English Teacher Career Guide

An English teacher instructs students in English language and literature. English teachers may encourage learning the English language in a fun and engaging environment, depending on the age level taught. They may teach native speakers of English as well as English language learners (ELLs). This guide provides further information on what English teachers do, how you can become one, and salary and job outlook information.

English Teacher Job Description

The job of an English teacher requires a deep understanding of sentence structure, grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, and literature. It encompasses teaching creative composition such as prose, poetry, short stories, and narratives, as well as technical writing skills which include news articles, reports, journals, and essays. At a basic level, a teacher of English should develop students’ oral and written communication skills, including critical thinking, oral and written comprehension, and problem-solving skills. English teachers in K-12 public or private schools are responsible for planning lessons that fit into a school’s approved curriculum and supporting student learning to meet state standards.

English Teacher Requirements and Common Tasks

When hiring an English teacher at the elementary level, schools typically require a bachelor’s degree in elementary education. To teach at the secondary level, a bachelor’s degree in English in combination with a state-approved teacher preparation program is a common pathway, though it is also possible to obtain a bachelor’s degree in secondary education with a specialization in English. Most colleges and universities require prospective educators to hold post-baccalaureate degrees in English, like a master’s degree or PhD. Prospective teachers who intend to teach K-12 classes with English language learners (ELLs) may find it beneficial, or sometimes required, to earn a degree in teaching English as a second language (commonly abbreviated as ESL or ESOL) and pursue an ESL/ESOL endorsement. It is also becoming more common for the coursework for an ESL/ESOL endorsement to be included in the curriculum for other core subject teacher preparation programs, including English.

The English teacher’s role in K-12 schools is to effectively teach the correct usage of the English language in speaking and writing and to help students develop composition and reading skills through writing, reading, and literature classes. English teachers may also teach phonetic awareness and sound-to-letter correspondence as well as reading skills. The teacher should be attuned to the learning progress of students, especially that of non-native English speakers, and be able to identify when to use alternative teaching strategies when necessary. In addition to classroom management tasks, English teachers interact with other faculty during staff meetings and professional development activities, as well as parents of students. Many teachers of English also participate in student tutoring and may advise extracurricular student clubs.

English Education Teaching Degrees and Programs

How to Become an English Teacher

A minimum of a bachelor’s degree is required to become an English teacher. For traditional-route educators in K-12 schools, the bachelor’s program should include a teacher preparation program that is approved by the state board of education. A student seeking initial certification via a bachelor’s degree program must typically complete two years of general education courses. After prerequisites are met, the student must apply for admission to the university’s teacher education program, which typically occurs in the junior year. From that point, the student will take advanced English and literature classes as well as classes in pedagogy designed to instruct the candidate on how to teach English successfully in the grade level(s) in which the candidate intends to pursue certification. Most K-12 public school candidates will complete the following steps to become an English teacher. (Note that private school candidates should check with schools of interest, as they may not require licensure.)

  1. Earn a bachelor’s degree in English or a related subject that includes a teacher preparation program.
  2. Complete a student teaching internship in English and related subjects, such as reading and literature.
  3. Take your state’s required tests for teacher certification.
  4. Apply for your teaching license.
  5. Begin applying for open positions for English teachers.

Some students decide to teach after they have already completed their bachelor’s degree in English or a related field. In this case, an alternative route to teaching certification may be a good fit. Many universities also offer master’s in education degree programs designed for prospective teachers who already have a bachelor’s degree. Regardless of which path is taken, the student must also pass a series of state tests to earn teacher certification. At least one semester of student teaching is required in most states, and some programs require students to complete additional classroom observations or placements.

English Teacher Salary and Job Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for middle school teachers in all subjects, excluding special and career and technical education, was $61,810 per year as of 2022.1 Projections indicate that job growth for middle school teachers will be 4% from 2021 to 2031, which is about as fast as the average for all occupations.2 Teachers at the high school level earned a median annual salary of $62,360 during the same time period and can expect a 5% job growth rate from 2021 to 2031, which is about average for all occupations.3,4 Postsecondary teachers of English and literature earned a median annual salary of $74,280 in 2022, and postsecondary teachers across all disciplines have expected job growth of 12% from 2021 to 2031, which is much faster than average.5,6

According to O*NET OnLine data, 53% of respondents said that secondary school teachers should hold a bachelor’s degree, 24% said a master’s degree is recommended, and 15% said a post-baccalaureate certificate is recommended.7 Holding a higher-level degree in English, literature, or a related subject may help prospective English teachers become more competitive in the job market and, in some states, earn a higher salary. As the majority of postsecondary teachers of English hold a master’s or doctoral degree, pursuing an advanced degree can also open up further job opportunities.8

English and Language Arts Teacher Career Interviews

Helpful Skills and Experience

Most degree and certificate programs that lead to state teacher certification include student teaching experience, which can be of great help to beginning teachers honing their classroom management skills. Patience, flexibility, and creativity in designing instructional activities, as well as excellent communication skills, are sought-after skills for candidates from schools looking to hire English teachers.

Additional Resources

  • National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE): The NCTE exists to advance the teaching and learning of English and language arts at all levels of the education system. Members receive discounts on instructional materials, subscriptions to education-focused journals, and professional development opportunities.

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: What certification is required to become an English teacher?

Answer: Teachers in K-12 public schools must typically hold state certification and subject area endorsements in English language and literature. Many states offer alternative pathways to certification for career switchers or those who hold a bachelor’s degree that did not include coursework in teaching, which may include provisional licensing that allows licensees to begin teaching while working towards the requirements for a regular teaching certificate. Your state board of education or college program can provide further details on certification requirements specific to your state. You can also check out our traditional certification and alternative certification guides.

Question: What career opportunities are available for English teachers?

Answer: In addition to teaching in K-12 public and private schools in the US, as well as colleges and universities for those with an advanced degree, English teachers are in high demand overseas. There are many programs that connect recent English graduates with school districts abroad for beginning teaching experience. English teachers may also find job opportunities in the private sector tutoring and coaching English language learners for multinational corporations.

Question: What certifications can English teachers earn to advance their careers?

Answer: In addition to bachelor’s and advanced degrees, English teachers can earn certificates in teaching English as a second or foreign language (ESL or EFL). In many states, this qualifies teachers for an ESL/TESOL subject endorsement on the teaching license. See our guide for ESL teachers and our guide for TEFL teachers for more information. Other common certificates include advanced training in teaching business English, communication, and creative writing.

Question: How much do English teachers make?

Answer: An English teacher’s salary depends on many factors, including the level of English taught, employer, years of experience, and degree/certifications earned. In 2022, English teachers in public and private K-12 schools earned a median salary between $61,810 (middle school) and $62,360 (high school).1,3 Postsecondary English and literature teachers, which includes college and university teachers, earned a median annual salary of $74,280 in 2022.5

1. Bureau of Labor Statistics May 2022 Occupational Employment and Wages, Middle School Teachers: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes252022.htm
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Middle School Teachers: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/middle-school-teachers.htm
3. Bureau of Labor Statistics May 2022 Occupational Employment and Wages, High School Teachers: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes252031.htm
4. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, High School Teachers: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/high-school-teachers.htm
5. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics, May 2021, English Language and Literature Teachers, Postsecondary: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes251123.htm
6. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Postsecondary Teachers: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/postsecondary-teachers.htm
7. O*NET OnLine, Secondary School Teachers: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/25-2031.00
8. O*NET OnLine, English Language and Literature Teachers, Postsecondary: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/25-1123.00