Teaching English in the United States (ESL Teacher’s Guide)

Do you want to teach ESL without leaving the United States?

Perhaps you envision yourself helping refugees and immigrants get acclimated to life here, or you picture yourself practicing your teaching skills here while you prepare to move abroad.

The truth is, finding ESL jobs in the United States isn’t always as easy as you might think – but it is more than doable. 

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Lucky for you, we’ve compiled this really fantastic resource to let you know all about how to find work teaching ESL here: we’ve got the goods on how much you can expect to earn, what requirements you need to teach, and more!

Ready to dive in?

Quick Info: TEFL Jobs in the USA
Available JobsPrivate ESL chain; community college or university; public school; private tutoring
Basic RequirementsTEFL certificate or teaching certificate; bachelor’s degree; at least 6 months teaching experience; master’s degree preferred
Average Monthly Teacher Salary$3,500
Average Monthly Living Costs$1,682
Peak Hiring MonthsMay-August; November-January
Teaching English  in the USA -  ESL Teachers Guide

Quick Look into the USA

Ok, let’s be real: I’m assuming that if you’re looking for a job teaching ESL in the United States, it’s because you’re from here or you already know about the U.S.

But for those coming here for a totally new adventure, I’ll give you a quick rundown:

The United States of America (USA) has a population of 328 million people spread across 50 states – 48 contiguous ones, plus Alaska and Hawaii. The capital of the US is Washington, D.C., and the most populous city is New York – a city where dreams are made, plays are produced, and money changes hands at lightning speed.

The US is vast and varied, and your experience in rural Wyoming will look a lot different than your experience in, say, downtown Los Angeles. Overall, though, there are plenty of ESL positions open for qualified teachers, you can make more than enough to live on (though you won’t get rich as an ESL teacher), and you’ll find that your students are sweet and eager to learn.

If you’re looking for comprehensive healthcare or social services, the US may not be the destination for you – and certain countries have issued travel advisories to people trying to come to the US due to gun violence here. On the whole, though, you’ll find that the United States are safe and exciting, and the people are friendly and open!

The Statue of Liberty Monument in New York, USA (Photo: Ferdinand Stöhr, Unsplash)

Basic Requirements to Teach English in the United States

The requirements for teachers in the United States really vary based on where you’re trying to teach. For positions in private companies or as a private tutor, you generally need a bachelor’s degree, some kind of TEFL certification, and at least 6 months of teaching experience.

However, for the majority of jobs, you’ll need more qualifications: you need a teaching license to teach in public schools, and if you want a more senior position, such as coordinator, director, or program developer, you’ll probably need a master’s degree in ESL, linguistics, or a related field. You’ll probably also need a master’s degree to teach at a university or community college.

If you want to work somewhere close to home but you don’t have any teaching experience, you might consider taking a teaching job in Mexico – you won’t need as many qualifications, and you’ll be able to get a good job easily. 

Check out our guide to teaching ESL in Mexico if that seems more up your alley!

TEFL Courses in the United States

While a TEFL certification alone isn’t enough for many jobs in the United States, taking a course can help you in the job hunt. A TEFL certification also gives you the opportunity to get hands-on practice teaching ESL, which in turn gives you more confidence in teaching.

Additionally, many courses (including all those listed here) include career guidance and job search assistance.

International TEFL Academy (ITA)

ITA, a highly reputable TEFL course provider that provides certification courses all around the world, offers two courses in the United States: one in Chicago and one in New York.

Each course is 4 weeks long, and graduates receive personal guidance in their job search upon course completion as well as lifetime career guidance.

The New York TEFL training takes place in midtown Manhattan and costs $2,795, while the Chicago course takes place in the Near North Side and costs $1,295. Neither course includes housing, though you can ask the course providers for help finding housing in either location.

International TEFL and TESOL Training (ITTT)

ITTT offers a 4-week in-person course in New York City for $2,290, as well as a number of combined courses around the United States. For ITTT’s combined TEFL courses, you do half the work online in advance and then do 5 days of training on location. 

