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What is an English Teacher?

Do you enjoy talking about great works of literature? Are you a word nerd? Could you spend hours writing stories and developing characters or conjuring up images and emotions while writing poetry? Do you feel the need to correct grammar and spelling errors whenever you see them, which is often? Are you the one your friends and family come to when they need a proofreader, can’t think of the right word, or can’t remember how to spell “schedule”? Then you might be an English teacher in the making. English teachers want nothing more than to make the world a more literate and informed place.

Depending on the age of student you want to teach, as an English teacher you will provide an education in spelling, grammar, sentence structure, essay writing and reading comprehension. The older the student, the more complex the concepts you teach become. As a third-grade teacher you might be talking about the importance of the garden in Peter Rabbit. In high school, your students might write papers about juxtaposition of red and green in Sir Gawain. Whether you want to plant the seed and provide the solid foundation, or help students hone the skills they already have, there’s a place for you in the world as an English teacher.

If you think this is a path you want to take, the journey is one of learning and developing. To teach others how to decipher poetry and prose, you first must learn to do it effectively yourself. This requires training and excellent reading comprehension skills. You most likely already have the latter, it’s what led you to consider becoming an English teacher in the first place. Now you need the education, and this guide will show you what you need.

An English teacher is a person who teaches grammar, punctuation, spelling, and literature to students. The concepts and courses taught vary by the age of the student, but students of all ages take English because knowing how to read and write are necessary for students to be successful in life.

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Steps to Become an English Teacher

These are the steps an aspiring teacher takes to go from student to a teacher in a classroom. These steps might vary depending on the school attended, but for those wishing to become English teachers, this is the most common path.

  • Step 1: Attain an English Education Degree

  • Step 2: Take and Pass the Required Teaching Exam

  • Step 3: Submit to All Required Background Checks

  • Step 4: Apply for a Position in Desired School Districts


Step 1: Attain an English Education Degree

To become an English teacher, you need a four-year bachelor's degree English Education from an accredited college or university. You can begin this process by getting an Associates in English Education. The teaching program must also be accredited. The most popular accreditation program for teachers is the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). At most colleges you have to declare education as your major and apply for entry into the program. This is typically done during a student’s second year of college. Your advisor will let you know your specific requirements for entry into the program. As an education major, you will also declare an area of specialization. In this case you would choose to specialize in teaching English, but you’d also choose what level you will teach; elementary, middle, or high school. This designation is important because your school curriculum as well as your student teaching assignment will be based on those choices. During your undergraduate education, you will do several weeks of observation in a school setting, followed by a half-semester of student teaching. In both instances you’ll be matched with a veteran teacher who is available to answer questions and offer advice and guidance.

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Step 2: Take and Pass the Required Teaching Exam

Once you have completed your degree in education, you must take and pass the teaching exam. Depending on the state where you want to teach, the exam you are required to take might vary. The two main exams are the PRAXIS and NES. Some future educators opt to cover all their bases and take both exams.

The PRAXIS exam is broken into two parts, Praxis I and Praxis II. Praxis I is a core exam that covers three areas: reading, writing, and mathematics. The Praxis II exam is subject based and also has two parts. The first section is a subject assessment that measures an aspiring teachers’ knowledge in their chosen specialization, such as English. The second part of the exam is called the Principles of Learning; it measures the knowledge the test taker has in regards to the age level he or she intends to teach and is separated into early childhood education, kindergarten to sixth grade, fifth to ninth grade, and grades 7 to 12.

The NES exam is conducted by states, and each state chooses what to include on its exam. The best way to prepare for this exam is to get the study aid for the state where you intend to teach. It is a comprehensive exam that is meant to measure the test taker’s knowledge about teaching in general, as well as subject matter.

