.
Once you have a TESOL certificate or a Master’s Degree in TESOL, there are many ways to find jobs. Websites such as eslcafe.com have listings of job openings all over the world. If you have a Master’s Degree and you’re looking domestically for jobs in the United States, vitae.com lists many open ESL teaching positions at colleges and community colleges. Also, mostly every public school in the country has an ESL program. These public school jobs usually require a Master’s Degree as well as an in state certification that takes a few weeks of training to get and costs a few hundred bucks.
It’s all about the money, honey! ESL teachers can rake in the dough if they’re experienced and good at what they do. Basically, if you go abroad to the Middle East (in Dubai there’s a large market) or Asia (China or Japan, but particularly China), you can easily make $45,000 a year working 40 hours a week with reduced hours in the Summer. If you’re really super qualified—you have a Masters in TESOL and years of experience teaching ESL—you can make $100,000 per year teaching in China.
If you’re teaching ESL at a public high school in the United States, you’ll get paid what a public school teacher gets paid in your state—normally around $50,000 per year. If you’re teaching at a community college in the United States, you’ll probably be making around $40,000 per year. You’ll have the Summer off with these jobs, so during the Summer, you can tutor on the side to supplement your income.
If you’re working at a private language school such as Berlitz, you can be making upwards of $100 per hour. Note: these jobs are very competitive. You'll likely need a Master’s to get one of these jobs or tons of experience. You can also have a Master’s degree in something unrelated to TESOL paired with a TESOL certificate.
There’s a large market for private ESL tutoring, especially online. There are a lot of students in the more isolated parts of China, for example, who don’t have access to instruction from native English speakers so they hire online tutors. Many immigrants in the United States are also seeking online ESL tutors. These jobs can pay anywhere from $20 per hour to $100 per hour; you set your own rate. If you register as an ESL tutor on Thumbtack.com, you’ll be inundated with messages from people seeking online ESL tutoring. Many of these people are immigrants who may be limited in terms of resources, but you can easily get $20 per hour tutoring online through Thumbtack. What’s great about online ESL tutoring is that all you need is a TESOL certificate to be “qualified.”
Basically, ESL teaching is a great industry that can be quite lucrative. Online ESL tutoring in particular is easy to break into. There are mixed feelings about the growth outlook for the industry, however. Some people project that due to increased globalization and developing technologies (such as instant translations services), the need to be able to speak English will decrease over time.
Personally, I feel that as long as English is the language of money and business, there’ll be a substantial market for ESL teaching. For the foreseeable future, English will remain the language of money and business. Perhaps in twenty years the market for ESL teaching won’t be as booming as it is now, but there will still be a market for ESL teaching. One hundred years from now…well that’s a different story…but for the foreseeable future, ESL teaching is here to stay.
One final thought—ESL teaching can be difficult sometimes. You often have to work and live across cultures. Students can be unruly although most students are cooperative and nice. One thing people just staring out in the industry don’t realize about ESL teaching is that it requires great organization and great patience. The best ESL teachers have crisp, clear lesson plans. Early in their careers, they often spend hours picking the right materials and writing lesson plans, which becomes easier and less time consuming as you gain experience. You can also recycle lesson plans after awhile.
The best ESL teachers are very thorough. They know English grammar perfectly, and they’re very patient with students. Never show frustration with your students unless they’re really misbehaving or else you’ll lose them.
ESL teaching isn’t a cakewalk, but it feels great to help people learn how to communicate in English. Also, you can make some good money along the way.