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How to Become an English as a Second Language (ESL) or Bilingual Teacher

An Ethnic teacher is leading a class of elementary school children. There are various posters on the wall, and drawings on the chalkboard. Students are putting up their hands to answer a question.

We are all born with the innate desire and ability to communicate. And one of the most common means of communication is through languages. Learning how to become an English as a Second Language or bilingual teacher will help students communicate and unlock their potential.

A lot depends on communication. For example, language barriers can affect your quality of living in a new country. Getting a job in a country where a particular language has more dominance may require speaking the language fluently in your workplace. But most of us are born into an environment where our first language is the only language spoken.

The human brain is wired to learn an infinite number of other languages. With the rapid growth of globalization and more inclusive societies, the boundaries between communities and different cultures are more blurred now than ever. For example, the United States Census Bureau shows that more than 350 languages are spoken in the U.S. alone. Although the U.S. does not have an official language, English is the most spoken language, with more than 254 million native speakers.

Speaking more than one language can lead to a career teaching English as a second language and putting your bilingual skills to great use. Suppose you’ve ever wondered about becoming an English as a Second Language or bilingual teacher. In that case, you’re at the right place as we’ve curated a step-by-step guide to achieve your dream career path.

What Is ESL?

ESL is the acronym for English as a Second Language. Essentially, ESL is a program designed to aid students who want to learn English as a second, third, or even fourth language. The program uses qualified teachers to develop students’ reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills.

In most cases, ESL coursework goes beyond just the language aspect and helps to immerse the student into another culture.

Who Is An ESL Teacher?

ESL teachers are trained individuals who assist students that do not use English as their primary language to gain proficiency in the English language.

English Language Learners (ELLs) were either raised in homes where English wasn’t their primary means of communication or in another country entirely. They work with ESL teachers to improve both the written and spoken words of the English Language. An English as a Second Language teacher must help students of all ages – from kindergarten to twelfth grade- gain English fluency.

An English as a Second Language teacher’s job is an all-encompassing profession that guides students towards English fluency. Here is a breakdown of their core duties:

  • Helping students to become better in the use of spoken and written English
  • Assisting the student to settle in a new culture
  • Encouraging students to speak more in English
  • Creating lessons and activities based on ESL best practices
  • Using Oral tests and presentations to maximize student’s talk time
  • Keeping records that reflect the proper performance of ESL students.

With these in mind, we must note that there are various techniques through which students learn ESL. Some of them are highlighted below.

Types Of ESL Teaching Methods

ESL education aims to help students with diverse language backgrounds gain English fluency. And as such, an ESL classroom is a mix of different cultures and diverse nationalities of students wanting to learn English. The ESL teacher does not need to understand the languages spoken by their students; the tutor is only expected to teach and speak English. For public schools, ESL is taught in a variety of ways. They include:

Pull-Out ESL

In pull-out ESL programs, the students learning ESL would leave their classrooms each day for a set period to attend ESL classes. The students sometimes learn in groups, while they may also study individually.

Most times, the ESL teachers have their own curriculum. Still, they help students understand English better by guiding them through regular classroom subjects in some cases. The Pull-out method is standard in school districts where the ESL population is small, classroom space is insufficient, or there is a shortage of ESL teachers.

ESL Class Period

The class period is predominantly used in middle and high schools. Here, you move your students from one classroom to another for different courses. As an ESL teacher, you’ll have a dedicated classroom where your students can either take the program as their language art course or an elective. Students can receive course credits at the end of every semester after successful completion.

Sheltered English

The sheltered English method is quite different from the others above. This method is also called Content-based English Instruction. It involves a scenario where teachers of each grade level or subject teach from the curriculum with slight modifications to accommodate ESL learners.

Here, all students are grouped as ESL students, and the idea is to teach different subjects along with English at the same time. Teachers achieve this by making the teaching language more straightforward, using gestures, activities, visual aids, games, and other activities to help the students understand better.

Sheltered English is the best of the three options available. It offers a grade-level curriculum and English simultaneously instead of depriving students of opportunities to learn multiple things using the same language. However, this isn’t feasible for many schools.

Who Is A Bilingual K-12 Teacher?

A bilingual K-12 teacher is an instructor who leads a group of students for whom English is not their first language. Bilingual teachers are typically versed in another language apart from English. This helps them interact and communicate effectively with students who are not proficient in English.

A bilingual teacher’s relationship in a classroom can help students adapt quickly to the learning environment. These teachers also make acclimatization easier for international students with different cultures.

The bilingual teacher has the same duties and responsibilities as a regular K-12 teacher. These duties include creating class activities, lesson plans, and grading classwork. Bilingual teachers also communicate with the students’ parents who may have limited English fluency.

In addition, they may have to lead immersion programs where native English-speaking students and ESL learners are grouped together or where native English-speaking students also learn a second language. With an explosion in the population of bilingual students, teachers with the required skill-set are in high demand.