Step 3: Submit to All Required Background Checks

Once you have taken and passed the required exams, you can start to apply for teaching positions in school districts where you want to teach. One of the earliest steps in the process is submitting to, and passing, background checks. You should start this process early because it can take some time to get through the process and you wouldn’t want an employment opportunity fall to the wayside because your results didn’t come back in time. Most school districts require a criminal background check, but they also have their preferred methods of attaining those tests. In some cases, you can go to a local law enforcement agency and have one completed; other districts prefer you submit through a specific agency and go through a database. Some states only require a background check that goes back a few years and only include the geographic location where you currently live, while others want your entire adult history and search for information nationwide. The best approach is to inquire what information your desired school district needs and provide that.

Step 4: Apply for a Position in Desired School Districts

Applying for a teaching position can be a tedious process. Generally, there is a packet with a lot of requirements involved. You’ll want to read through all the documents carefully, so you fill out the application and provide all the required documents on time. Teaching applications general include the following:

  • Application for employment
  • Letters of reference
  • Transcripts from all schools attended. You can send unofficial transcripts with the application, but official transcripts will be needed later.
  • Application fees for specific background checks

What Does an English Teacher Do?

An English teacher helps students learn all facets of the English language. Depending on the age level being taught, this can be a simple as teaching them the definition of each part of speech, or as complex as providing instruction on composition techniques and how to critique literary works of famous authors. For English teachers at the post-secondary level, English education can range from teaching composition classes to non-English majors to teaching English and English education majors how to explain these concepts to others.

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The average day of an English teacher consists of courses in grammar and literature, grading papers and exams, helping students who need help and, for secondary teachers, meeting with parents and handling other school responsibilities such as coaching teams, chaperoning activities, or helping with the school newspaper or literary magazine. English teachers also must prepare for teaching critique by reading the books that are being used during the class.

Skills to Acquire

English teachers have a specific set of skills they use to teach grammar, punctuation, writing, and critical thinking skills but they also possess more universal skills as well in order to be successful in the classroom.

  • Attention to Detail
    English teachers are trained to pick up on the most subtle concepts in literary works. English teachers are also skilled in crafting prose and poetry that is highly detailed and thematic. English teachers are also trained to teach these techniques to their students.

  • Communication Skills
    English teachers use both verbal and written communication on a constant basis to teach students how to write and think critically.

  • Reading Comprehension
    English teachers have reading comprehension skills that are well above average. English teachers must not only understand what they’re reading, but they also have to pick up and understand all the subtle nuances the author has presented as well.

  • Patience
    English teachers must act with patience and understanding when dealing with students and parents. English is a problematic class for many students, and a teacher has to be able to keep calm and help the student understand.

Alternative Paths

If you pursue another career path but later decided you wanted to become an English teacher, you have two options: you can go back to school and follow the steps outlined above, or you can take education courses that will prepare you to take the PRAXIS I and II. If you successfully pass these courses, the state in which you want to teach will allow you to take the licensure exam to teach in that state. Keep in mind that the coursework you’ll need to successfully complete is on the graduate level and should result in a master’s in education or something similar.

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Where Might You Work?


The vast majority of English teachers work in a school setting. Students of all ages take English as part of their school curriculum. It is also a requirement for college and university students, as well as technical and vocational students.

Elementary Teachers
The focus here is on grammar and simple punctuation. Students also begin to learn about writing essays and stories. There is some reading and critiquing of literature in elementary school, but it generally consists of teachers reading to students and asking basic questions about the story to teach kids how to pay attention to the parts of a story.

Middle School Teachers
Middle school teachers focus on teaching the parts of speech, grammar, and punctuation but much more focus is placed on composition. Middle school teachers also help students start to read classic works and learn how to decipher the meanings of the works. It is during this period when the seeds of expository writing and literature critiquing skills begin to be taught.

High School Teachers
High school students delve more into composition writing, essay writing, research paper writing, and reading and interpreting famous literature.

