What Is It Like Being an ESL Teacher?

What Is It Like Being an ESL Teacher
What Is It Like Being an ESL Teacher? – Projectenglishmastery.com

Learning to read and write proficiently is not an easy task, particularly for those who are learning a completely new language. Learning English when it is not your first language can be very challenging for some. 

English as a Second Language (ESL) is a specialized class for non-native English speakers. The class focuses on learning to speak and write English with the correct pronunciation and grammar. It is a demanding class for both students and teachers. 

ESL students come from various countries and are expected to adapt both linguistically and culturally. The English proficiency of some students might also be different, which the teacher has to assess individually. This can be tough on both the student and the teacher.

Also see: Is Being an ESL Teacher a Good Career?

What is ESL? 

English as a Second Language (ESL) offers a more in-depth and hands-on education for students whose first language is not English. Each student’s needs differ. Some might need just a little help with English grammar, while others might not be able to understand any English. The class also helps the students adapt culturally since they might be from another country.

There are several other acronyms that are associated with ESL:

  • ESOL: English to Speakers of Other Languages
  • EFL: English as a Foreign Language
  • TEFL: Teaching English as a Foreign Language
  • ESP: English for Special Purposes
  • TESL: Teaching English as a Second Language
  • ELL: English Language Learner
  • TESOL: Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages
  • LEP: Limited English Proficiency

The coursework for ESL classes is not a part of most states’ curriculum plans. With it depending on the state and school district. ESL can be offered from pre-k to high school, and it can also be found at some colleges.

While the ESL program is not directly under state-level curriculum, they do get some funding and support from the state and the U.S. Department of Education. Here is a fact sheet for the program provided by the Department of Education that every public school must abide by.

How Do You Become an ESL Teacher?

The qualifications to become an ESL teacher differ in each state, but most states require an ESL license. The eligibility can also differ between private and public schools. There is an option for currently certified teachers to add on a TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) certification

The requirements might also depend on the school district. Some districts require teachers to do a teaching internship in an ESL environment in addition to a bachelor’s degree and TESOL certification.

There are ESL degree programs at most accredited universities. Some universities even offer bachelor’s, master’s, and PhDs in the subject. The minimum requirement from almost all states is a bachelor’s degree to become an ESL teacher, but you might want to check your state’s requirements. 

Also see: Is ESL Teaching Hard? Here’s What You Need to Know

What Is It Like Being an ESL Teacher
What Is It Like Being an ESL Teacher? – Projectenglishmastery.com

Who Qualifies as an ESL Student?

To be an ESL student, their proficiency in English has to be lower than that of native English speakers. When a parent or guardian is signing their child up for school, they are asked a few questions about their child’s level of English proficiency.

 Home Language Survey (HSL):

  • What is the language most frequently spoken at home?
  • What language did your child learn when he/she began to talk?
  • Which language does your child most frequently speak at home?
  • What language do you most frequently speak to your child?

The questions might be worded differently from state to state, but this is the gist of the questions being asked. 

Some ESL students might already be bilingual or even trilingual, but as long as their first language is not English, then they qualify to be in the program. According to the U.S. Department of Education, “ESL students constitute nine percent of all public school students and are enrolled in nearly three out of every four public schools.”

Also see: Are ESL Classes Tax-Deductible?

The Structure of the ESL Program

There are various approaches a teacher can take when it comes to the structure of the ESL program. As mentioned before, some states and school districts might have their own curriculum requirements, but that is difficult for the teacher to enforce with each student since their proficiency levels vary so much.

The University of Penn State has provided insight into what some of the program models might look like. 

Pull Out ModelThe students leave the classroom to meet the ESL teacher. This can allow students from different grades but with the same proficiency level to learn together and support each other. 
Inclusion or “Pull In” ModelThis brings the ESL teacher into the classroom. The teacher can assist the student with comprehending what the classroom teacher is currently teaching. 
Team Teaching ModelThe classroom teacher and ESL teacher team up and come up with a lesson plan to include the entire class. This benefits classrooms with mostly ESL students. 
Transitional Bilingual EducationESL students receive instruction in both their native language and English for 1 to 3 years. 
Maintenance Bilingual EducationESL students receive instruction in both their native language and English throughout elementary and beyond.
Structured English ImmersionESL students learn English through content-area instruction. 
What Is It Like Being an ESL Teacher? – Projectenglishmastery.com

Where Are the ESL Students From?

The population of ESL students has been growing in recent years, which means a higher demand for ESL teachers. According to the Department of Education, “Between the 2009-10 and 2014-15 school years, the percentage of EL students increased in more than half of the states, with increases of over 40 percent in five states.” 

About 1 out of 10 public school students are ESL students. The most common language amongst ESL students is Spanish, but it is dependent on the state. Some of the other common home languages are Arabic, Somali, and Chinese. 

The Migration Policy Institute has excellent resources that show statistics on the ESL student population in the US, such as where they were born, the states with a high number of ESL residents, and other languages are spoken. 

There has been a shortage of ESL teachers for a few years now. The majority of states have reported not having enough teachers for their ESL students. This has caused some ESL students to fall behind academically, affecting the high school graduation rate of ESL students.


There are programs for online learning for those teaching ESL. Some ESL teachers even move abroad to teach. There are a lot of programs for ESL teachers looking to teach abroad and for students who live abroad and want to become fluent in English. 

The qualifications and pay rate might differ in each country. Some countries do not require a bachelor’s degree, but they do require an ESL certification. Just like the US, it is all dependent on the region and whether it is a private or public school. Some countries also might not require English to be your native language.

These specialized classes and programs for students are a way for them to grasp every aspect of learning English. ESL covers the formal and informal aspects of the language as well as vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, and culture.

The teacher has to tailor their teaching to each student. Some teachers are fluent in the student’s native language. Spanish is the most common ESL home language, so the teacher is able to communicate a little better with the student. This benefits both the student and the teacher. 



Hello friends, I am Altiné. I am SO excited you are here! I am the guy behind Project English Mastery. I am from Toronto, Canada. I graduated with a Master in International Economics and Finance from Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada. After working a few years in the banking industry and completing my 120 TEFL from the University Of Toronto, I decided to teach English in China. Project English Mastery is a blog that provides helpful resources for English Teachers and Learners: vocabulary and grammar, exercises, and class activities ideas and tips.

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