Teaching ESL in the United States

esl students in the united states

The common perception is that English is taught in foreign countries by backpackers fresh out of university. However, there are a number of jobs to be had teaching English as a second language teaching domestically as well.  In fact, there are thousands of ESL teachers in the United States who have never taught overseas. The fact is that the ascent of English as the world’s most studied language  has created a significant amount of teaching jobs in a variety of different situations even within English speaking countries, such as the United States. In addition to the thousands of foreign students that come here to study English each year, there are millions of newly arrived immigrants  that eventually are going to need some kind of English language training.  Of course, these are two different types of students,  but together have created and continue to require the need for ESL teachers in every large American city.

Where can I teach ESL in the United States? There are a fair number of jobs teaching ESL in New York,  Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco and Washington DC. There are also a handful of jobs in other notable metropolitan areas.  However, there are a limited number of full-time teaching  positions available as most of the teaching jobs tend to be part-time.

 Most of the full-time jobs are as program coordinators, directors, language school managers and student advisers.

In what kind of schools can I teach ESL? You have the option between teaching in a private or public school and there is a significant difference between the two. There are several large private chains, such as Kaplan, ELS, and Berlitz that have branches in most large American cities. Because of high teacher turnover, these schools tend to hire quite often. However, be aware that there have been several complaints in recent years from teachers about large schools like Kaplan mistreating employees.  Moreover, teacher pay has not increased and in some cases decreased in some large chains, such as Kaplan and Intrax even though these schools are making record profits.
For the most part, you have little job security and the students are charged way too much money. If you were expecting health insurance then keep dreaming. On a bright note, the students are usually very nice and diverse, which is probably the one thing that makes these schools somewhat tolerable for the majority of teachers.

The other  option is to teach at public community colleges,  universities or  non-profit organizations. Teaching ESL for a community college program or at the ESL program of a university offers the best pay and job security. Teaching for non-profit organization, such as one that caters to immigrant populations might not offer the best pay, but these types of teaching jobs almost always offer a stress free work environment and better job security.
Currently, I teach for both a public community college and for a private language school. The difference between the two is like night and day.  Granted in private language schools, you get more of an international feel and you will have the chance to work in the trendy downtown area of a large city, but they can also be quite corporate and management can sometimes act hostile towards the teachers. In my opinion, IT IS ALWAYS BETTER TO SECURE A JOB TEACHING ESL IN THE UNITED STATES AT A PUBLIC COLLEGE OR NON-PROFIT ORGANIZATION. If you are going to work at a private language institute, it is usually better to avoid the large chain schools like Kaplan and work for a small to mid -sized companies. However, even a small company in ESL can  be highly corrupt and disorganized, so be careful and do your homework.

What qualifications do I need to teach ESL in the United States?  It really depends on the school and your position. Most private langauge schools require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, at least 6 months teaching or training experience and a TESOL, TEFL or CELTA certificate.  However, some schools will exempt you from having a teaching certificate if you have  significant experience teaching English overseas.
If you want to work as a coordinator, director and program developer at these schools, you will most likely need a master’s degree in ESL, linguistics or something closely related. If you want to teach ESL at a community college or for a university ESL program, you most likely will need a master’s degree in teaching English as a second language, applied linguistics or something closely related. Even though I have a master’s degree in political science, a TESOL certificate and years of teaching experience, I have been turned down by colleges and universities simply because I didn’t have the correct master’s degree. If you are serious about teaching ESL in the long term or getting a job as a director of a program, then you should seriously consider completing a master’s degree in TESOL, linguistics or something related. Keep in mind that with a bear economy, employers now have the luxury to be picky and they take full advantage of this.

What kind of pay can I expect teaching ESL in the United States? 

If you got into teaching of any kind with the hopes of paying off your student loans in five years, then think again. But don’t fret too much as most people in their twenties and thirties are in a similar situation. It is the new economy and the new America. Expect to earn a salary teaching ESL ranging from that of  social worker to a public school teacher. It really depends on how many hours a week and if you are willing to  teach at two different schools at one time. Personally, I recommend having another income  on the side if you are going to teach ESL in the United States. I had a great time teaching ESL in Washington DC, but I also had an online gig teaching political science that paid well for the amount of hours I had to put in.
Even with that, I didn’t have a great salary, but it made the difference in that it was enough to allow me to save,  travel  and enjoy life. In other words, you need to be a little self efficient  and have a hustling spirit  if you are going to teach ESL in the United States.


About James 66 Articles
Since finishing Graduate school in 2007, I have been teaching ESL and adjuncting as a political science instructor. I taught English in Japan for four years and I have traveled throughout Asia and South America. These days, I spend most of my time customizing Wordpress themes, blogging and understanding SEO. My next goal in life is to become a successful entrepreneur. I recently have started a teacher placement agency, Beyond Borders ESL Jobs, and I am looking for investors to start-up an online language school with an innovative twist.


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