Teaching is considered one of the noblest and rewarding professions, and English teachers are in high demand. Are you interested in learning how to become an English teacher domestically or abroad? This post explicates the possible career paths in public or private education sectors and the requirements you must meet.
Teaching is such an attractive career prospect because it allows people to work with kids or teens in a capacity where their leadership, guidance, and expertise is needed and valued. It is a respected profession and among the most important jobs a person can have.
If you want to make a difference, influence young minds, or have dreamt of making the world a better place, a teaching career may be ideal for you. If you’re fascinated by literature and themes, are interested in launching a career that makes a difference in other’s lives, or want to become an expert in the English language, becoming an English teacher is a great way to do just that.
Table of Contents
- The Career Options for English Teachers
- How to Become a K-12 English Teacher
- How to Become an ESL Teacher in the US
- How to Become an English Teacher Abroad
- Becoming an Online English Teacher or Tutor
- Teacher Personality Traits and Qualities
- Become an English Teacher and Dive Into Teaching
- Emina Dedic
The Career Options for English Teachers
Now that you’re committed to learning how to become an English teacher, let’s evaluate what you need to next. The first thing you have to do to start an English teaching career is determined where you want to work and what niche you want to work in. With so many options, it can sometimes seem daunting to make a decision.
There are three (and a half) main career options for people interested in becoming English teachers:
- Working as a traditional English teacher in the public education system of your state (or country),
- Teaching English as a second language to speakers of other languages in your country (mostly referred to as TESL, Teaching English as a Second Language, or TESOL, Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages)
- Teaching English as a foreign language to speakers of other languages abroad (mostly referred to as TEFL, Teaching English as a Foreign Language)
- Teaching English as a second language online
In this guide, each section has been separated accordingly. This post will walk you through the steps to a traditional teaching career at first before it introduces you to the adventurous world of teaching abroad and online. Let’s dig into the details!
How to Become a K-12 English Teacher
Why not start in a comfortable environment that you’re used to like your hometown or state?
If you’re interested in a traditional career path for teaching grades K-12, below you’ll find an outline of the requirements, how to become an English teacher in the USA, UK, and Canada.
Become a Teacher in the USA
When you’re considering how to become an English teacher in America, have a firm understanding of the process as it can be time-consuming and tedious. You want to make sure you have all of the information you need as well as the paperwork to make a successful transition into a teaching career. To become a teacher in America, you must::
Earn a bachelor’s degree
The bachelor’s degree can be in any subject but must be completed at an accredited school. Some schools do offer educational track programs and majors. If you are interested in teaching kindergarten and pre-K levels, a minimum of an associates degree in elementary education is usually required. For teachers interested in teaching students in middle school or older, specializing in a specific subject area is often required. Please check your state requirements and stipulations for specifics.
Finish a teacher education program
Some teachers complete a teaching curriculum while obtaining their bachelor’s degrees. Other programs, however, are available to teachers with unrelated majors. For programs not provided by universities, private programs are available and sometimes provided by schools and other educational institutions.
Complete student teaching obligations
It’s generally considered a requirement to complete hands-on teaching experience before being allowed to teach in a classroom. Student teaching can be required while enrolled in a degree program or following a degree program. Observed student teaching is required in order to get licensed to teach. Student teaching usually takes place at two or more schools. Teachers will also be expected to pass a certification exam.
Complete state licensing credentials
In order to be allowed to teach at a public school, teachers must complete state and local licensing requirements. Certification generally relates to the grade level for which the teacher considers their expertise as well as any specializations. Some specializations include:
- Early Childhood education (everything before 1st grade)
- Elementary education (from 1st to anywhere up to 8th grade)
- Middle School (6th to 8th grade)
- Secondary Education (anywhere from 7th to 12th grade)
- Specialized Teaching (TESL, Special Education, etc.)
If you don’t have the required education courses to get started, don’t feel discouraged. There are several programs run by states that allow teachers with unrelated bachelor degrees to get the courses they need to qualify for certification. Look into your states requirements and the options they provide for more details.
