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Joining a Community of Literacy Leaders — Brittany's Story

Posted by Shelly Quance on 12/20/19 11:32 AM

  December 20, 2019    

Reading specialist reading to children in a school setting

Challenge conventional thinking. Increase self-awareness. Impact social change.

As an educator, as an agent of change, it’s crucial that you cultivate the skills needed to teach students valuable lessons like the ones listed above — both inside the classroom and beyond. In particular, literacy educators are armed with the practical knowledge and the strategic tools to effectively teach students how to read, write, listen, speak, research, and observe in order to positively impact the future generation of literacy-rich and confident leaders.

If you're unfamiliar with literacy education as a discipline or with the details surrounding a reading specialist certification, then we invite you to keep reading and learn from one student who pursued the Literacy Education graduate degree at West Virginia University.

Download and explore our new, digital resource: A Guide for Literacy Educators  Seeking a Reading Specialist Certification!

Tell me a little bit about yourself.

I am Brittany Sandra Nieman, and I'm 31 years old. I currently live in Grayslake, a suburb of Chicago. I have been teaching for eight years, and I have been lucky enough to teach preschool, 1st grade (what a lovely level), 3rd, 4th, and as a special educator for preschool- 8th grade.

I love being a teacher, as this has always been my dream. 

Brittany Nieman

Where, when, and in what field did you graduate with your bachelor’s degree?

I graduated from Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa in 2010 with a BA in Elementary Education with a Reading Endorsement. I then became a certified elementary and reading teacher in the state of Iowa. This was followed by becoming a certified Elementary Teacher and Reading Teacher in IL in 2010. Then in 2015, I gained my special education teaching certificate as a Learning Behavioral Specialist.

Two years later, I began my master's program at WVU in the fall of 2017 to become a certified Reading Specialist.

Are you currently working in an educational setting?

Currently, I am a 3rd / 4th grade elementary teacher for a mixed classroom at a private elementary school. Before moving into the classroom, I was working as a special education teacher for students in preschool through 8th grade.

I began my professional teaching career upon graduation in 2010. My first few years, I taught preschool, then proceeding to my dream grade of 1st grade. The importance of reading is highly significant in the first grade, which is one of the many reasons I wanted to teach this grade.

Following this experience, I moved into the middle school setting. The move into the middle school education setting jumpstarted my joy in the universe of special education, thus going back to school to became a Learning Behavioral Specialist. My ultimate professional goal was to become a Reading Specialist and earn my master's degree. 

Tell me about your experience in WVU’s Literacy Education program? Particularly, why did you choose to pursue this graduate degree in light of your career goals?

Since undergrad, I wanted to become a Reading Specialist, and WVU’s master’s program allowed me to earn my master's, fulfilling my goal of becoming a Reading Specialist. As a Reading Specialist, the knowledge and skills one gains makes impacting an unlimited number of children’s own personal reading practices possible.

The Literacy Education program at WVU provided a warm atmosphere, supportive classroom community, and was home to dedicated educational professionals. The coursework supported deep and thought-provoking assignments, discussions, tasks, and more. The program itself involved both independent and group assignments, video chats, auditory conversations, and discussions, along with both current seminal reading selections. The program supports interactive courses, which allows and enhances our literary knowledge, skills, and practices as leaders of literacy. The courses may involve tutoring sessions or instructional coaching that exhibits execution of our knowledge in action. 

The participants of WVU's LE master's program included individuals from various states, thus incorporating diverse educational situations and different school/community needs; this provided a well rounded education. For instance, as we discussed our experiences, it became clear that others had been met with challenges vastly different from my class. For example, a fellow LE student's school was struggling with difficulties with farm life, while a Title I school with a large ELL population, like mine, had a different struggle with reading motivations and incentives for students and families. It allowed us to learn more about the struggles that other professional educators may face and then apply it to our own knowledge.

List 3 valuable ways that WVU’s LE program prepared you to impact real, tangible change as a reading specialist.

