Teaching English in USA


Your questions answered about teaching English in USA, from teachers who have been there and done it!

Do I need a degree to teach in the USA?

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It completely depends on the institution:

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If you want to teach in a public or private elementary or secondary school or in a community college or university, you will need a degree. Most states require special training on top of this. If you want to teach in a private organization helping refugees, it is sadly hit or miss as to whether they require *any* training.

I taught ESL before I had a degree, and I continue to teach ESL with my degree.

Jobs are hard to find but it could be possible to work for certain organizations without a degree. It is definitely possible to find volunteer jobs – and get experience without having a formal degree.

Do I need a TEFL qualification and/or experience?

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Again, it completely depends on the institution.

What are the visa requirements?

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Most employers will help with the visa requirements but many will leave you on your own if you want to apply for a Green card. Please keep in mind that because there are many teachers already here in the US that are qualified to teach English as a Second Language, it may be difficult for them to show that the position cannot be filled by someone overseas unless you have a doctorate with a specialty or subspeciality in Teaching English as a Second Language.

Where are the jobs and what’s the best way to find work?

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States and cities that have a large number of immigrants would be the best place to look for work – Southern California, Washington (Seattle area specifically), New York (New York city area specifically).

The best jobs, which require certification, are in the schools. The need is everywhere, but greatest in the cities. Community colleges also are often looking for teachers, at least as adjuncts, which is a good way to start. You need a college degree for these, but not certification.

It’s easier to find work in private language schools generally than in community college districts (at least, what passes for full-time employment) or at universities. IEP programs here in California have been advertising for new teachers like crazy for the last few semesters, so with a degree, experience, and/or the desire to work with international students, this could be the way to go.

The best way is by contacting the schools or the local education departments. If you’re willing to teach other subjects, the absolute best way, is to begin by being a substitute teacher. You usually only need 60 college credits to do that. If you become known to the administration, and they like your teaching, you will have a better chance of getting hired in the district.

Through networking at conferences and through university contacts who may know people in this country. There could be leads on the internet but there are usually lots of applicants so it’s hard to find work this way.

When is the best time of year to look for work?

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It depends. Community programs and private organisations recruit throughout the year. public schools and colleges recruit for the beginning of semesters.

What kind of salary and working conditions can I expect?

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This varies dramatically upon where you teach. It can range from $30-100K for positions at a university, $25-50K for positions at elementary and secondary schools to $10-20K for a private organization.

The hourly salary varies according to the school (from about $18 – $25 per hour). At the university, the part-time salary is $3,500 for teaching a 14-week class which meets 3 times per week.

Full time starting about $42,000 USD. Part-time Adult Education with teacher certification about $18/hr. Community education or Adult ESL with no certification about $15-16 USD. (Texas)

Elementary and Secondary schools: 30 hours a week teaching / Private organizations: 20-25 hours a week / Universities: 10-20 hours a week.

24 hours class time per week plus at least 10 hours a week preparing classes.

35-40 hours per week / Adult Education 6 hours per week. (morning and evening shifts)

People often start at community colleges teaching only one evening course. It’s a good way to get experience, but not very good for supporting yourself. Private companies often don’t have enough work for full time employment. The public schools, or being hired full time at a college is the best way to go. Then it’s full time.

In a private language school your hours can vary. At my school, a full-time teacher would teach 4 classes per week which would equate to about 24 hours per week. No pay for planning time.

In language schools 20-25 hours per week. Evenings in community based programs

Are there opportunities for private teaching?

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Yes, by advertising locally and through word of mouth.

What about the cost of living?

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Typical cost
a cup of coffee 1-3 USD
a beer 3-5 USD
a cinema ticket 5-12 USD

100% of respondents in our survey thought that the cost of living is high or quite high compared to salary.


  • Mohammad

    I am an English teacher with ten years’ teaching experience at different levels. I have created a number of meritorious methods of teaching international exams, such as Ielts and Toefl. I was wondering if you would guide me how I can be an English teacher in English colleges in the United States.
    I look forward to hearing from you.
    Yours faithfully,
    Mohammad Kazemi Esfeh

  • Axel Garcia

    Hello! I was reading all the comments and I think they are very interesting. As you can read, I can speak English but I am a native Spanish speaker. I have a Bachelor Degree in Foreign Languages here in my country and I would like to teach over there but my goal is not to teach English as a second language because as you say there are a lot of people who can do that. So, my goal is to teach Spanish as a second language. Do you think I could have a chance to do it? Thanks for your help.

    • Shahanshah

      Dear sir,
      I am a 60 years old retired officer having a Masters degree in English Literature outside USA.I want to become an English teacher in USA.How can I do this.
      Thanks and regards

  • munna pradhan

    Hi my name is Munna. I am a Bhutanese teacher, teaching elementary students from grade pre-primary to grade six since 1993. I teach English and Social sciences.I have a Bachelor degree in education. Will i be able to get any job?

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Olga on 28 November 2005

Well, first of all, thank you for inviting me to express my opinion on my working experiences abroad. I’m from Colombia, South America and I went to Boston, Massachusetts for two years. I worked in a company dedicated to British-American interchange. I began teaching Spanish, mathematics and social sciences to Spanish speaking people. When I finished my English studies there I taught English to pre-school students in a very small private school. Working conditions were acceptable, I mean, I lived comfortably with my income. Accommodation was easy to find and under all kinds of budgets. Cost of living was OK for me. Local customs were pretty normal. They have many wonderful places to go, Nantasket Beach, Cape Cod, Copley Square and the most valuable Harvard University, where I took some extensive courses. To survive, just be nice, because everyone is nice to you. The only problem I found and it was the reason I returned to my country, was the weather, winter is too long, spring is also very cold, but the rest is nice and lovely. Thanks for calling on my opinion. I hope it helps.

Paulo on 9 March 2006

Teaching in the US was a great experience for me. The contact with so many cultures is really worthwhile. It was hard in the beginning because when you teach English in a country where the language is not spoken, so many details have to be taken into consideration, but in a country like the USA, that completely changes and at the same time it facilitates your classroom work, but requires much more attention and class preparation. If you intend to go there and teach, go to big cities like NY
(where I lived and taught for 4 years).

Mary Lou on 23 June 2007

Teaching foreigners is definitely superior than Americans, especially teenagers. Too many toys, too little motivation and interest in other cultures. We have made it too easy, and there is little motivation to get out of their comfort zone.

Emmanuel Ngwang on 16 July 2011

Teaching English in America as a”foreigner” comes with a lot of challenges. The first stumbling block is that most American students believe that a non-native speaker of English is not good enough to teach them the English language. Some come to class with the notion that if you cannot speak American English with an American accent, you cannot teach them their own language.

My advice to many of them (and my colleagues) has often been that written English has no accent. It is the standard form devoid or regional slang and accents, which is understandable universally. And this is where the non-native speaker has an advantage over the native speaker whose intimate relationship with colloquialisms and slang sometimes inhibits his/her ability to quickly recognize non-standard usage and informal usage.

To succeed, the teacher has to thoroughly acquaint himself/herself with the rules and formalities of the subject-matter and to make sure he or she is better than his or her counterpart in terms of what he/she does. It may not be fair play, but the foreigner has a bigger burden of proving he or she is good to be accepted. Ultimately, it is the subject matter that matters, especially at the tertiary level.

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