ITTT offers combined courses in 15 locations throughout the United States, including Los Angeles, Boston, Portland, Atlanta, and Salt Lake City. Each combined course costs $1,295 not including housing, and all ITTT courses include career guidance as well as job placement.

I personally did a combined TEFL course, and I loved it because it gave me hands-on teaching experience and helped me build relationships with fellow ESL teachers without forcing me to take a whole month off of work. 

International TEFL Training Institute (ITTI)

ITTI offers two TEFL courses in the United States: one in New York City and one in Orlando, Florida. Each location has both combined and all in-person options, and each also offers career guidance and assistance to make you a better job candidate. 

The in-person courses are a month-long, while the combined courses include a week in person. The combined NYC course will run you $1,800, while the in-person one is $2,100. Both Orlando options cost $1,900.

If you don’t have the time or money to take an in-person or combined TEFL course, don’t worry! Online TEFL courses give you the same certification and tend to cost less than in-person classes – and you can take them on your schedule! 

Check out our guide to getting TEFL certified online to find the course that’s right for you.

Job Opportunities & Salaries

There are tons of job opportunities in the United States, at places ranging from public and private schools to big chains like Berlitz, Kaplan, and ELS. Teachers can also find work at universities and community colleges and as private tutors in the US.

There’s a significant difference between teaching in public and private schools and teaching at extracurricular chains. Berlitz, Kaplan, and ELS are all private companies with branches in many major American cities. 

They have lots of turnovers and there have been complaints about employers like Kaplan mistreating employees in recent years. Teachers complain about not having job security, being underpaid, and not receiving benefits like health insurance. 

However, the students at these schools are nice and if you’re looking for work immediately, then one of these places might tide you over while you look for more permanent placement. Teachers at chain schools can make around $11-$25 an hour.

Private school ESL teachers often get good benefits and are treated well, and they are often given good support from their schools. Private school teachers do sometimes have to deal with demanding and over-involved parents and entitled kids, but generally, they can expect good teaching conditions and a healthy salary and benefits package: around $50,000 plus. Private school teachers generally need a teaching certificate.

Public school teachers, like private school teachers, generally need a teaching certificate/master’s degree. The conditions of public schools vary widely depending on where you’re teaching, so be sure to do your research before you accept a teaching appointment. You may find yourself strapped for resources and time at a public school, but you’ll more than likely be making a difference in the lives of students. Public school teachers generally make a little less than private school teachers.

Teaching for a community college or university offers you the best job security and pay. You can make around $50,000-$70,000 if you’re a licensed teacher looking for work at a college or university! Teachers at colleges are generally well-respected and treated well, though you should do research into individual schools to find out what they’re like.

You can also teach for a non-profit, such as one that teaches ESL to immigrants and refugees. You might not get paid as highly as you would elsewhere, but you’ll have job security. And most importantly, you’ll be doing really important work. Plus, you’ll probably have a way better work environment than you would have while teaching at a private chain. 

In general, you’ll be treated better, will have better benefits and job security, and will be making more of a difference in the world if you choose to work at a public school or non-profit in the United States. 

If you do work for a private school, aim for a smaller company rather than a huge chain. And always remember to do your homework before accepting any job.

Find out which countries pay the highest salaries for ESL teachers in this post.

Online Job Opportunities in the United States

If you mainly want to teach English in the USA to stay close to home, you might consider teaching online. 

Many online ESL tutoring companies prefer or require that teachers be North American, and you can make a good bit of money without leaving your house if you opt to teach online!

Our guide to teaching English online has all the information you need to start working without changing out of your pajamas!

Hiring & Application Process

The hiring and application process will differ greatly depending on what kind of job you’re applying for. 

If you have a teaching license, you probably already know that you’ll need to get a license in the state you’re planning on teaching in. You’ll probably also have to interview at the school you’d like to work at and will undergo a screening process before getting hired.

