Reading Specialist Career Guide

A reading specialist, or reading coach, works with children experiencing challenges with reading to help advance their reading skills and lay the foundation for future success. This guide provides information on what reading specialists do, how to become one, and the salary and job outlook for reading specialists.

Table of Contents

How to Become
Job Description
Salary & Job Outlook
Additional Resources
Frequently Asked Questions
Related Pages

How to Become a Reading Specialist

A graduate degree is typically preferred to pursue a reading specialist career, though in some states and school districts a bachelor’s degree with an approved teacher preparation program is sufficient. Students will complete at least one classroom practicum experience, preferably at the grade level they wish to teach. The common pathway to becoming a reading specialist in a public K-12 school is:

  1. Earn a bachelor’s degree in education, reading, literacy, or a related subject, that includes a state-approved teacher preparation program.
  2. Complete a student teaching internship.
  3. Take your state’s tests for prospective teachers.
  4. Apply for a teaching license.
  5. Work as a classroom teacher while pursuing a postgraduate certificate or advanced degree in reading or literacy.
  6. Take your state’s tests for reading specialists.
  7. Apply to add a reading specialist endorsement to your license.
  8. Start applying to open positions.

Teachers in states that require a graduate degree for reading specialist certification or who wish to strengthen their knowledge and competitiveness may earn a master’s degree (M.Ed. or EdM), an Educational Specialist (EdS), a Doctor of Education (EdD), or a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Education) in reading education. Graduate reading education programs emphasize theories of reading literacy and practical applications, as well as assessment and evaluation methods.

Reading Specialist Job Description

Reading specialists/coaches are usually experienced teachers with a strong track record of highly successful reading instruction and intervention. The main responsibility of a reading specialist is to provide individualized or small group instruction to students who struggle to read at their grade level.

Reading specialists frequently work in grades K-6 but may also work with older students and adults. In many school districts, reading specialists also coach teachers on teaching methods, assessment, and curriculum changes. Reading specialists share responsibility with teachers in assessing students’ reading abilities, identifying deficiencies, and creating reading intervention plans and strategies. Reading intervention is what happens after students are identified as at risk of failing to read. The systematic approach or framework a school uses to help these students is called “response to intervention” or RTI.1

Common Tasks

Reading specialists must work closely with other teachers to ensure that any reading interventions are aligned with the curriculum taught in class and the school’s RTI. They also work closely with parents to track student progress, set goals, and communicate about student achievement.

Helpful Skills and Experience

Reading specialists are trained in the methods of teaching reading for comprehension as well as for enjoyment. They commonly earn teaching experience before moving into reading intervention roles. Prospective reading specialists in public schools must also have the skills and knowledge to earn a reading specialist endorsement on their teaching license in states that recognize this specialty. A reading specialist should be personable, patient, and an effective communicator.

Possible Job Titles for This Career

  • Literacy Coach
  • Reading Coach
  • Reading Intervention Teacher/Specialist
  • Reading Instructor/Teacher
  • Reading Specialist

Reading Specialist Salary and Job Outlook

While the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not report salary information for reading specialists, several occupations can be used as a proxy for reading specialist salaries:

  • Special education teachers: Median salary: $62,950 / 90th percentile: $102,450 / Job growth 2022-2032: 1%.2
  • Instructional coordinators: Median salary: $66,490 / 90th percentile: $105,210 / Job growth: 2%.3
  • Adult Basic and Secondary Education and Literacy Teachers and Instructors: Median salary: $58,590 / 90th percentile: not available / Job growth: -2%.4

Additional Resources

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: Do I need certification to become a reading specialist?

Answer: Yes, if you want to teach in the public K-12 school system. At a minimum, prospective reading specialists in public schools must have a teaching license. In states where it is offered, a reading specialist must also have a reading specialist endorsement on their license unless an exception has been granted. You can find out more about specific requirements in your state through your state board of education or your school’s teaching preparation program.

Question: What work environments can a reading specialist expect?

Answer: Reading specialists generally work in a school setting, though private tutoring may occur in a home, library, or other location. In schools, reading specialists may either work with students in the same classroom as other students or pull them out of the classroom to learn in another location in the school. Reading specialists can find job opportunities in public and private schools, community centers, tutoring centers, and clinics. Reading specialists with advanced certifications and experience may also become curriculum advisors for schools and literacy programs.

Question: Can I earn a reading specialist degree online?

Answer: Yes! Many schools offer reading specialist degree programs online at the bachelor’s and master’s levels. Online students typically receive support from their schools in arranging local practicum and internship experiences for certification.

Question: Can a regular teacher be a reading specialist?

Answer: Some teachers are trained in Early Intervention in Reading (EIR), a program that seeks to identify and provide additional instruction to students from kindergarten to fourth grade who are at risk of failing to read. Teachers who are trained in EIR attend workshops and web-based professional development program classes for nine months.

Question: How does response to intervention (RTI) work?

Answer: RTI typically has three tiers, with the students in the general classroom being in Tier 1 and not needing intervention; with students showing signs of struggling being placed in Tier 2, which means they receive small group interventions in addition to regular lessons; and with students who need the most help (and are the most at-risk of failing at reading) being placed in Tier 3, where they receive the most intensive RTI, either in small groups or individually.1 These Tier 3 students are closely monitored by the school and usually spend a lot of their time in these small group or individual intervention settings until they begin catching up and can move up to higher tiers.1

1. National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP): Early Childhood Education, Response to Intervention in Primary Grade Reading: https://www.naesp.org/sites/default/files/Primary_Reading_0.pdf
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics May 2022 Occupational Outlook Handbook, Special Education Teachers: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/special-education-teachers.htm
3. Bureau of Labor Statistics May 2022 Occupational Outlook Handbook, Instructional Coordinators: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/instructional-coordinators.htm
4. O*NET OnLine, Adult Basic and Secondary Education and Literacy Teachers and Instructors: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/25-3011.00