Reading Specialist Career Guide

A reading specialist, or reading coach, 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 one, and the salary and job outlook for reading specialists.

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 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 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 reading intervention plans and strategies for students selected for additional reading instruction. Reading intervention is what happens after students are identified as at risk of failing to read and the approach a school uses to help these students is called “response to intervention” or RTI.1

Reading Specialist Requirements and Common Tasks

Reading specialists/coaches are usually experienced teachers with a strong track record of highly successful reading instruction/intervention. They move into the specialist or coach role after demonstrating highly effective instruction as a teacher. Most positions in the field require a graduate degree in reading and literacy or a related field. Reading specialist degrees may be master’s degrees (M.Ed. or EdM); Educational Specialist (EdS) degrees; Doctor of Education (EdD) degrees; or PhDs in Education. Student teaching work and a teaching license are also necessary to teach in public K-12 schools; teachers in private schools and private tutors may not need to be certified teachers.

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 other 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. A reading specialist must be personable, patient, and good with kids. Strong communication skills with students, parents, teachers, 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 students with differing needs, 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, at least in public schools, 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 in a public K-12 school is:

  1. Earn a bachelor’s degree in education, reading, literacy, or a related subject, along with a 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 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 traditionally the first step to becoming a reading specialist. In most teacher preparation programs, students spend the first two years of their college career taking general education and introductory teaching courses. During the third and fourth years, the focus shifts to courses relating to reading literacy and teaching. Students typically complete at least one classroom practicum experience, preferably at the age level that 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.

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, EdS, EdD, or PhD in reading education. Graduate reading education programs place 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 ability and evaluating reading curricula. Graduate degrees prepare students for reading specialist certification and position 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 earned a median annual salary of $61,820 in 2021.2 Job growth for special education teachers is expected at 4% between 2021 and 2031.2 Reading specialists with a focus on curriculum development may make a similar salary to instructional coordinators, who earned a median annual salary of $63,740 in 2021 and have job growth prospects of 7% between 2021 and 2031.2 Reading specialists working with adult and out-of-school secondary students earned a median of $58,590 per year as of 2022 and have projected job growth of -2% from 2021 to 2031.3

Helpful Skills and Experience

Reading specialists 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 passion for reading and literacy is important 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
  • Reading Specialist

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: What does a reading specialist do?

Answer: Reading specialists are trained in literacy and work with students who need additional help with reading.

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 a period of 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 Occupational Outlook Handbook, Special Education Teachers: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/special-education-teachers.htm
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, 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