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Reading Specialist vs. Classroom Teacher — What’s the Difference?

Posted by Shelly Quance on 1/25/24 8:45 AM

  January 25, 2024    

A teacher is talking to a group of children in a classroom.

While being a Jack of all trades classroom teacher is a career fit for many, would you be happier working in a more specialized position? 

Many of today’s teachers are using their undergraduate degrees as a jumping-off point to pursue advanced degrees, certifications, and specializations that allow them to focus on areas of education that they’re passionate about. 

For example, if you enjoy teaching and have a love of literacy, you may want to consider a career as a reading specialist. Read on to learn more about whether a career as a reading specialist vs. classroom teacher might be a professional fit for you.

What Is a Reading Specialist?

According to the Lucy Project, a nonprofit that supports literacy education, 21% of adults in the United States cannot read — and nearly 70% of fourth graders read below grade level. 

As a reading specialist, you can positively impact this social crisis by ensuring students have the skills they need to read and write. It’s a career path that can be both professionally and personally rewarding. 

In addition to earning an annual salary of around $58,590, pursuing a career as a reading specialist vs. classroom teacher enables you to continue working in the K-12 classroom. Or, it can open doors to a variety of job opportunities you may not have considered. (Note that this 2022 salary estimate from the Bureau of Labor Statistics is for adult basic and secondary education and English as a Second Language teachers, which is a broader category that reading specialists can fall under.) 

For example, many reading specialists work in collaboration with K-12 teachers and play a crucial role in identifying and addressing reading difficulties in students. They often work in smaller groups or one-on-one settings, which allows for more personalized instruction for students who are struggling. 

In addition to working directly with students, reading specialists also collaborate with classroom teachers and other educators. For example, in this role, you might work at the district level, providing support and training to teachers across multiple schools. Other responsibilities could include developing curriculum, designing professional development programs, and helping implement evidence-based reading interventions. 

Or, you could find yourself at a university, teaching courses related to reading instruction, literacy assessment, or reading intervention strategies. There are also opportunities at community organizations developing programs for underserved populations or at private tutoring centers. 

It All Begins With the Right Degree: M.A. in Literacy Education 

If you’re interested in the reading specialist vs. classroom teacher path, earning a Master of Arts in Literacy Education with a Reading Specialist Certificate, such as the one offered at West Virginia University, should be at the top of your to-do list.  

Being able to list the degree and the Reading Specialist Certificate stamp of approval on your resume allows employers everywhere to know they’re hiring someone with the deep knowledge needed to improve the lives of students, and ultimately, the field of education. 

Here are some of the key benefits to enrolling in WVU’s program: 

  • It earned national recognition in 2019 when the program received the International Literacy
  • Association's (ILA) National Recognition With Distinction Award — the highest institutional honor presented for excellence in the field of literacy education by the ILA.
  • Courses are taught by a diverse faculty who bring an international perspective to the curriculum.
  • All classes are offered 100% online and consist of 8-week courses, totaling 30 credit hours.
  • Scheduling of courses is flexible, with multiple courses offered in the fall, spring and summer semesters.

This program leads to pre-K through adult reading specialist certification. Upon graduation, you may attach a Reading Specialist certification to your current teaching certificate by passing the PRAXIS Series test.

“WVU’s Literacy Education program prepared me to impact real tangible change by showing me how to really pick apart different literacy activities to decide if they’re really effective. Their sole priority is to make us better teachers by helping to promote a love for literacy and an understanding of the best ways to implement it proficiently in our classrooms. I truly feel that all of my professors in this program greatly care about making our classrooms in West Virginia, and across the country, better.” 

L.E. student Eleni Nardone

Take the Next Step  

If you’re interested in becoming a reading specialist as a current classroom teacher, you can apply to WVU’s program at any time during a term for admission for the next term or later. While a bachelor’s degree with a 3.0 GPA and valid teaching certification are required for admission to the program, GRE and MAT scores are not required for admission.

Ready to take your first step to learning more about WVU’s Master of Arts in Literacy Education with a Reading Specialist Certificate? Download our guide to literacy education to get started:

Download the Guide 

Topics: 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.


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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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