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Teaching Opportunities in the United States

Qualified ESL teachers are in great demand in public schools in the United States, as well as in adult education ESL programs. Areas with significant immigrant and refugee communities have a particularly high need, including California, Florida, Illinois, New York, Texas, and other urban areas, although more rural areas have increasing need as well. In the United States, ESL teaching jobs and education-related jobs in general are usually subject to strict employment conditions, which are outlined below.

Public Schools (Pre-K–12)

Most teaching positions in U.S. public schools require the applicant to hold a teaching license in the subject they wish to teach, issued by the state in which they wish to work. Confusingly, this license is sometimes called a "certificate" or "certification." This is not the same thing as CELTA, Trinity, or other independent certificates, which are generally not applicable toward employment in U.S. public schools.

The "ESL certificate" referred to in most job announcements for positions in the United States is actually a licensure that teachers must apply for through the Department of Education in the state in which they will be working. To obtain this certificate, you must meet certain academic requirements which vary from one state to another. To receive a license, most states require at least a bachelor's degree in education, although some states now require a master's degree.

Licensure requirements generally apply to all teachers regardless of their country of origin or the country in which they received their education. You could have an advantage, however, If you receive your education in the state where you intend to teach because most U.S. university programs in TESOL or other education-related disciplines are specially designed to fulfill the requirements for state licensure in that state.

If you plan to work in the U.S. public school system and do not currently hold a state licensure in ESL or a related field, you will need to contact the Department of Education in the state where you intend to work for more information about that state’s licensure requirements.

If your degree is in a field other than TESOL or a closely-related field, you may be required to supplement your degree with coursework in TESOL. If your degree is in a field other than education, you may be required to supplement your degree with coursework in education, TESOL or both.

If you obtained your degree outside the United States, you should be prepared to provide detailed information about your coursework so that the state licensure authorities can make an appropriate assessment of your credentials.

Adult and Higher Education

Most adult education programs in the United States offer some ESL instruction. These programs are usually offered through local education agencies and community-based programs. The adult learners are often individuals who have emigrated to the United States and may be learning the English language and U.S. culture at the same time. These classes may be taught during the day, but they are often taught in the evenings and on weekends to accommodate adult learners' work schedules. The majority of ESL teaching positions in adult education are part-time.

Some states require state certification for teaching in adult education programs, and others require a master's degree in TESOL or a related field. For more information about academic requirements, you should contact potential employers in the state where you intend to work.