Adult educators work in community colleges, community organizations, or prisons, helping people who are 18 years or older to improve basic skills like reading and writing or to earn a GED. As an adult educator, you will be helping people from difficult backgrounds who didn’t have the opportunity to complete their education. And helping people in this way can make being an adult educator one of the most rewarding lines of work.

Typical Requirements to Become an Adult Education Teacher

Minimum Education Level Bachelor’s. Some employers require masters-level degrees or coursework.
Recommended Major Field(s) Any subject field. For community college employment, degree or coursework in Education or ESL.
Licensure/Certification A state-issued teaching license or certification. Varies by state and program.
Minimum Work Experience 2 to 3 years of teaching experience. This experience can usually be teaching children or adults.

Featured Schools

  1. Northcentral University
  2. Capella University
  3. Walden University

Key Skills and Strengths

  • Compassion and Sensitivity: Most of the student will be from very disadvantaged backgrounds. They will not have earned a high school diploma, or they may even be incarcerated if you choose to work in a correctional facility. A desire to understand why your students are where they are, and being motivated to help them, will keep you going strong in this career path.
  • Communication: Being able to talk with your students, to hear what they need from you, and to work with them to create a classroom environment that meets their needs is key to garnering trust between you and your students.
  • Flexibility: Unlike teaching, say, introductory algebra every year, the needs and skill levels of your students in an adult ed. classroom will vary dramatically. Some will come hoping to earn a GED, while others may be barely able to read. You must be adaptable and ready to change your lessons to meet each student’s needs.
  • Available to meet a non-traditional schedule: Unlike a public school teacher, your hours will not be a regular 8-4 schedule. You will likely teach classes very early, at nights, or even on weekends to accommodate your students’ work schedules.

Bachelor’s Degree in Adult Education

You can work as an adult educator with a bachelor’s degree in any field, though majors specifically in adult education are available. To earn a state teaching license, which could be required to work in government programs, you will need to have taken a few education courses.

Sample Courses

To be an excellent teacher, you want more than just experience; you need to know the fundamentals. Here are a few college courses that will serve you well as an adult educator.

  • Adult Learning Theory: Many education courses are designed with children and teens in mind, but adult education is different. That’s why it is important to know the best theories for motivation, learning, and curriculum development as they apply to adults.
  • Differences in Learning Style: Designing lessons to help your students become better learners is a key part of adult education. For example, knowing if your students are visual, audio or hands-on learners helps you plan your lessons accordingly.
  • English as a Second Language: Many students in adult education courses today may be immigrants who never earned a formal education in the United States. An ESL course helps you understand the challenges they face and help them overcome their language barrier.

Master’s Degree in Adult Education

If you hope to work as an adult educator at a community college, or even in some government programs, a master’s degree may be expected. If you are looking to transition into adult education from another field, a master’s degree would certainly boost your career prospects. If you do decide to make the leap and earn a master’s degree, you should choose a specialization in adult education or adult ESL.

Sample Course

At the master’s level, you have the opportunity to specialize further within the field of adult education. Many programs let you focus on secondary education training, ESL, or basic skills. Here are some courses found in a master’s program:

  • Program Planning in Adult Education: With a master’s degree, you have the potential to help with planning and course design for adult education programs. Since this differs so much for adults, a course on best methods and theories is necessary.
  • Historical and Social Issues in Adult Education: You should understand the unique history and social stigmas surrounding adult education, as well as the reasons behind them. A course like this helps you better understand the experiences of your students.
  • Research and Evaluation in Adult Education: As a graduate student, you are expected to carry out a little research, an experience that will serve you well for the rest of your career. A research course will teach you how to accurately uncover and report on which educational approaches do and don’t work.

Work Experience Requirements

To find a job as an adult educator, you will need at least a few years of experience. Often, high school or elementary teachers transition into the field for a change of pace or a change in schedule. Therefore, the kind of teaching experience is usually not important. Maybe you were a professional tutor for many years, or you taught ESL abroad to children. If you have past employers who can vouch for your teaching skills, you should be competitive in the job market.

Certification/Licensure Requirements

A lot of adult teaching opportunities are in government programs, teaching basic literacy or GED courses. For these opportunities, you need a state-issued teaching license. Though the requirements vary state-to-state, the following is a list of general requirements each adult educator needs to meet:

  • Hold a bachelor’s degree, usually with some education coursework
  • Complete an approved student-teaching program, which can include a semester or more of student teaching
  • Have a clean criminal background

You can find more certification and licensing requirements through individual state websites, which will have information and contact details for the director of state adult education. You can find your state’s website using this federal Department of Education directory.

If you are not a licensed teacher, you can still find part-time teaching opportunities at community colleges and community organizations, though this will most often start with teaching ESL.

Looking for a Teaching Job

Jobs in adult education are expected to grow as fast as the average for all jobs in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, bringing the projected total number of jobs to 84,200 by 2022. Most of the new positions will require teachers to work with immigrants who don’t have enough English proficiency or formal education. Keep in mind, most adult education positions are part-time, teaching night classes for a few hours every day or a few days a week. Full-time positions are much harder to find.

In order to begin your job search, in addition to the websites below, you can use the U.S. Department of Education directory of adult education websites for each state. You can go to your state website to find adult education programs in your area and contact them directly.


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