The primary duties of a bilingual K-12 teacher are below:

  • Assigning and evaluating homework.
  • Teaching a school-based curriculum.
  • Creating quizzes and tests.
  • Classroom discussions, activities, lectures, and relevant demonstrations.

Bilingual teachers are often required to teach the curriculum while focusing on current affairs, social realities, and pop culture. These activities will aid the student to understand the content better and learn the nuances of English.

Types Of Bilingual K-12 Teachers

Bilingual K-12 teachers are divided into two major groups: teaching a foreign language to native English speakers or handling a classroom full of English language learners.

Teaching Native Speakers A Foreign Language

Here, your audience will be native English speakers. In this case, the students speak at least two languages back at home and engage in dual-language educational programs. The bilingual teacher is tasked with strengthening their grasp of the second language.

Teaching ELL Students

Suppose you choose to teach English Language Learners (ELLs). In that case, you should note that these students speak a different language at home and learn English and other school courses. Many ELLs are recent immigrants. The bilingual teacher will have to find a balance, so they are not left behind in other subjects while learning English.

Difference Between ESL And Bilingual K-12 Teachers

There have been debates about the differences between an English as a Second Language and a bilingual teacher for decades now. The discussion has centered on which is more economical, better for immigrants, and more beneficial to the native English-speaking students.

The significant differences between ESL and Bilingual instructors boil down to the classroom composition.

  • ESL classrooms are populated with students with diverse language and cultural backgrounds, and the teacher communicates in English.
  • Bilingual classes have non-native English speakers with the same cultural and language background. The bilingual instructor speaks both languages while teaching.

Deciding on which program is best largely depends on the number of teachers available and whether the students are native speakers or English Language Learners.

The bottom line is that neither is better. They are both great when appropriately implemented.

The Need For ESL/Bilingual Teachers

With globalization comes an increase in the number of immigrants who come into the U.S. yearly. According to the American Immigration Council, one out of every seven U.S. residents is an immigrant. This study shows the unique opportunity available to ESL teachers and society’s need for them.

Face the Facts, USA, a George Washington University project, states 10 percent of all public school students are English Language Learners. Hence, these students have minimal knowledge of English. It is important to understand that the number of ESL instructors in public schools is less than 1 percent. Therefore, there is roughly one teacher for every 150 English Language Learners. The profession is grossly underpopulated, and there is a need for ESL teachers in the ever-increasing culturally diverse world.

ESL teachers are essential to the integration of immigrants and ELLs into society. The job demands that they bridge the gap between different worlds, the student’s native culture, and the new experience, which might be difficult at first. The ESL teacher achieves this by helping the student identify similarities between both cultures.

Steps To Becoming An ESL or Bilingual K-12 Teacher

Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

The minimum requirement for English as a Second Language or bilingual teacher teachers is a bachelor’s degree, preferably in English, writing, education, or teaching English as a foreign language. Your course work should also focus on working with people with disabilities, crafting lesson plans, using technology for lectures, and teaching individuals with diverse cultural backgrounds.

Obtain ESL Training

When you’ve obtained a bachelor’s degree, the next step is attending an ESL-specific program. In these programs, you’ll learn how to assess students’ language abilities, develop conversational skills, and teach grammar. The ESL training will also help teachers to obtain a license.

Obtain a License

ESL teachers are not so different from every other teacher as they will also need a license to teach professionally. The requirements for ESL licensing vary from state to state; hence it is vital to find out the requirements needed in your geographic location.

Consider a Master’s Degree

A master’s degree is not a prerequisite to becoming an English as a Second Language or bilingual teacher. Nevertheless, it can significantly improve your chances of landing jobs and even open doors for higher-paying positions. There are so many affordable master’s programs for ESL online. They all offer the same basic course framework, including linguistics, academic English, and literacy development.

Learn Another Language

This is essentially a bonus tip and may not be required. However, an English as a Second Language or bilingual teacher who is fluent in another language is preferred above their counterparts. A certificate, undergraduate, or master’s program in another language can significantly benefit your search for a job and actual classroom scenarios.

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Certifications For ESL Teachers

Apart from the diploma or certificate, one other advantage of getting certified as an ESL teacher is the undeniable experience. A certification helps you see the career from different perspectives. If followed through properly, it’ll adequately equip you to boost your career credentials.

There are a couple of ESL certificates out there. We’ll explore different certifications, their differences, and their real-world applications. Some of the certifications include:


TESOL is the most recognized certification for ESL teachers, especially if you intend to teach in U.S. public schools. The certificate is designed to help teachers understand the intricacies of teaching students with different cultural backgrounds. These students are predominantly from English-speaking nations but have learned another language during childhood. Additionally, the TESOL certification empowers you to help immigrants settle down in their new environment, blend socially, and compete with their peers in the job market.