Three valuable ways in which WVU’s graduate degree in Literacy Education prepared me as a Reading Specialist is through 1) the content addressed within each course, 2) expanse of knowledge of the literacy community/world, and 3) partaking in the actions and role as a literacy leader today.


Each course throughout the master's program illustrated extensive content with a vast focus while also setting high expectations. The rich curriculum enhances one’s knowledge in reading to become more in-depth. The coursework illustrated the current research in findings necessary for a reading specialist to attend to in order to fulfill their duties effectively in knowing and understanding present literacy research findings, topics, focuses, and results, and thus, understanding how to connect research into practice in order to make a real difference. 

Literacy Community:

As educators, we were already familiar with reading and literacy practices, yet through the set of high standards, the LE program incorporated numerous activities to expand our skills and thus, the knowledge of the world of literacy. Through this program, we became more aware of the various influential sources at our disposal in the literacy community. 

Literacy Leaders

As a program graduate with Reading Specialist Certification, I could pursue a position as a reading specialist, literacy coordinator, literacy coach, reading instructional coach, reading teacher, and more. The knowledge, skills, and practices one holds as a literacy leader not only aids students with their reading abilities but can affect and influence implementation of beneficial literacy practices. As a literacy leader, one has the ability to support reading practices at school and at home through organizing influential and community building activities. A literacy leader also has the foundation and skills to identify and address school population needs, influence policies, and instructional practices, all in order to aid students and teachers with effective reading instruction.

Tell me about 1 experience in the LE program that really impacted your experience in a positive way.

I began investigating and was considering a few programs from various universities. To gain more in-depth information regarding the master's in Literacy Education from WVU, I was able to get in contact with Allison Dagen. Not only was I able to email questions and receive quick and informative responses back, but she was willing to speak with me on the phone. That personal touch from a dedicated, knowledgeable expert, while answering my questions truthfully made my decision much easier. 

As I enrolled and became a Mountaineer, Allison Dagen became my advisor. As time continued, Allison was a great advisor, educator, and leader as she helped me by providing sound professional advice. Additionally, she provided positive and friendly conversations whether as a course instructor, advisor, or as a fellow literacy leader.

What advice would you give to an aspiring LE student hoping to study at WVU?

The advice I would like to share with a Literacy Education student at WVU is to enjoy the process. Each component, every course, every task, every project is building your foundation into supporting your role and abilities as a future literacy leader within our world. The connections you are making, the practices your beginning, and the research you are gathering, are all tools that you will need to become an efficient and effective Reading Specialist.

Ready to pursue a Reading Specialist Certification at WVU?

Getting a Reading Specialist Certification in the context of a graduate degree in Literacy Education at West Virginia University will make you a better teacher in a variety of ways. Further, the skills you will cultivate as you pursue such a certification are not limited to the field of literacy. Instead, the problem solving, communication, and other abilities that emerge through your certification coursework will affect your entire teaching career.

If you are ready to learn more about enrolling in a Reading Specialist Certification within WVU's M.A. in Literacy Education, we invite you to visit our website!

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Are you passionate about the field of literacy education? Download A Guide for Literacy Educators Seeking a Reading Specialist Certification to learn more about boosting your career in education!

Get the Guide

Topics: Student and Alumni Testimonials, WVU Graduate Programs

Posted by Shelly Quance

Shelly Quance has spent almost 20 years working in higher education marketing communications. She currently serves as Director for West Virginia University’s Office of Graduate Admissions and Recruitment where she works collaboratively with College leadership to develop, implement, and evaluate creative and effective comprehensive communication and marketing plans to increase graduate student enrollment.


About the Blog

Deciding what graduate school to attend can be daunting at times, and navigating the admissions process can be that much more difficult. We hope to make the journey from considering graduate school to enrolling in a graduate program easier by publishing content that will be helpful to you as you discern if, when, and where, to pursue your next degree.

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