How to Become a Reading-Literacy Specialist: Pace University

What It Takes To Be a Literacy Or a Reading Specialist?

Literacy teacher helps students develop skills that can enrich their lives and further their goals in a vast range of professions. In a 2019 survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, 82% of employers cited writing ability as an attribute they look for when considering job applicants. Nonetheless, data from the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies found that approximately 43 million U.S. adults had a low level of English literacy.

Literacy educators build their careers by helping students overcome obstacles that prevent them from becoming effective readers and writers. Teachers who follow these steps can intervene as reading specialists and take on roles with the potential to make a lasting impact:

Steps to Become a Reading/Literacy Specialist

  • Complete a bachelor’s degree in education, literacy, or a related field.
  • Meet all state requirements for a teaching certificate.
  • Gain professional experience as a classroom teacher.
  • Pursue a postgraduate credential such as master’s degree with a literacy specialization.
  • Pass a state content test for reading or literacy specialists.
  • Seek a role as a reading or literacy educator.

This article delves into what it takes to pursue a career in this field by examining the most valuable literacy specialist qualifications, the requirements to earn a reading specialist certification, and the career prospects available to certified professionals.

What do you need to become a Reading/Literacy Specialist?

According to Pace University New York School of Education Professor Peter McDermott, many of the teachers who set out to specialize in reading do so because they know it’s a way to make a difference for young people.

“Literacy educators need a love for writing, reading, and for interacting with children and their families,” he said. “Many see reading and writing instruction as a way to achieve social betterment.”

To excel as reading instructors, teachers cultivate the knowledge, skills, and determination to navigate through complex pedagogical challenges. Professionals in this field must be ready to help students who struggle with language differences, disabilities and a lack of resources. Innovative approaches, like employing digital storytelling tools, can help to engage and motivate students from all different backgrounds.

Based on data from job postings, Burning Glass reported that the distinctive capabilities employers look for include adapting to students’ individual needs, conducting assessments, managing class data, and leading small groups. Literacy teachers and other education professionals prepare to meet those demands through both academic preparation and real-world experience.

Qualify and Work as a Certified Teacher

A specialized teaching certificate is a prerequisite for many roles in literacy education, especially if you plan to work in public school classrooms. Initial teacher certification requires a bachelor’s in education or a related field, such as English. Aspiring teachers must also complete a state-approved teacher education program, which commonly involves mentored classroom experience, a certification exam, and a background check.

The next step is garnering experience working with students. For example, reading specialist qualifications for certification in New York State include a minimum of 100 supervised hours of practicum as a student teacher in a school classroom.

Pursue Education as a Literacy Specialist

Meanwhile, a certified teacher can prepare for reading-focused roles by pursuing a Master’s in Literacy. Those who have already completed a master’s degree may work toward an advanced certificate in literacy education.

A specialized curriculum in reading pedagogy equips educators with theoretical knowledge and hands-on expertise. Teachers learn how to adapt their lessons for each stage of child development, incorporate technology into their instructional practices, and address the varied needs of English language learners, special education students, or high achievers.

Meet State Requirements for Certification

Finishing your graduate program is just part of fulfilling the state requirements for literacy specialist certification. The next step is taking your state’s content area test: the New York State Teacher Certification Test in Literacy, for example, consists of multiple-choice questions and one essay. Test-takers are expected to demonstrate their understanding of literacy theory and research, best practices for a reading program, and how to assess students’ challenges in reading and writing.

All candidates must have completed their initial New York State teaching certification requirements which include completing the edTPA performance assessment for teaching, participating in the Dignity for All Students Act (DASA) training workshop, and passing a fingerprint-supported criminal history background check.

What does a Literacy Specialist do?

Reading educators can make a difference in many professional contexts, including public and private school classrooms, resource and tutoring centers that offer individualized help for students, and professional development conferences where coaches provide guidance to other teachers.

These reading specialist job descriptions demonstrate how developing and updating your skills in literacy pedagogy can help you excel in a variety of roles:

Reading Teacher

Literacy specialists work in classrooms at public or private schools, including special education settings, at every level. These teachers tailor their strategies based on factors like students’ individual development and cultural backgrounds. Instructors may boost engagement by leading activities to build comprehension, asking students to share personal narratives, and introducing digital tools for reading and writing.

Literacy Specialist

Literacy help may be available through academic resource centers, libraries, and tutoring centers. In these contexts, specialists provide one-on-one instruction to supplement classroom learning, assess students’ performance, and act as resources for other teachers.

Literacy Coach

These professionals are leaders in reading and writing instruction who collaborate with teachers to drive achievement. Coaches may help schools or districts reach their objectives by offering professional development workshops, contributing to curriculum development, connecting with parents, and investigating how to better serve specific populations.

Private Instructor

Some literacy educators offer individualized assistance to children with reading disabilities. Based on the needs of each student, instructors tailor remedial lessons in the processes of decoding and encoding written communication, support vocabulary development, and pave the way for improved reading comprehension.


Experienced reading teachers can provide valuable insights to educational publishers and other organizations. In these roles, literacy specialists apply their expertise to develop effective and engaging instructional content. Consultants may also lead training sessions to help teachers put new strategies and techniques into action.

School Administrator

Literacy scores are some of the most crucial metrics that affect assessments of schools and districts. That means a thorough understanding of reading pedagogy can be a vital tool for administrators, allowing them to lead curriculum improvements and institute professional development programs that can result in higher test scores and greater opportunities for students.

Building literacy skills enables young people to improve their performance in school, start rewarding careers, and make informed decisions about their health and finances. Reading educators open these opportunities, making a difference for students from diverse backgrounds. If you’re a certified teacher interested in becoming a literacy specialist, a graduate program may be a vital step toward reaching your goals.