Teaching Reading

Reading is the foundation of all learning and knowledge. With it, the broader world is within your grasp. Literacy is the benchmark for most academic success, from understanding assignments, to solving story problems in math, to writing an essay. As one reading teacher says, “Literacy is priceless.”

However, it’s not hard to think of some of the costs of illiteracy. A job application becomes incomprehensible, and thus you likely are underemployed. College is out of the picture. You likely can’t serve in the armed forces. Even road signs are difficult to interpret, thus putting both you and your passengers at risk.

Kids with reading disorders have a high dropout rate, although their IQs are usually comparable to those of other students. And this problem impacts them in all their classes; if you can’t read, you’re bound to have challenges with history, science, and math as well. Of the 10 million students with a language dysfunction, 10 to 15 percent drop out of high school; only two percent graduate from college.

The reading teacher, therefore, can often be the difference between success and failure for kids who jumble words, can’t process phonics, have difficulty with word recognition, or simply can not comprehend what they read. If you’re gifted with children and love to deconstruct language, your love of language might be best used in a career as a reading teacher.

What’s it like to be a Reading Teacher?

Although you may have the opportunity to work with students who are advanced readers—particularly at the elementary level—most of your instruction will be remedial in nature. Thus, you’ll spend a lot of time breaking down the many skills involved in reading, and building one skill upon the other. Teachers will often start by helping students develop decoding skills such as letter identification, letter sounds, and vocabulary memorization, and help them read and process information with increased speed, fluidity, and ease. Once students have developed comprehension skills, teachers will help them decipher the nuances in passages, the underlying messages, and subtle wordplay.

Reading teachers encourage students who are progressing well to keep reading at, or above, grade level. This can be one of the most exciting and rewarding parts of the job, as you get to introduce new concepts, great literature, and different life experiences to students who now love reading and often will spend their free time doing just that.

One reading teacher puts it this way, “The kids, they are amazing—especially the ones who smile at you and tell you that you’re their favorite teacher. It is amazing to see them learn to read and write, and to know you helped do that. There is nothing cooler than to see the light go on in a child’s head when he or she finally gets a concept.”

A large part of a reading teacher’s job is to identify reading disabilities in students who are having difficulty. Reading teachers have been trained to look for certain cues that a student is not processing words the way most students do. Common reading disorders include dyslexia, which will manifest itself in problems spelling, writing (often inverting letters), and poor comprehension. This disorder affects somewhere between five to 17 percent of the entire population. Furthermore, it’s estimated that 30 percent of students with dyslexia also have attention deficit disorder (ADD)—which makes holding their attention while reading, or during reading instruction, quite difficult.

Reading, by the numbers

  • In the early school years, kids learn about 3,000 words a year.
  • Fourteen percent of people have some sort of learning disability.
  • More than 10 million students have reached 12th grade without basic literacy.
  • Fifty percent of unemployed youth between 16 and 21 are illiterate.
  • There are half a million words in the English language, but only 22 words make up one-third of all written language.
  • Forty-six percent of Americans can’t understand a prescription label.
  • When determining how many prisons to build, the state of Arizona factors in the number of students who can’t read at a fourth-grade level.

Reading teachers in both elementary and secondary schools will generally work with students who rotate in and out of their classroom. This way, the teacher can work with many students throughout the day. Schools often divide students into reading achievement levels—as students do best when they’re not held back by, or falling behind, other students.

Thus, in one class you might be teaching advanced students and encouraging them to read material above grade level. You’ll likely work in smaller groups when helping students who are developing more rudimentary skills. Still another class might be a targeted group with dyslexia, where you’ll help them compensate for their learning challenges, develop tricks to decipher language, and comprehend what they’ve read.

Generally, once a student enters middle school, there is no longer a required reading course if students are testing at grade level, as it’s incorporated into English courses. However, there is still a need for reading teachers in middle and high schools. Some students find reading a serious challenge throughout their academic career, and even their entire lives. Some people may never be great at it, and likely won’t do it for pleasure because of the frustration involved. However, it’s your job to help them develop a level of competency that will help them throughout the rest of their lives.

There is also a huge amount of pressure on reading teachers to help their students reach competency in standardized testing. Every school must prove academic progress and aptitude in order to be granted federal and state funds. There is not only a great deal of weight placed on reading competency within the test itself, but on other portions of the test as well—even math—since performance in those sections is also contingent upon the ability to read well. Because you’ll be teaching students across the spectrum, from very accomplished readers to those who struggle fiercely, you’ll be under the spotlight to improve scores and develop more competent readers each year.

Reading teachers also usually spend a great deal of time satisfying Title 1 funding requirements. Title 1 grants require that every student receives extra help in whatever area he or she struggles in. This program is educationally revolutionary; however, it also means that reading teachers spend a great deal of time working with parents and other teachers working on student Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), and filling out a mountain of paperwork.

“Sometimes it’s stressful,” notes another teacher. “I often lay awake thinking of my students, their problems, and my lessons. But I wouldn’t want any other job!”


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Can I get a job?

Elementary and middle school teaching jobs are expected to grow by 17 percent between 2010 and 2020, higher than average job growth across all professions. High school teacher jobs are expected to grow only seven percent, a little more than half the rate of the average profession.

However, there are areas of the country that are always in need of qualified, passionate teachers. Areas with a high population of minority students, at risk pupils, and kids who live in poverty and/or receive Title 1 funding, are desperate for teachers. These districts are often in rural areas or inner cities. The challenges that come with these types of schools are great; however, a willingness to teach in one of these schools can greatly improve your chances of employment.

What is the salary?

The median salary for an elementary teacher is $51,380 per year, which goes up slightly for middle school teachers ($51,960) and more for high school ($53,230). Starting salary will range between $30,000 and $40,000, depending on location. Pay is increased with additional education and years of experience on the job.

Teachers generally belong to a teachers’ union, which negotiates salaries and benefits. Also, be aware that the entire compensation package should be accounted for when choosing a position. Health benefit plans, retirement accounts, paid sick days, length of holidays, and life insurance plans are all (or should be) part of the total compensation package.

Again, when looking for a job, remember that high-risk schools may have higher salaries and additional benefits. The federal government, and many states, offer student loan forgiveness programs if you sign a contract for a stipulated number of years, and may also offer moving funds and contract signing bonuses to attract qualified candidates.

How do I become a reading teacher?

A bachelor’s degree in reading is the minimum requirement. Many teachers also pursue specialized reading certifications. The International Literacy Association awards a Certificate of Distinction to well-qualified graduate or undergraduate reading programs that prepare individuals for initial licensing and/or certification; a list of schools is available at the site.

Additionally, you will need a teaching certificate; be sure to visit the Teaching Certification website, which outlines what each specific state requires. After your classroom education, you’ll be required to do at least one semester of student teaching, which will give you hands-on practice in your chosen profession.

Being a reading teacher opens the doors of knowledge to every student. Reading is a basic life skill, without which a student’s potential is stunted. Reading teachers add color and life to language; they introduce students to the nuance and eloquence of the written word. They are a witness to many students’ most monumental achievements, and they are the hand-holders during many students’ biggest challenges. Is it your calling?

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