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A Career in ESL: Options & Qualifications Beyond the TEFL Certification

A Career in ESL: Options & Qualifications Beyond the TEFL Certification

For many people, teaching abroad is a fun and interesting way to see the world while making a money too. Paying off student loans, saving for a Southeast Asia trip, or living abroad as an expat for a year of growth and exploration- most teachers abroad have very finite goals and expectations.

But what if you want to have a life-long career in ESL? What if you don't want to live abroad for only a year or two just to come back home and start a new career? What if you want to become a professional ESL teacher when you return back to your home country?

You're definitely not alone. I've met many people around the world looking to do the same thing.

A Career in ESL -- What Does it Look Like?

A Career in ESL: What does it look like?
Photo by Carter S., SEE TEFL Thailand Alum

There are many different types of ESL Careers, and depending on your path, you'll probably fall into one or more of these categories. Let's have a quick look at the different types of ESL career lifestyles to see if it's a good fit for you!

1. Long-Term ESL Teacher Abroad

I've met a few of these teachers in my time abroad. Many get great jobs at an international school, agency, or university and become professional career teachers. Over time you'll have the opportunity to be promoted to department head, with great benefits and a nice salary to go along with it.

2. The Traveling ESL Teacher

While getting my Master's Degree abroad, I had a friend studying linguistics who was a traveling career ESL teacher. After spending a year teaching in Taiwan, and another in Mainland China, he planned to move to Estonia to teach for a few years. A traveler at heart, working as a teacher in new and exciting countries was his way of seeing the world.

3. ESL Teacher "Back Home"

Most people don't want to live abroad forever, and there are plenty of ESL teaching jobs back home. I know two separate teachers who have gotten jobs at a university in the US, teaching ESL classes to international students.

Many universities require a preliminary year for students who don't have high enough TOEFL scores. You may work with students on general English, or something more specific like college essay writing.

Qualifications You Need for a Career in ESL

A Career in ESL: Qualifications You Need
Photo by Amy M., Vantage TEFL Thailand Alum

If you're looking for a long-term career in ESL, you may want more than just a TEFL certificate. Here are a few different qualifications you may want to consider depending on your intended career path.

1. Teaching Certification

Getting a teaching certification back home can be very helpful for applying to prestigious international schools, or ESL positions back in the US. If you don't have time to take a career break, consider getting your certification online!

You can also get certified in a different country. For example, my American friend was teaching at an international school in China following the British curriculum, so he decided to become certified as a UK teacher online!

2. Degree in English or Linguistics

Most very competitive jobs are also interested in a relevant degree. If you don't want to get a teaching certification, you can also consider picking up a Bachelor's or Masters in English or Linguistics. You can get your degree at home, online, or even abroad!

For example, my friend who worked as a traveling ESL teacher decided to study for his Master's in linguistics at a British university located in Southern China. He taught English part-time and finished his degree in just one year!

3. Degree in Education With an Add-On Certification in ESL

Elementary and secondary school teachers in the US who wish to teach ESL must have a degree in education with an add-on certification in ESL, which can be obtained from your state's department of education.

Many teachers who teach internationally but want to return to the US to continue teaching usually pursue this degree. This ESL add-on is much more intensive than a TEFL and usually counts towards your Master's degree or state certification.

4. Relevant Experience

One of the best ways to get a great job in ESL is to gain experience! The longer you work in ESL, the better jobs you can get. You'll have shown dedication and passion, two very important components of a great teacher. Spend a few years working as an ESL Teacher and you'll have incredible schools begging to hire you.

Find an ESL Job Today!

Want to get started? Be sure to peruse the Go Overseas job board for job opportunities and take some time to think about which career advancement options are right for you. if you're not sure a career in ESL is what you really want, I definitely suggest starting with a TEFL and taking a job abroad. Who knows, it could really turn into your life-long career!

Photo of Richelle Gamlam

Traveler, blogger and serial expat, Richelle has been living and working in China for the last four years. From high school English teacher to college admissions consultant, Richelle has tried her hand at many different jobs in China. She spends all of her vacation days traveling Asia off the beaten path, and in her spare time, she loves to scuba dive, salsa dance and try weird foods no one else will eat. For more of Richelle's crazy misadventures, check out her blog Adventures Around Asia.

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