What is an ESL Teacher and How to Become: courses, requirements • Grade University

An ESL Teacher — Who is and How to Become?

An ESL Teacher — Who is and How to Become?


  • Teaching qualifications
  • Methodology

Now more and more, we see various job offers for teachers who obtain the knowledge of modern methodology, some teaching experience, and a desire to work with people who need help with learning English. Globalization and COVID have already made the field even more flexible and accessible by introducing online teaching platforms and tools. Naturally, the demand for ESL teachers is also exceptionally high now. 

So, the question is how to become one and what skills and qualifications you need. We have collected some important information for everyone who is thinking about proceeding with the career of an ESL specialist in the new blog on Grade University.

What is an ESL teacher?

First things first, what is an ESL teacher? ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher is a person who conducts English language lessons for non-native speakers. Sounds easy, however, there are a lot of term questions within the topic. For example, EFL and ESL are thought to be interchangeable while in reality, it’s not. So, who is an ESL teacher? The table below will help us draw the line.

Teaching and learning English as a foreign languageTeaching and learning English as a second language
Studying or teaching English where it isn’t a dominant way of communicationStudying or teaching English where it is a dominant way of communication or it is common to learn to speak more than one language 
EFL learners have no chance to practice the language outside the classroom, so their studying is focused on fluency and accuracy. The main things to care about here are creating situations of exposure to the language and keeping students motivated.ESL learners need the knowledge to feel comfortable in an English-speaking environment. You don’t have to correct every single mistake of a student, and should rather focus on presenting the system and practicing it. 
Often based on traditional approaches like presenting a set of grammar rules, reading, translation, etc.Covers urgent needs and focuses on developing the ability to participate in conversations, and using English for this purpose practically from the beginning which is linked to a greater range of approaches.

What does an ESL teacher do?

As an ESL teacher, you are responsible for organizing coursework, preparing learning materials, assessing students’ progress, and following certain policies and methodologies for ESL teaching. So, it means that usually, an ESL teacher has to:

  • create plans of the lessons they are going to conduct;
  • conduct lessons that cover the individual needs of the students;
  • develop their own activities and worksheets;
  • structurize the topics according to the curriculum and follow it;
  • make sure that the assessment is proceeding in a consistent and appropriate way;
  • provide individual support and feedback to improve studying results;
  • work on self-improvement and update the knowledge on teaching strategies to keep up with the most effective ways of teaching;
  • create an engaging, encouraging, and tolerant atmosphere in the classroom;
  • be ready to experiment with technologies, apps, and online resources and implement them in the program.

This list may go on and vary depending on the goals of students, the teacher’s speciality, etc. However, one thing is certain: the quality of the class fully depends on the proficiency and inspiration of the teacher. It means that the teacher has to be flexible and attentive to accommodate different needs, learning styles, schedules, ages, and learning backgrounds. 

Requirements for an ESL teacher

Teaching English as a second language requires ESL qualification which is based on lots of skills and knowledge and the ability to use different approaches (like guided discovery, communicative approach, lexical approach, task-based learning) and methods (CLT, PPP, TRP — yes, there are lots of abbreviations to learn!). So, before applying for an ESL teacher position, it is better to deep into some theory, or take one of such ESL teaching courses for teachers as TEFL, or TESL.

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As for the requirements for an ESL teacher, they may differ from place to place, and a lot of things depend on the candidate's experience and performance. Sometimes even language proficiency and a great deal of enthusiasm are enough to start working in the field. However, we are going to talk about the most common requirements which are likely to help you with getting a position as an ESL teacher.


Typically, schools prefer people who hold a four-year degree in education, writing, linguistics, English, or other language and literature. The process of getting a university degree is often perceived not only as proof of your knowledge but more as some experience in the school of life where you get a chance to communicate with different people, work on some projects, develop crucial soft skills, and so forth. So, no wonder that such kind of experience is often an advantage for a potential ESL specialist.


However, a university degree is not a deal-breaker in this case. A much more important thing to consider is gaining an appropriate certification that proves your ability to teach English. There are a few types of certifications you can get:

AbbreviationFull nameUse
TEFLTeaching English as a Foreign Language

allows teaching English in places where English is not a native language


Example: The teacher decides to teach English in Poland or Spain → needs TEFL

TESLTeaching English as a Second Language

proves an ability to teach English to non-English speakers in a country where English is the first language


Example: The teacher decides to teach English to Ukrainian students in the USA → needs TESL

TESOLTeaching English to Speakers of Other Languagesis an umbrella term that combines qualifications of both TEFL and TESL
CELTACertificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languagesis a qualification provided by Cambridge English Language Assessment.

Diploma in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages


is the most advanced and the highest teaching qualification provided by Cambridge English Language Assessment.

All of these teaching qualifications are internationally accepted, so by completing ESL training for teachers you broaden your horizons and get yourself a chance to work in the country of your dream or an opportunity to change countries and travel. Combining traveling and ESL teaching is a whole new world to discover which you can read about in our other materials.

Computer literacy

Nowadays, in the era of digitalization, with all available resources for online and offline teachers, it is a must to be computer literate. Knowing the basics of managing the educational process and preparing the materials with the help of various gadgets really eases the life of any language teacher, especially if you are thinking of taking up teaching online too.

What skills do you need for ESL teaching?

As any professional, the teacher also has to obtain certain characteristics to be successful at their position. We have already talked about education and some hard skills. But what about the soft skills you require to become an ESL teacher?

