Reading Specialist Career Guide

A reading specialist works mainly with younger children who are having reading difficulties to help advance their reading skills and lay the foundation for success in high school, college, and adult life. Reading specialists are trained in the methods of teaching reading for comprehension as well as for enjoyment. This guide provides further information on what reading specialists do, how to become a reading specialist, and reading specialist salary and outlook.

Reading Specialist Job Description

A reading specialist’s primary duty is to work one-on-one or in small group settings with students who are having difficulty reading at their grade level. Reading specialists are frequently found working in grades K-6 but may also work with older students and adults. In some school districts, reading specialists also coach teachers on methods of teaching reading and on assessing and improving reading curricula. Reading specialists share responsibility with teachers for assessing students’ reading abilities, identifying deficiencies, and creating intervention plans for students selected for additional reading instruction.

Reading instruction may be done during or after school hours; as such, reading specialists must be prepared to have a flexible schedule. Whether the reading specialist’s primary focus is instruction or assessment, he or she must work closely with teachers to ensure that the reading interventions that students receive are aligned with the curriculum taught in class. Reading specialists also work closely with parents to track student progress, set goals, and provide updates on student achievement.

Reading Specialist Requirements and Common Tasks

To become a reading specialist, most school districts require at least a bachelor’s degree in reading and literacy; many also require a master’s degree in reading education. Student teaching work and a teaching license are also necessary. A reading specialist must be personable, patient, and good with kids. Strong communication skills with students, parents, and other education professionals are a must for these professionals.

How to Become a Reading Specialist

Reading specialists must have a thorough knowledge of teaching methods, especially as applied to struggling learners. As reading specialists must also have the knowledge and tools to work with differing needs, a post-graduate education is typically preferred to pursue this career, although in some states and school districts a bachelor’s degree can qualify a prospective reading specialist for certification. In most cases, the qualifying degree completed must include a program approved by the state board of education for the preparation of licensed reading specialists. The common pathway to becoming a reading specialist is:

  1. Earn a bachelor’s degree in reading, literacy, or a related subject.
  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 post-graduate certificate or degree in reading or literacy.
  6. Take your state’s test for the reading specialist endorsement.
  7. After adding the reading specialist endorsement to your license, start applying to open positions.

Earning a bachelor’s degree in education, reading education, or literacy through a teacher preparation program is the first step to becoming a reading specialist. In most teacher preparation programs, the student spends the first two years of his or her college career taking general education and introductory teaching courses. During the third and fourth years, the student will focus on courses relating to reading literacy and teaching. Students typically complete at least one classroom practicum experience, preferably at the age level which the prospective specialist desires to teach. Some reading education programs recommend that students complete more than one practicum at different grade levels to gain a better understanding of reading education and literacy across the continuum of interventions for struggling learners. Following graduation, students will be eligible to pursue teaching certification in their state, which typically includes taking an exam to earn the reading specialist endorsement.

Students in states that require a master’s degree for reading specialist certification or who wish to strengthen their knowledge and competitiveness may go on to earn a master’s degree in reading education. A graduate reading education program places a heavy emphasis on theories of reading literacy along with applications in the learning setting. Further instruction may also be provided on methods of assessing student abilities and evaluating reading curricula. The master’s degree prepares students for reading specialist certification and positions the graduate to become a highly qualified teacher.

Reading Specialist Salary and Job Outlook

Reading specialists who work with students who have physical, learning, or other disabilities can expect a similar salary to special education teachers, who make an average annual salary of $56,800.1 Job growth for special education teachers is expected at 6% between 2014 and 2024.1 Reading specialists with a focus on curriculum development may make a similar salary to instructional coordinators, who make an average annual salary of $62,270 and have job growth prospects of 7% between 2014 and 2024.2 Reading specialists working with adult and out-of-school secondary students earn an average of $50,280 per year and have projected job growth between 5% and 8% from 2014 to 2024.3

Helpful Skills and Experience

Reading specialists commonly earn a few years of experience teaching following college before moving into reading intervention roles. They must also have the skills and knowledge to earn a reading specialist endorsement on their teaching license in states that recognize this specialty. A passion for reading and literacy is helpful for prospective reading specialists, as this passion will help professionals transfer the desire to learn and grow to their students.

Possible Job Titles for This Career

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

Additional Resources

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Frequently Asked Questions about Becoming a Reading Specialist

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

Answer: Yes. At a minimum, prospective reading specialists 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 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. 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.

1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Special Education Teachers: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/special-education-teachers.htm
2. US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Instructional Coordinators: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/instructional-coordinators.htm
3. O*NET OnLine, Adult Basic and Secondary Education and Literacy Teachers and Instructors: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/25-3011.00