College English Teachers
Most incoming freshmen have to take English I and II. For those who major in English or others who want to take additional English classes, teachers provide classes in period literature, grammar, and composition. For students who struggle with English, there are also remedial classes.

Potential Career Paths

As an English teacher, your career path has two possible trajectories. You can continue to teach English but move from one teaching level to the next, or you can leave the classroom and go into administration instead. For example, a middle-school English teacher might start teaching at the high school level, or high school teachers might move on to teaching on the collegiate level. The other option is that English teachers might choose to leave teaching and become administrators, such as principals or counselors.

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English Teacher Salaries

Occupation Entry-Level Mid-Career Late-Career
Writer $41,000 $54,000 $66,000
Journalist $31,000 $45,000 $59,000
Film/TV Producer $50,000 $73,000 $113,000
Digital Strategist $44,000 $70,000 $125,000

**Salary info provided by PayScale

Career Outlook

The career outlook for English teachers varies by level. Overall, the outlook for jobs in teaching is expected to increase at an above average level between 2016 and 2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Salaries for teachers increases as their education increases. For example, English teachers with a master’s degree in Education can make 25% more than a teacher who does not have an advanced degree.

Middle School English Teachers
These positions are in high demand in West Virginia, New Jersey, Ohio, Delaware, and Maine. The best paying states are New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Alaska, and California. The average salary for a middle school English teacher is $47,000.

High School English Teachers
The average pay for a high school English teacher is $49,000. The states with the most demand are Missouri, Ohio, Maine, Arkansas, and Connecticut. The states that pay their high school English teachers the most include New York, California, Maine, Alaska, and Connecticut.

College English Teachers
These professors get a substantial bump in pay, but they are also required to have more education than their secondary counterparts. The average salary of an English professor is $89,000. The states with the most colleges looking for English teachers are Vermont, New York, Massachusetts, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. The states with colleges that pay the best are Washington DC, California, Rhode Island, New York, and New Jersey.

Advancing From Here

English teachers who seek a change generally go one of two directions: further up the educational ladder or they leave teaching entirely. For those who opt to remain in education, becoming a counselor, principal, or another administrator is an option. English teachers who decide to leave teaching entirely can land in any number of settings, from freelance writing to consulting, or a host of other careers.

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In either case, additional education is often required. For English teachers who want to become counselors or principals, an advanced degree in counseling or education leadership is required. Many English teachers choose to continue their education because it makes them more attractive to school districts and, in some cases, additional education is needed to earn an increase in pay. For English teachers who want to teach on the collegiate level, a master’s in education is a requirement for a tenure track position, but a PhD is preferred. For English teachers who opt to leave education, additional coursework in the area where they want to focus might be required.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the teacher preparation program?

The teacher preparation program prepares undergraduate and graduate students to become licensed English teachers. The teacher preparation program also includes student teaching experience.

How to become a middle school English teacher?

Middle school English teachers are required to have at least a bachelor's degree. After you complete your degree, you will need a student teaching internship in a middle school classroom. After you complete your internship, you need to pass your state’s required tests. When you pass your state tests, you will need to obtain a state teaching certificate.

How to become a high school English teacher?

High school English teachers are required to have at least a bachelor's degree. After you complete your degree, you will need a student teaching internship in a middle school classroom. After you complete your internship, you need to pass your state’s required tests. When you pass your state tests, you will need to obtain a state teaching certificate.

How to become a postsecondary English teacher?

Most postsecondary teachers need a doctorate but a master's degree may be enough for some postsecondary teachers. After you complete your degree, you will need a student teaching internship in a middle school classroom. After you complete your internship, you need to pass your state’s required tests. When you pass your state tests, you will need to obtain a state teaching certificate.

What can retired teachers do?

A retired teacher may want to consider education consulting. With education consulting, you will be responsible for mentoring new teachers, help plan curriculum, and advise schools on teacher's needs. Retired teachers may also enjoy creating testing materials, tutoring students, or even substitute teaching.

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