Adult Basic and Secondary Education and ESL Teachers

Career, Salary and Education Information

What They Do: Adult basic and secondary education and ESL (English as a Second Language) teachers instruct adults in fundamental skills, such as reading and speaking English. They also help students earn their high school equivalency credential.

Work Environment: Adult basic and secondary education and ESL teachers are often employed by community colleges, community-based organizations, and public schools. Part-time work is common.

How to Become One: Adult basic and secondary education and ESL teachers who work in public schools must have at least a bachelor’s degree and a license or certification.

Salary: The median annual wage for adult basic and secondary education and ESL teachers is $55,350.

Job Outlook: Employment of adult basic and secondary education and ESL teachers is projected to decline 10 percent over the next ten years. Declining enrollment in adult education and ESL programs and an increase in the high school graduation rate may lower demand for these types of teachers.

Related Careers: Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of adult basic and secondary education and ESL teachers with similar occupations.

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What Adult Basic and Secondary Education and ESL Teachers Do[About this section] [To Top]

Adult basic and secondary education and ESL (English as a Second Language) teachers instruct adults in fundamental skills, such as reading, writing, and speaking English. They also help students earn their high school equivalency credential.

Duties of Adult Basic and Secondary Education and ESL Teachers

Adult basic and secondary education and ESL teachers typically do the following:

  • Plan and teach lessons to help students gain the knowledge and skills needed to earn their high school equivalency credential
  • Adapt teaching methods based on students’ strengths and weaknesses
  • Emphasize skills that will help students find jobs, such as learning English words and common phrases used in the workplace
  • Assess students for learning disabilities
  • Monitor students’ progress
  • Help students develop study skills
  • Connect students to other resources in their community, such as job placement services

Students’ educational level and skills are assessed before they enter these programs. Teachers may conduct the assessments; however, sometimes another staff member assesses students. Based on the results of the assessment and the student’s goals, teachers develop an education plan.

Teachers must formally evaluate their students periodically to determine their progress and potential to go on to the next level of classes. However, teachers may informally evaluate their students’ progress continually.

Adult basic and secondary education and ESL teachers often have students of various ability levels in their classes. As a result, these teachers need to use different strategies to meet the needs of all of their students. They may work with students in classes or teach them one-on-one.

There are three types of education that adult basic and secondary education and ESL teachers provide:

Adult basic education (ABE) classes teach students the basics of reading, writing, and math. The students generally are age 16 or older and need to gain proficiency in these skills to improve their job situation. Teachers prepare students for further education and help them to develop skills that they will need in the workplace. For example, they may teach students how to write a resume.

Adult secondary education classes prepare students to take the test to earn a high school equivalency credential. Some programs are combined with career preparation programs so that students can earn a high school equivalency and a career-related credential at the same time.

The high school equivalency exam is composed of four subjects: language arts, math, science, and social studies. In addition to teaching these subjects, teachers also help their students improve their skills in communicating, critical thinking, and problem solving—skills they will need in preparing for further education and successful careers.

English as a Second Language (ESL), also called English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), classes teach students to read, write, and speak English. Students in these classes are immigrants to the United States or those whose native language is not English. ESL teachers may have students from many different countries and cultures in their classroom. Because the ESL teacher and the students may not share a common native language, ESL teachers must be creative with their communication in the classroom.

ESL teachers often focus on helping their students with practical vocabulary for jobs and daily living. They also may focus on preparing their students to take the citizenship exam.

Work Environment for Adult Basic and Secondary Education and ESL Teachers[About this section] [To Top]

Adult basic and secondary education and ESL teachers hold about 59,300 jobs. The largest employers of adult basic and secondary education and ESL teachers are as follows:

Elementary and secondary schools; state, local, and private 35%
Junior colleges; state, local, and private 24%
Other schools and instruction; state, local, and private 9%
Self-employed workers 7%
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private 5%

Students in adult education and ESL programs attend classes by choice. As a result, they are often highly motivated, which may make teaching them rewarding and satisfying.

Adult Literacy and High School Equivalency Diploma Teacher Work Schedules

These teachers often work in the mornings and evenings, because classes are held at times when students are not at work. Part-time work is common.

