What does ESL even stand for? And why would I want to teach it in the US? ESL refers to English as a Second Language, although ELL (English Language Learners) is becoming more and more common as well. But if the U.S. is an English speaking countries, then why would I teach it here? With more than 40 million foreign born individuals living in the US (as of 2011) teaching English right at home is more important, and fun, as ever! It’s also a great way to experience other languages and cultures right at home.

In order to teach English in the United States, most teachers will require a university degree, preferably in English. TEFL or other teaching certification is preferred for those without an English degree. The average salary for teaching in the United States is $3,000 - $4,000 per month.

Types of Jobs Teaching English in the United States

There are a wide variety of options in teaching ESL to fit whatever it is you’re looking for!


One of the best ways to get your foot in the door is through volunteering. Most ESL classes taught at libraries or other public places don’t actually hire ESL teachers. Their teachers or tutors often commit to a specific length of time as an unpaid volunteer. Most organizations have breaks during major US holidays, but will offer classes through summer.

A simple google search of “literacy volunteers (your city here)” will bring up any organizations that are dedicated to helping community members learn, not only English, but a large variety of other skills. These types of organizations are always looking for volunteers to teach and assist in classes ranging from pre-beginning ESL to advanced and conversation classes. Most organizations will also provide training before you begin teaching, so don’t be afraid if you’ve never tried before! You’ll be given the resources you’ll need.


Online tutoring websites are available to help you find individual clients. After you create a profile, you’ll be able to search through ads requesting help with a variety of subjects, ESL included. These websites allow you to create an hourly rate and talk directly with clients to meet where and when it is convenient for you. All payment is handled through the website -- clients provide their credit card information and as soon as you log their lesson, they are charged and the website deposits the money into your account, so there’s no hassle!

There are a few pros and cons to these types of positions. These positions are incredibly flexible, meaning that you can work when and only when you want. You are also free to take on as many clients as you are comfortable with. However, it can be incredibly difficult to create a client base at first, especially if you have very little experience in teaching ESL. It is also strongly recommended that you undergo a background check through the website to gain trust with clients. There is no curriculum provided and you are expected to create personalized lessons for your client’s specific needs, which isn’t nearly as difficult as it sounds. It can be time consuming though, all of which is not paid for, as your client will only be paying for the time you spend directly with them.

Stipend Volunteering:

Programs like AmeriCorps often hire for full time, year long positions, but they’re not quite jobs. Your wages aren’t a salary, but a stipend, which is a fixed amount each month. The stipend is generally the same across all positions in the US. Check the AmeriCorps’ website for open work positions work or search for positions.

Many programs provide direct service in the ESL classroom, such as the City of Lakes program in Minneapolis, Minnesota and the International Rescue Committee in San Diego, California. These positions allow you to get hands on experience that also provides lots of useful training for your future career! Upon completion of one full year, you will also receive a $5,500 education award that can be used for further education or previous students loans.

Private or Public Schools:

If you’re looking to teach in a school, you’ll have to make sure your qualifications match the states’ requirements. TEACH.org lists each state’s requirements and how to meet them.

Both private and public schools in the US run from approximately 7:30 am to 4pm (with the older grades starting earlier in the day than the younger ones). The school year begins at the end of August or beginning of September and ends around June. There are breaks for Thanksgiving (in November), Christmas and New Years (at the end of December and beginning of January), and Spring break (usually in March or April). Other major holidays like Martin Luther King Jr Day (January) and President’s Day (February) provide time off as well.

Language Schools:

Language schools are another great way to get your foot in the door as an ESL teacher!

With language schools, the students you will most likely be encountering will be students, young professionals, and travellers who are simply interested in learning English for business or pleasure. There often isn’t the intensity and urgency to learn English that can sometimes be found in immigrant based English classes. Websites such as English Language Schools in the USA and a href="http://studyusa.com/">Learn English in America have various programs and classes listed by state. While this website is intended for those seeking to learn English, you can easily narrow down the schools in your preferred region and contact them specifically concerning employment and their requirements.

Find a Job Teaching English in the United States

This depends on type of experience you’re looking for! Volunteer positions hire year round. Tutoring, again, is completely dependant on the schedule and hours you set, but peak times will be during the first few months of the school year (September - November) as students and parents are getting back into the swing of the school year. Most AmeriCorps programs open around August and September, so be sure to keep an eye out for those around that time.

If you’re looking for a position as a full time teacher in a private or public school, you should begin hunting for positions within the last couple months of the school year for positions starting in the following school year. (For example, if you’re looking to begin teaching in the 2014-2015 school year, you should begin looking and applying for positions at the end of the 2013-2014 school year.) Applications will often be due by the end of June.


Qualifications also vary greatly. Most volunteer positions require little to no experience, but will require a certain number of training hours or orientation hours before stepping into a classroom. Private tutoring qualifications are dependent on what you would like to tutor. Keep in mind that potential clients would like to know that what they are paying for will be worth it, so be sure to include any experience, training, certificates, or degrees on your profile!

Qualifications for private and public school teachers are much more strict. All public schools require, at minimum, a bachelor’s degree and some sort of teacher preparation program (whether it be an education major, minor, or certification program). Most schools, both public and private, will also require at least one semester of student teaching, a background check, and additional certifications and licenses. These certifications and licenses often vary greatly from state to state, so be sure to check on your state’s specific requirements.

What You Need to Know About Teaching English Abroad in the United States

Salary and Cost of Living:

This depends on what city in the US you are looking to live in. Cities such as New York and Los Angeles very high costs of living, whereas cities such as Minneapolis, New Haven, and Austin tend to have lower costs of living. You can explore costs of living averages throughout the US on payscale's cost of living calculator. With that being said, most higher cost of living cities also have slightly higher salaries for new teachers.

Classroom and Work Culture:

Learning English isn’t easy, so most classrooms aim to make the experience a fun one! You’ll often hear ESL teachers and students singing songs, telling stories, and laughing with students over cultural misunderstandings and mistakes. Classrooms in public and private schools have a little structure than volunteer classrooms or private lessons, but there are certainly standards to maintain in all classrooms.

Most ESL classrooms are home to immigrants from all over the world, so it’s best to keep cultural sensitivity in mind. Any immigrants from the Middle East or African Muslim countries will often dress very conservatively and be uncomfortable by those who show too much skin. You’ll want to keep this in mind if you are teaching during the hot, summer months. Immigrants from many Asian cultures will be hesitant to look teachers or elders directly in the eyes, as it is considered disrespectful. Tardiness is also a constant among many ESL students. Students from African, South, and Central American countries often have a different perception of time and the concept of “on time” is not nearly as important as it is to Americans and Europeans. Patience is a must!

During your time teaching, you’ll run into about a thousand other cultural hurdles that will make your work environment interesting and unique. It’s what makes this type of job a learning experience for you as well!

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