For a better experience, click the Compatibility Mode icon above to turn off Compatibility Mode, which is only for viewing older websites.

How to Become an ESL Teacher

Drexel University School of Education

Teachers can have a big impact on the lives of their students, but few have as large of an impact as ESL teachers. Learning how to become an English as a second language teacher can be slightly complicated because there’s no strict formula to follow, and ESL teacher education and certification requirements vary by state. If you’re interested in pursuing a career as an ESL teacher, here are some of the general requirements for prospective teachers.

What Does an ESL Teacher Do?

An English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher helps English language learners (ELL) to become proficient in verbal and written English. According to the Department of Education, an ELL student is defined as an elementary or secondary school student whose native language isn’t English, who wasn’t born in the United States, and who are in need of additional English supports and services.

In short, that means an ESL teacher is someone who helps ELLs to access and acquire English language skills in order to participate in an English speaking contexts both inside and outside of school. Working with students from a wide range of age groups and backgrounds, ESL teachers need to be sensitive to cultural and linguistic differences, show empathy and support for their social, academic, and acculturation experiences, and assist other general education teachers to adapt their classroom instruction to support ELLs. In addition, the international importance of the English language allows ESL teachers to enjoy a variety of employment prospects, working in community centers, academies, schools, or as private tutors.

Skills of an ESL Teacher

Learning a language can be incredibly rewarding, but also incredibly challenging. Helping students overcome that challenge requires a number of skills. Because any teacher can play an important role in the lives of their students, but as their guide to the English speaking world, ESL teachers often act as mentors and advisors.

That’s why the characteristics and skills of an ESL teacher might include:

  • Patience
  • Adaptability
  • Curiosity
  • Cultural responsiveness
  • Strong written and verbal communication
  • Fluency in other languages

What Degree Do You Need to Be an ESL Teacher?

Learning a second language isn’t necessary to become an ESL teacher, but having a bilingual perspective can be distinctly useful for this line of work. Earning a Bachelor’s degree is necessary, and it’s generally regarded as the first step towards completing ESL teacher education requirements.

While no specific Bachelor’s degree is required to become an ESL teacher in PA, prospective ESL teachers usually prepare by studying education, English, or linguistics. Even though there may not be a specific degree program, you can also find ESL teacher education programs that specifically prepare you for passing ESL teacher certification requirements.

Certification Requirements to Become an ESL Teacher

Because ESL certifications are usually an add-on certificate to a teaching certification in PA, it’s necessary to obtain an Instructional I or II teaching license prior to completing an ESL certification. With a Bachelor’s degree and teaching license secured, the next step is to complete the state certification requirements. While those requirements vary by region, they generally involve completing an ESL program like the Teaching English as a Second Language certification.

How Long Does It Take to Become an ESL Teacher?

Earning a Bachelor’s degree and obtaining a teaching license typically requires four years. Finishing a TESL certification program can be completed anywhere from 6 months to a year or longer, and most schools require a TESL certification that includes at least 120 hours of training. This means with the right program, you can become an ESL teacher in about four and a half years.