Completely for those Teaching English as a Foreign Language, the TEFL is designed for those teaching English in countries with a native language other than English. The certificate is for native English speakers and their non-native speakers’ counterparts. TEFL is carried out most times within a particular period assigned to the learner in the student’s home country.


Created for teachers interested in helping English learners, Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) focuses on students who speak another language(s) and may never need to use English fully. This is common for countries that primarily use English for Education and business purposes in addition to their primary languages. Students here only require English for daily transactions and seldom use the language to its full extent.

Educational Certificate: K12

The K12 certificate is essential for bilingual teachers, as it will help the instructors to interpret classroom content effectively. Teachers are also trained to interpret teen or student sign language. There is no particular sign language that this certificate focuses on. Instead, holders can use Manually-Coded English (MCE), Pidgin Sign English (PSE), and American Sign Language (ASL). Additionally, the program aims to improve teachers’ sign-to-voice and voice-to-sign interpreting skills.

Microsoft Certified Educator (MCE)

Microsoft’s certified educator program aims to sharpen teachers with global technology literacy skills to give students rich learning experiences tailored to their needs. To help educators prepare for the demanding exam, Microsoft offers an e-learning curriculum known as 21CLD.

Top Skills For ESL or Bilingual K-12 Teachers

ESL teachers must possess exceptional communication skills in English, while bilingual instructors should also be fluent in the second language. But communication is not all you need to succeed in this field. Here are some other traits that’ll help stand you out:

  • Great Interpersonal Communication Skill: Successful ESL teachers must possess the ability to convey their thoughts and lessons to the student(s) in the clearest of terms. This ability can help students become more eager to learn.
  • Foreign Language Skill: This is more suited for bilingual teachers as they would be teaching in two languages, hence the need to understand both languages satisfactorily.
  • Cultural Awareness: While it may be a big ask to understand every tradition from the student’s background, ESL teachers need to be sensitive to the learner’s differences and traditions.
  • Problem-Solving: No two students learn the same way. With that in mind, ESL teachers must be innovative enough to use effective teaching methods for each learner whenever they encounter difficulties.
  • Time management: Time management is a must-have for ESL teachers. This skill comes in handy when they plan and schedule classes. It is also essential to move through the material as at when due.
  • Patience: Introducing students to a new language is not an easy task. ESL teachers need a truckload of patience to succeed at it.
  • Persistence: Students learn at different paces, and some will struggle to adapt to a new culture or learn new material. It is up to the teacher to ensure no one is left behind.
  • Previous Classroom Experience: While it isn’t compulsory, previous experience in a classroom can help teachers cope better with grade-level students.

Average Salary For ESL And Bilingual K12 Teacher

ESL and Bilingual K12 teachers are in high demand across public schools. The demand for them will continue to increase with each passing year. Immigrants constitute over 28% of the total student population in the U.S., and 10.5 percent of these students do not use English as their primary language.

Glassdoor reports that the average annual salary for ESL teachers is capped at $50,963, with the lowest-paid teachers earning slightly above $30,000. At the same time, high earners take home $75,000 every year. This figure is set to increase in the coming years with more immigrants yearly.

Even if you prefer not to work in a physical location, teaching ESL online is still very lucrative. Online ESL teachers earn an annual average salary of $36,000.

Benefits Of Becoming An ESL or Bilingual K-12 Teacher

As an ESL teacher, your primary responsibility is to help integrate students into society, which is no easy task. However, there are some significant benefits to the job. Here are a few of them:

Summers Off

Every teacher worldwide knows that the summer period is a time to recharge. After working hard all year round and putting in those extra hours, even ESL teachers deserve a break. Although many ESL teachers use the summer break to attend camps, visit new places and study new languages, there is still enough time to go to the beach.

Student Diversity

ESL teachers have one of the most diverse classrooms you’ll find anywhere. Meeting people from diverse cultures is one opportunity that being an ESL teacher affords you. It throws in some fun, allows you to learn, and ensures dynamic classes.


If you’re ever looking to explore more, switch things up, and expand your geographical horizons, then becoming an ESL or bilingual teacher is one way to do that. Business transactions worldwide use English as a primary means of communication, so students worldwide are constantly searching for ESL teachers.

Flexibility With Lesson Plans

Regular teachers follow a standard curriculum and cannot make any adjustments. However, an ESL teacher has the leverage to craft creative lessons. Some schools require that you follow a specific curriculum. How you choose to implement it is totally up to you as far as you’re hitting the set goals.

Easy Transition To Other Careers

One significant advantage of the teaching profession is that it allows one to change careers easily. The reason is simple: there are a thousand and one transferable skills in teaching that can come in handy in other career paths. Some of which are group management, solid communication skills, and organizational skills. These attributes can give you a competitive edge in searching for a new job.

In Conclusion

Career success is yours if you’re considering being an ESL or Bilingual K-12 teacher. There are numerous opportunities for growth and rewarding salaries for a more satisfying career. We also have more online education degrees, and our education resources are readily available for you.

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