How to Become an English Teacher: Job Description & Salary

It’s time to break out the Steinbeck, Shakespeare, Austen and Hurston, because it’s time to talk about how to become an English teacher. For some of you, English was a class that would tax your nerves and provide the best time to take a nap during a long high school or college day. There are those of you however, that loved your English class and your teacher. You soaked up every bit of literature that you could and wrote feverishly in hopes of receiving some positive praise. This latter group of you is the reason we are writing this today. You are the English teachers of tomorrow and we are going to tell you how to tackle this career minus the iambic pentameter.

How to Become an English Teacher

Do you like to read and write? Have you always wanted to pass on your love of literature to others because your friends never understand you literary jokes? If so then you should totally consider the career of an English teacher. Do we have you convinced yet? Sure we do!

So now that we’ve convinced you that you want to become an English teacher how about you let us tell you how to do it! Get out your note pad because we are going to drop some serious knowledge on you and probably a bad literary joke or two.

Bachelor’s Degree in English

For starters, all states require that English teachers have at very least a bachelor’s degree. There will be certain schools that will require that you have extra teaching certificates if you are working with young kiddos as well. For today though, we are going to focus on how to become an English teacher in a high school or postsecondary school (fancy pants word for college) setting.

 Most English teachers decide to earn a bachelor’s degree so that they meet minimum state requirements for licensing so that they may get a job in a public school. Private schools do have different standards and don’t require a bachelor’s degree for employment, but most teachers still opt to get a degree because jobs in private schools are not always attainable.

During your schooling to get a bachelor’s degree you will cover a wide berth of literature. Even though you won’t likely be teaching young children, some degrees and jobs actually require you to have a good bit of knowledge in children’s literature as well. You’d be surprised by how useful Dr. Seuss actually is when teaching high school and college kids. Who doesn’t like green eggs and ham, right?

Oh, and here are a few schools to check out:

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Student – Teacher Practicum

Once you have received your bachelor’s or master’s degree, you are ready to start your student – teacher practicum. You can even begin your teacher training as part of your degree if your school is willing to work with the local school district. If you’d like to get a jump start on your supervised training, definitely check on that option. Most states require this step to obtain official licensing and as a means to gain some solid teaching experience before being thrown to the wolves.

In the long run going through the paces as a student teacher really is a good idea. It will give you first-hand experience with teaching and will likely reduce the deer in the head lights look that you are likely to be rocking on your first few days of actually teaching. Trust us, those kids can smell fear and will give you a hard time if they sense a bit of nerves. Teacher training is the perfect way to combat that.


As an English teacher you will be required to complete state licensing in order to find a job as a teacher. The licensing requirements will vary from state to state, however, you can bet your britches that you will have to take tests proving that you have skills in the areas of reading and writing. The remaining requirements to obtain your state teaching license is proven supervised student – teacher practicum and a bachelor’s degree with an emphasis in English. Most states will also require you to take some additional continuing education programs to keep your license valid, so make sure that you keep up on that when you are fully licensed. It would be a pretty big bummer for you and your students if you couldn’t teach for a bit due to lack of completing a couple of workshops.

Now you know how to go about becoming an English teacher, so get out there and get going…but finish reading the rest of this first!

Where Can I Become an English Teacher?

The most common places for English teachers to be employed are in high schools or colleges. High school English teachers function much the same as college English teachers. The main difference is the expectation of the students and the level of English you are teaching. High school English classes are broader and focus on some well-known literature with some writing thrown in. College English classes have a more defined focus like American literature or English literature, for example.

Either place that you become an English teacher will require you to promote a passion for classic and current texts as well as writing. You may get lucky and have some students that are really passionate about the subject as well and will look to you as a mentor. This can happen in either work setting and each will need a slightly different means of guidance. You’re surely up for the challenge though.

What Does an English Teacher Do?

The job duties of an English teacher will obviously vary slightly depending on if you are teaching at a high school or a college. The basic job functions will be the same though, so for our purpose today we will give you the basics.