How to Become an Adult Basic and Secondary Education and ESL Teacher[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Adult Basic and Secondary Education and ESL Teachers near you!

Adult basic and secondary education and ESL teachers who work in public schools must have at least a bachelor’s degree and a license or certification.

Education for Adult Basic and Secondary Education and ESL Teachers

Adult basic and secondary education and ESL teachers in public schools must have at least a bachelor’s degree. Some community colleges may prefer to hire those with a master’s degree or graduate coursework in adult education or English as a Second Language (ESL).

Programs in adult education prepare prospective teachers to use effective strategies for adult learners, work with students from a variety of cultures and backgrounds, and teach adults with learning disabilities. Some programs allow these prospective teachers to specialize in adult basic education, secondary education, or ESL.

Prospective ESL teachers should take courses or training in linguistics and theories of how people learn second languages. Knowledge of a second language is not necessary to teach ESL, but it can be helpful.

Teacher education programs instruct prospective teachers in how to present information to students and how to work with students of varying abilities and backgrounds. Programs typically include an opportunity for student-teachers to work with a mentor and get experience in a classroom. For information about teacher preparation programs in your state, visit Teach.org.

Adult basic and secondary education and ESL teachers may take professional development classes to improve their teaching skills and ensure that they keep up with research about teaching adults.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations for Adult Basic and Secondary Education and ESL Teachers

Adult basic and secondary education and ESL teachers who work in public schools must have a teaching certificate. Some states have certificates specifically for adult education. Other states require teachers to have a certificate in elementary or secondary education.

To obtain a license, adult basic and secondary education and ESL teachers typically need a bachelor’s degree and must complete a student-teaching program. For more information, contact the director of adult education for your state. Contact information is available from the U.S. Department of Education.

Important Qualities for Adult Basic and Secondary Education and ESL Teachers

Communication skills. Adult basic and secondary education and ESL teachers must collaborate with other teachers and program administrators. In addition, they must explain concepts in terms that students can understand.

Cultural sensitivity. Teachers work with students from a variety of cultural, educational, and economic backgrounds. They must be respectful of their students’ backgrounds and be understanding of their concerns.

Patience. Working with students of different abilities and backgrounds can be difficult. Teachers must be patient when students struggle to understand the material.

Resourcefulness. Teachers must be able to think on their feet and find ways to keep students engaged in learning. They may have to change their methods of instruction to address the different needs of their students.

Adult Basic and Secondary Education and ESL Teacher Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for adult basic and secondary education and ESL teachers is $55,350. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $32,120, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $95,630.

The median annual wages for adult basic and secondary education and ESL teachers in the top industries in which they work are as follows:

Elementary and secondary schools; state, local, and private $61,410
Junior colleges; state, local, and private $53,820
Other schools and instruction; state, local, and private $51,090
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private $50,720

Teachers often work in the mornings and evenings, because classes are held at times when students are not at work. Part-time work is common.

Job Outlook for Adult Basic and Secondary Education and ESL Teachers[About this section] [To Top]

Employment of adult basic and secondary education and ESL teachers is projected to decline 10 percent over the next ten years.

Enrollment in adult education and ESL programs has declined in recent years. At the same time, high school graduation rates have increased, reducing the number of adults seeking to obtain high school equivalency credentials. As these trends continue, the demand for adult basic and secondary education and ESL teachers may decline.

Changes in government funding for adult education and ESL programs also may impact the demand for these workers.

Job Prospects for Adult Basic and Secondary Education and ESL Teachers

Despite projected employment declines, about 5,300 openings for adult basic and secondary education and ESL teachers are projected each year, on average, over the decade.

All of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Many adult basic and secondary education and ESL teacher positions are part time. As a result, prospects will be best for workers who are willing and able to take a part-time position. In addition, those with experience teaching will have better opportunities than those without experience.

Employment projections data for Adult Basic and Secondary Education and ESL Teachers, 2019-29
Occupational Title Employment, 2019 Projected Employment, 2029 Change, 2019-29
Percent Numeric
Adult basic education, adult secondary education, and English as a Second Language instructors 59,300 53,100 -10 -6,200


A portion of the information on this page is used by permission of the U.S. Department of Labor.


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