If you apply for a job teaching refugees or working at a private institution, the hiring process will vary depending on the specific place you’re applying to. 

If you’re applying to somewhere that’s in need of teachers, there might be a quick turn-around process – perhaps you’ll interview, do a practice class, and then start teaching! 

Colleges and universities tend to hire in between semesters, but private schools and language centers hire year-round.

Here are some resources you can use to find ESL teaching jobs in the United States: 

Job Websites for ESL Teachers

How Much Money Can ESL Teachers Make and Save in the United States?

You’re most likely not going to get rich teaching ESL – or even pay off your student loans in 5 years. However, you’ll make a decent salary, comparable to that of other teachers in the States. And, of course, the more you work, the more you’ll make.

If you’re not totally overworked, you can always get a side gig – perhaps tutoring online or pursuing one of your passions.

Check out the descriptions of different types of ESL jobs above to get a sense for what kind of salary you can expect to earn as an ESL teacher in the US, and check out Numbeo’s guide to the cost of living in the United States for a better idea of what your monthly expenses might be!

The Best Cities for Teaching ESL in the United States

There are a ton of great cities where you can teach English in the United States: NYC, Los Angeles, Dallas, Austin, and San Francisco, are all great options, but you won’t find them on this list.

Not because they’re not good teaching destinations, but because there’s simply not enough room to list every possibility here (and I trust you to google New York City on your own).

Anyway, here are just a few of the great teaching destinations in the United States:


The skyline of Seattle, USA (Photo: Luca Micheli, Unsplash)

Although the cost of living in this Pacific Northwestern city is sky-high, a large number of immigrants here means that there are plenty of opportunities for ESL jobs here. 

Seattle’s also a great city to live in! You can visit historic Gasworks Park (which cameoed in Ten Things I Hate About You), visit the Space Needle, and hike Mount Rainier – and if you don’t mind the rain (and the hills), you’ll love the lush, green environment here.

Washington, D.C.

The White House in Washington DC, USA (Photo: David Everett Strickler, Unsplash)

Washington, D.C. has a very international population, which means that there are ample ESL teaching opportunities here. The nation’s capital is the perfect destination for anyone who loves museums, politics, history, and fine dining. 

Plus, if you’ve never seen cherry blossoms in spring you’re in for a real treat.

The cost of living in D.C. has a relatively high price tag, and because lots of young people who work here come to work for political campaigns or offices, there’s a high turnover rate of people living here.

However, almost everyone who lives here loves it, and if you move here you probably will too!


Millennium Park in Chicago, USA (Photo: Sawyer Bengtson, Unsplash)

Chicago is fantastic: there’s good public transportation here, a really huge DIY scene, and lots of delicious food.

Plus, even though it’s a big city with lots going on, it has a lower cost of living than many similarly-sized cities in the U.S.

And you’ll definitely be able to find a job teaching here – either at one of the area colleges or at a private language institution.

Classroom and Work Culture in the United States

If you’re from the United States, you probably went to school here… so you probably already know what classroom culture is like.

However, classroom and work culture will largely differ depending on who your employer is: colleges and universities tend to have more of a discussion-based, informal atmosphere, although each school, of course, has a unique vibe.

Test prep centers and private schools, on the other hand, are more formal, and because parents are often more involved in younger children’s education, they tend to expect teachers to look and act more formal and professional.

On the whole, take cues from your coworkers to help you figure out how to dress and act in the workplace. And while you shouldn’t be too personal with your students, it’s generally more than okay to joke and be friendly with students in the United States!

One Final Note

Teaching ESL is a great opportunity for anyone who wants to work with refugees or make a difference in the world, but if you don’t have a teaching degree then teaching ESL in the States probably won’t be a feasible long term job for you. 

If you’re very serious about teaching ESL in the US, you should consider getting a teaching license.

And if you only want to teach for a year or two, consider teaching abroad. It might seem scary, but if you do take the leap you’ll more than likely be glad you did.

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