For teachers interested in teaching domestically but aren’t enthusiastic about the licensing process, private schools are also an option. Private school teachers do not have to be licensed, though it most certainly helps to be. Teachers, do, however, need to be certified by the state.
Keep in mind that although you may have a license and certification to teach, teaching is a lifelong career path that is constantly evolving. As such, it is highly advised that teachers plan for obtaining advanced credentials such as MAs and Ph.D.s as they teach to continue to hone their crafts. Many teachers also go on to become administrators, managers, coaches, and principals, all of which often require additional schooling.
For more specific information about becoming a domestic teacher in the states, this source is invaluable: How to become a teacher: teaching degrees and careers.
Become an English Teacher in the UK
In order to be qualified to teach in the UK, prospective teachers will need to gain QTS which stands for Qualified Teacher Status. The process is relatively straightforward. To summarize, aspiring teachers in the UK must:
- complete a one-year university program to gain QTS.
- completion of one year of induction training.
- have some level of experience working or volunteering at schools.
- a degree unless wanting to teach in secondary school, which requires a relevant degree to the subject matter being taught.
- have specific GCSE scores.
- have a clean background check.
- have a passing score on certain professional skills exams.
Check this website for detailed instructions on how to gain “Qualified Teacher Standard” in the UK.
Start a Teaching Career in Canada
For prospective teachers interested in teaching in Canada, general requirements include a bachelor’s degree in education and a teaching certificate awarded by the province where the teacher intends to work. Teachers must also be fluent in both English and French. Those requirements can change based on province and specialization.
How to Become an ESL Teacher in the US
If you want to be an ESL teacher, you may be happy to learn that the process doesn’t differ too much from the requirements set forth for other teaching degrees and specializations listed in the United States section of this piece. While colleges and universities do offer programs in TESL, it is also possible to get involved in the industry with an unrelated bachelor degree.
Teachers will still need to be certified by the state in which they want to teach. Teachers will also be required to earn a certificate in TESOL or TEFL. Some states do require that teachers who specialize go on to earn a masters degree in their chosen field in order to maintain their credentials and credibility.
Best of all, students will appreciate the help you provide them with. Thousands of people move to the United States each day to start new lives, and many of them are children or working adults who will need to learn English in order to give them the skills they need to be productive members in society. Being an ESL teacher in the United States (or in other native English speaking countries) can be very rewarding work and is very much in demand.
On teacher.org you can find comprehensive information on the requirements and job outlooks of ESL teachers.
How to Become an English Teacher Abroad
If you’re looking for a little excitement, are tired of your surroundings, not interested in the level of schooling required for a traditional K-12 teaching job, or hate your corporate 9-to-5 job, going abroad may be just the kick you need to start your life in a new direction and get the winds back in your sails.
There is something about going abroad and starting over new without knowing what to expect that has the ability to fundamentally change a person. Some people go abroad knowing exactly what they want to do, like fresh graduates who move abroad with hopes of learning valuable information to later assist them in their FSOT exams (Foreign Service Officer). Those graduates often then take the examination and become diplomats or foreign experts helping to progress US relations abroad.
You don’t have to know exactly what you want to do, however, to take advantage of all of the opportunities that teaching abroad has in store for you, you just have to be brave, get on a plane, and be open to new experiences.
In general, the requirements to teach English abroad heavily depend on the country you want to teach in. However, there are requirements you must meet more or less wherever you may head to. To get an ESL teaching job abroad a candidate must:
Complete and Pass a Background Check
The type of background check will vary depending on where you decide to go. For example, at the time of this writing, most teaching jobs in China require a local police check. South Korea, however, requires an FBI background check.
The difference between the two requirements is pretty huge. A local police check usually requires that the person getting the police check shows up in person, and documents easily can be picked up within a week. An FBI background check can take anywhere from 4-6 months to be returned. That’s a significant chunk of time and may mean the difference between having a job and having to look for a new one if you can’t start on the original start date.
Have a Bachelor’s Degree in Any Subject
Usually, to teach abroad you will be required to have a recognized bachelor’s degree from a college or university. For American teachers, that means having a regionally or nationally accredited bachelor’s degree in any subject.