As an English teacher you will perform the following duties:

  • Plan each semester’s lessons to cover the intended materials
  • Evaluate student’s abilities to use critical reading and writing skills
  • Teach students in small or large classroom settings – i.e. lecture hall or smaller student to teacher ratio
  • Grade student assignments
  • Communicate with students or students’ parents on their performance in the class
  • Work one on one with students to provide feedback and encouragement
  • Act as a mentor of sorts to help students along the way

English Teacher Salary

Literature will be your proverbial bread and butter, but we highly doubt that your landlord or electric company is going to accept pages out of your favorite classic novel as payment. It’s a nice thought though! We figured that we’d give up the dream and actually consult those who know what kind of salary you can expect to learn as an English teacher.

We looked to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to find out what the median annual salary for English teachers in both high school and postsecondary positions as they are the most common places of employment. According to the BLS, as of May 2013 English teachers in a postsecondary position are said to earn $60,920 a year on average. For those that are gearing towards becoming high school English teachers, you can expect to earn a yearly salary of about $55,050 as of May 2012.

english teacher BLS

Schools for English Teachers

There are quite a few good schools that will be more than acceptable for your degree to become an English teacher. Take a look at a few of the school options out there and definitely take a few minutes to see what choices you have in your neck of the woods.

New York University

The New York University has a Department of English that allows students to study all mediums that would benefit those that are considering going into the profession of an English teacher. In this program you will study literature written in the English language from all times and places.

Students will learn a great deal about literary history, critical theory to aid in analyzing literature, dramatic literature, theatre history and the culture of literature. There will be courses that are literature intensive and some that are geared more towards the students writing abilities. You can easily earn a bachelor’s degree at this school or even advance into a master’s degree program.

Ferris State University

Ferris State University of Big Rapids, Michigan has an English Education Degree program that will gain you a bachelor’s degree upon completion. This English education program is ideal for those that intend to become teachers. It has specific focuses in the areas of cultural backgrounds, diverse education and provides an training in different school settings. Some of the areas that you may be trained in are traditional high school, middle school, vocational centers as well as alternative or magnet schools.

DePaul University

DePaul University offers a bachelor’s degree for English majors. Students that attend this degree program as an English major will study a lot of the most influential authors from America and England. Many different genres and movements in literature will be covered during the span of the program as well. As a student in this English program you will learn how to write efficiently and effectively. There is also heavy influence placed upon the importance of how to read and interpret literature as well.

The English program at DePaul University offers a degree in three concentrations: creative writing, literary studies and secondary English education. There are quite extensive courses offered in each one of these mediums too. There is also the option to complete a combined bachelor’s and master’s degree program if you are interested in pursuing more than one medium.

Columbia University

Columbia University has a very well-known Department of English and Comparative Literature. Columbia’s Department of English and Comparative Literature has actually played a very large role in the history of literature and the study of literature both in the United States and abroad. This is a very large school that is geared towards helping students gain a solid foundation in English literature and writing.

This school offers students the option of completing a bachelor’s or a master’s degree in English. The amount of classes that are available at the Department of English and Comparative Literature is pretty impressive. You will be able to get fully absorbed in the reading world and cover everything from Medieval, Renaissance and American literature just to name a very few. To be totally honest, we are kind of geeking out about all of the cool classes that can be taken at this school. If you don’t want to go, can we go in your place?

Watch This Video! How to Become a Brilliant English Teacher

You guys should totally check out this video that we stumbled across on the old YouTube! It’s super short and gives you all the main tips to become a brilliant English teacher. It also totally made us wish that we had an awesome British accent, but that’s beside the point. So watch the video, get an idea of what you’ll need to do to become the best and practice your accent!

Great Things that English Teachers Do

Being an English teacher is pretty awesome and interesting. It’s also more important than some realize. Here are some things that you can do as an English teacher that will have the most positive impact on your students. Each of these little tips actually came directly from an retired English teacher and his experience on the job. Take a look at some of the very best things about English teachers  and what they do for their students, some of which they may not even realize.