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Good Communication Skills

First and foremost, an ESL teacher usually works with absolutely different people. They are people of different ages, jobs, worldviews, and educational backgrounds. Some of them have been less exposed to the language than others. Some of them have stronger motivation. Some of them may have a tendency to lose hope after making mistakes. Some of them are eager to study English with the help of literature, others are focused on business vocabulary. 

The list of cases you may face goes on and on. That is why an ESL teacher should be the person who finds the right approach to every single student and situation, who can solve any problem, or give support with any difficulty. 

Good communication skills make this work pleasant and rewarding, not challenging and exhausting.

Cultural Sensitivity, Patience, and Empathy

As we have already mentioned, you are likely to face different people, so it is crucial to stay culturally sensitive

Cultural sensitivity can be defined as a state of “being aware that cultural differences and similarities between people exist without assigning them a value — positive or negative, better or worse, right or wrong; being aware that cultural differences have an effect on values, learning, and behavior” meaning that to develop the skill of cultural sensitivity ESL specialists should also study the people they are going to work with, their traditions, behavior, and educational patterns. 

That allows building a strong and trustful relationship between the teacher and the students.

Of course, being culturally sensitive also requires being patient and empathetic which goes without saying when it comes to teaching and working with people.

Flexibility and adaptability

ESL teaching also requires a great deal of flexibility as quite often things may go against the plan. Eventually, you will have to adapt your plans to every specific need, so it is important to understand that it is almost impossible to stick to one way of doing your job and use it for years.

A love for life-long learning

Last but not least, an ESL teacher and, frankly speaking, any true professional should have a strong desire for self-development and understanding that their studying will never be over. The world is changing too fast, so to remain a person who is not afraid of any challenges it is important to develop a habit of studying every single day, discovering new approaches, new apps, and new materials, and using them to make good lessons even better than they are. 

Make your first steps in teaching English

ESL teacher salary and job prospects

There are a lot of job opportunities all over the world waiting for aspiring ESL teachers. Among the places where ESL teachers are constantly needed are language, public, international, or summer schools, universities, or even some private business companies, not to mention the possibility of teaching online as a part of a company or individual tutoring. 

According to GetEducated, ESL teachers usually work as:

  • elementary, middle, high school, or college English teachers, 
  • English language assistants, 
  • online ESL teachers, 
  • private tutors, 
  • literary translators, 
  • and interpreters. 

ESL writers, ESL instructors, and consultants, ESL managers can also be added to the list. As you can see, there are a lot of options to choose from.

Naturally, salary varies and depends on your working place, the number of lessons you conduct, and the country you live in. However, ESL teachers tend to earn from $9 to $27 per hour. In addition, according to PayScale, as for Match of 2023, an average ESL teacher in the USA earns $49 000 per year. Zippia, on the other hand, presents even fresher information, according to which an average salary of an ESL teacher reaches almost $53 000 a year. The salary also depends on your working experience in the following way:

$/year Junior Level (0–4 years)$42 000 – 45 000$45 000$44 000 – 47 000
Mid Level (4–6 years)$48 000$52 701$50 000
Senior Level (6+ years)$58 000 – 59 000$60 000$53 000

At the same time, your salary may look absolutely different due to many factors. However, ESL teachers for sure make enough to lead a comfortable lifestyle whenever they are.

How to become an ESL teacher

Finally, here are some essential steps to take if you have already decided to take up ESL teaching.

1. Get certified

As we have already mentioned, certification is an extremely important addition to a future ESL teacher’s university degree. Getting certification requires taking courses, completing student-teaching requirements, and passing state certification exams.

2. Gain teaching experience

Undoubtedly, it is great to have a degree and certification, however, practice is a much more important thing. Develop your teaching skills, collect feedback, take it into account, change, and grow. If you are planning to look for your first job and feel nervous about lacking experience, try participating in some volunteering events or tutoring. Even the smallest piece of experience is valuable to make your resume attractive to potential employers.

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3. Build a portfolio

While getting some valuable experience, don’t forget to take care of your portfolio which may include your lesson plans, certificates, students’ feedback, students’ work samples, articles, blogs, etc. All of that makes you special as a professional and shows the result of your work that can be overlooked and assessed by future employers or students.

4. Never stop studying

It may sound obvious, but the world is changing every day and so is teaching. It is crucial to stay updated about new trends and approaches, digital opportunities, and books. That is as important as working with your own language level: take courses, read, listen to podcasts, research, and write. 

All in all, language proficiency is a neverending journey of self-development, and that is a thing that primarily the teachers should be aware of. 

5. Build a network

Another key to success in any field is networking, and teaching is no an exception. Try visiting different events and workshops not only for gaining knowledge but also for meeting new people and getting acquainted with your colleagues both online and offline. Networking is a truly great and underestimated way to get to know about exciting opportunities or achieve some support and understanding when you really need it.

To conclude

Summing up, as with any job, there are some peculiarities and requirements for an ESL teacher that you need to fit in. However, ESL teaching is worth being paid an effort for as it gives a whole new experience of teaching, communicating with people, and seeing yourself as a specialist. So, maybe, this article is your sign to start the journey in ESL teaching.

And if you want to improve your level of knowledge and teaching skills, take a course at Grade University.

1. A university degree is a must if you want to start a career in ESL teaching.

2. The salary of an ESL teacher is pretty much the same all over the world.

3. ESL teachers need special documents to verify their professional background

Article authors & editors
  • Arina Kravchenko

    Arina Kravchenko


    Teacher of General English & IELTS



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