Exceptions and specifications do exist, however. Some schools are willing to pay teachers less if they lack degree qualifications but are native speakers. Certain countries, like Saudi Arabia, have strict visa requirements and specifically want teachers with English, Linguistics, and TEFL degrees specifically.
Have a TEFL Certificate
Currently, the standard is to have a 120-hour TEFL certificate either completed at a brick-and-mortar facility, online, or a mixture of the two. Normally, a 120-hour TEFL certificate will do just fine.
However, recently, in China, there have been reports that the government is no longer approving teaching applications for educators who have online TEFL credentials unless they have two years of relevant teaching experience or a combination course in which the majority of the teaching was done in person.
Some teachers have gotten around this by getting credentials from companies that do not specify how their TEFL courses were completed. While online TEFL certificates are still widely accepted, please do research the countries you are interested in before you make a decision on where you want to go to ensure the course you took is accepted.
There are places that will accept teachers without TEFL certificates. Again, these jobs have a tendency to pay less since their requirements are less stringent than other schools.
Sign a Teaching Contract
The standard teaching contract lasts for one year. However, it is not uncommon to also see six-month and two-year contracts. Determine what length of time you’re willing to spend abroad before you go looking for a contract and school. All contracts should include details about bonuses, any severance pay, flights home, sick time, and paid time off.
Becoming an Online English Teacher or Tutor
Are you a homebody with no interest in commuting to work on a daily basis or necessarily going abroad? That’s okay! Don’t trade in your fluffy pajamas for a flashy business suit yet. You have options, too! Why not teach from home? Many companies these days offer online teaching jobs and often allow you to create your own schedule.
You can work as often or as little as you’d like and you can also choose whether you’d prefer to work with adults or children. Plenty of teachers even use online teaching to supplement their monthly earnings, making anywhere from $500 to upwards of $4,000 per month. Now that’s some good money and you’d also have the coolest job to talk about at parties!
As with any work opportunity, there are some basic requirements most jobs have. They ask that those who apply are usually native speakings (mostly from the US or Canada) with some level of teaching experience and a bachelor’s degree in any subject. Many also ask for a TEFL certificate, though it is not necessarily required. If you are willing to dig through a few lists of online providers, you might find that some will also hire non-native speakers and/or non-degreed candidates, however, these jobs usually pay less than the ones mentioned prior.
Most online job opportunities will be geared toward Chinese students. Other areas that are moving toward online platforms include Japan and South Korea. Some examples of lessons students are looking for include: Basic conversational English (Free Talk), Business English, IELTS English, essay writing, and reading analysis.
VIPKID is one of the most reputable online teaching companies. They are always hiring North Americans with a degree and some experience as online teachers. Read our comprehensive guide on how to become a VIPKID teacher.
Check out some of these great online teaching companies, too, to get started:
Teacher Personality Traits and Qualities
Teaching should be just as fun as learning, so it’s important that a teacher knows how to deliver quality lessons to their students. In order to learn how to become an English teacher, you’re going to have to evaluate not only your students but your teaching methods to figure out what’s getting results in the classroom and what is not. There will be times when students will be more interested in you and the things you do in class as opposed to the content being discussed. To be an effective ESL teacher, you must:
- Be patient, kind, and understanding. Always smile and be warm to your students.
- Be aware of each student’s learning style and cater to it.
- Give actionable feedback that the student can use immediately.
- Evaluate yourself and your teaching methods on a regular basis.
- Think outside of the box about activities and lessons.
- Understand that teaching is sometimes more demanding than a 9-to-5 job.
- Remember the importance, value, and seriousness of the work you do and the responsibility you wield.
Become an English Teacher and Dive Into Teaching
Now that you know how to become an English teacher at home or abroad, start narrowing down your options and determine your niche. Dive headfirst into this new chapter in your life and take advantage of the opportunity in front of you. Teaching English, no matter where you go or how you do it can be a very fun and rewarding career. Parents all over the world thank you and JimmyESL is always here to support you. Happy teaching!
Emina Dedic was born in Bosnia but grew up in the US. She's a Director of Studies for an English training school in China, career student, writer, and political activist. Previously, she taught in Korea for two years and is passionate about educational topics.