Job Prospects for ESL Teachers in the U.S.

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If you've ever thought about changing professions to become an ESL teacher, now is the time. Increasing demand for ESL teachers has created a multitude of ESL job opportunities in the US. These ESL jobs are being offered by states which are offering a number of job training opportunities for those not already qualified to teach ESL. There are two principle types of ESL jobs that are in demand; positions which require bilingual teachers (Spanish and English) to teach bilingual classes, and ESL positions for English-only classes for speakers who have a limited ability in English (LEP: limited English proficiency). Recently, the industry has moved away from speaking about ESL and has turned to ELL (English language learners) as the preferred acronym. 

ESL Job Demand Facts

Here are some statistics that point to the great need:

  • According to the National Center for Education Statistcs, "In school year, 27 percent of all schools with bilingual/ESL teaching vacancies found them very difficult or impossible to fill, more than for many other teaching fields." Since this report, the number of ESL job vacancies has grown rapidly.
  • From the same report: "As the number of children with difficulty speaking English has increased (from 1.25 million in 1979 to 2.44 million in 1995), so has the burden on school systems to recruit teachers with the skills necessary to teach these classes. The difficulty schools have in filling such positions is one indication of whether the supply of bilingual and ESL teachers is adequate to meet the demand."
  • The number of LEP speakers grew 104.7%, from 2,154,781 in 1989 to 4,416,580 in 2000 according to a survey performed by the National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition.

Now for the good news: As a means of meeting the ESL job demand a number of special programs have been implemented around the United States for non-certified teachers. These programs provide an excellent means for teachers who have not taught in the State education system to take advantage of these opportunities. Even more exciting, it provides an opportunity for those from a wide variety of backgrounds to become ESL teachers. Some of these even provide a financial bonus (for example a bonus of up to $20,000 in Massachusetts) for joining their programs!

Teachers are needed throughout the country, but principally in large urban centers with high immigrant populations. 

Education Required

In the U.S., the minimum requirement for programs is a bachelor's degree and some sort of ESL qualification. Depending on the school, the qualification required might be as simple as a month's certificate such as the CELTA (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). The CELTA is accepted around the world. However, there are other institutions that provide training online and in weekend courses. If you'd like to teach in a community college or at a university, you'll need at least a master's degree preferably with a specialization with ESL. 

For those who would like to teach in public schools (where demand is growing), states require additional certification with different requirements for each state. It's best to look into the certification requirements in the state in which you would like to work. 

Business English or English for Special Purposes teachers are in high demand outside of the country and are often hired by individual firms to teach staff. Unfortunately, in the United States, private companies rarely hire in-house teachers. 


Despite the need for quality ESL programs, pay remains rather low except at larger accredited institutions such as universities. You can find out about average salaries in each state. Generally speaking, universities pay best followed by public school programs. Private institutions can vary widely from near minimum-wage to much better-paid positions. 

To meet the growing demand for ESL teachers, a number of websites have created invaluable resources for the recruitment of teachers. This guide provides some tips on becoming an ESL teacher. Other opportunities are open to those who are in mid-career or do not have the exact teacher certification required by any individual state for ESL jobs in the public school system.

For more information on teaching ESL in the United States, TESOL is the leading association and provides a great deal of information. 

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Beare, Kenneth. "Job Prospects for ESL Teachers in the U.S." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Beare, Kenneth. (2020, August 27). Job Prospects for ESL Teachers in the U.S. Retrieved from Beare, Kenneth. "Job Prospects for ESL Teachers in the U.S." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 29, 2023).