  1. The best English teachers are the passionate ones. These passionate teachers ooze their love of books, literature, theatre and even film. The best English teachers are also very passionate about their classes and students. These are the kinds of teachers that students want to engage with and learn from. It’s pretty common for passionate English teachers to leave an indelible mark upon those students that have similar passions.
  2. Great English teachers are text obsessed and are always reading something. For many English teachers reading is a necessary as air or food. It’s rare to hear an English teacher say that they don’t have time to read, because if there is an ounce of free time in a day, they have their nose in a book. This is such a beneficial thing for students too. It opens a dialogue and presents new and exciting material to them.
  3. Many English teachers work entirely too hard. What we mean by that is that they tend to give their students every ounce of themselves in hopes of passing on some knowledge or passion. Writing advice sheets, sample essays or giving very detailed feedback are all ways that English teachers go the extra mile when they don’t have to.
  4. One of the great things about being an English teacher is that you don’t have to pretend to know all of the answers. Shocking, right?! Most teachers feel like they need to know it all, but English teachers relish in having students ask questions that they don’t know the answers to. It gives them another reason to read and explore as a means to finding an answer. English teachers love messy, random and open ended questions to keep them on their toes.
  5. Great English teachers love the oddballs in class. They often celebrate individualism and even embrace the more troublesome students that are known for giving teachers a hard time. It’s common place for English teachers to give special one on one attention to their students and to really celebrate their successes and even fully acknowledge their failures.
  6. There is a balance struck between structure and the spontaneous. Lessons are usually fun and engaging even if some elements are planned and others are not. This lets students feel like their learning is fluid rather than forced, which will typically have a better outcome.
  7. A lot of English teachers are kind of seen as risk takers in the sense that they will frequently change up their teaching methods if it benefits the students. They are not afraid to incorporate old texts with new if that is what it takes to get their students engaged and learning.
  8. This goes for all teachers really, but a great English teacher loves to teach. The process is usually enjoyable besides having to deal with the bureaucracy of school districts. The creativity behind the lessons and watching the new seeds of knowledge that were planted in the minds of the kids is pretty exciting.
  9. This again goes for all teachers – they are extremely undervalued and their efforts go unrecognized. Even though English teachers do not get the praise that is so deserved, they are still out their teaching and molding their students. English teachers can often serve as the best mentors and will really work hard to support students.
  10. A great English teacher will have an emotional impact on their students. When you walk out of a lesson with an English teacher that has done their job you may feel the urge to read better, write better, think better and of course learn better. The English teacher that makes their students feel all the feels is the one you want to have or the one you want to be.
  11. A stellar English teacher gets nervous for their students on exam days. They want their students to do well and feel a sense of responsibility to ensure that they do so. A great English teacher will feel triumphant when their students are triumphant and defeated when their students feel defeated.

Final Grade

You’ll soon be pretty familiar with giving out final grades, but for now we will gladly take over this task and show you how it’s done. Excuse us while we get our red grading pen out because we mean business.

  • Degree vs. Debt: B-

The degree to debt ratio could definitely be worse, but you will have to have at very least a bachelor’s degree and possibly even a master’s degree depending on where you are going to eventually get a job. With those 4 to 6 years of schooling will also come just as many years of tuition. Your salary as an English teacher will be pretty good and will help to make up for some of the debt you may incur in the long run.

  • Difficulty of Degree: B

It’s not a particularly hard degree, but boy is it going to require a lot…and we do mean A LOT of reading and writing. If this is the career path that you want to take then it’s probably a good idea to get your coffee pot going and just keep a steady flow of the strongest coffee you can find. You are definitely going to need it to keep up with all of those late night cram sessions.

  • Happiness Quotient: A+

We do not give out A+’s casually, but we feel that if any of the careers we have covered thus far deserve it, it’s this one. This is one of those jobs that will allow you to pass on your love of literature and writing to those you teach. You will be able to nurture the writers and book lovers of tomorrow. Can you tell we’ve thought about this a time or two?

  • Job Outlook: C

The job outlook for English teachers is not so hot and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics is only projected to grow about 6% from 2012 to 2022. That’s not great at all and will likely make it pretty hard to find a job when the time comes. You’ll be duking it out with other English teacher’s-to-be and as we all know, it’s all fun and games until someone rips up a vintage copy of Chaucer.

Sources and Recommended Reading

Naturally when writing about how to become an English teacher, we have to cite our sources. It would be in poor form to do anything else.

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