Reading is fundamental, according to the old RIF PSAs, and that message is as true today as it was way back when. Unfortunately, not everyone has gotten the message. Sources disagree on the country’s overall literacy rate, but data from the National Center for Education Statistics suggest that about 16 percent of American adults are functionally illiterate, and a whopping 25 percent have low literacy skills.
It’s pretty clear that literacy is essential—it’s the key to both learning and earning—and it’s equally clear we could do more to promote it.
That’s where literacy experts come in. These teachers, who specialize in the field of literacy and language, develop literacy programs and materials for learners who need help learning to read, and they coach the teachers who work with them. Students in these literacy programs fall into five broad categories:
If you’re committed to increasing literacy rates and helping people learn to read, you have two options. You can work as a classroom teacher, or you can become a literacy coach, reading specialist, curriculum specialist, or policy advocate.
You can pursue any of these options with a master’s in literacy and language. It’s a highly customizable and versatile degree offered as both a Master of Arts in Teaching and a Master of Education, and it can help you help more people learn to read.
In this article about whether a master’s in literacy and language is worth it, we’ll cover:
Graduating from a master’s program in literacy and language qualifies you to work in many roles in education at the school, district, state, and federal levels. You can also work in the private sector. With this degree, you can become a/an:
Earning a master’s degree takes time, and for many, that time investment is definitely worth it. Most literacy and language graduate degree programs can be completed in two years or less by full-time students. If you have to—or prefer to—enroll in a part-time program, it may take you twice as long to earn your degree. In both cases, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree to apply and possibly also previous teaching experience and a current teaching license.
The curriculum in literacy and language master’s programs varies but typically touches on how people learn to communicate and read, the intersection between neuroscience and reading, learning challenges like dyslexia, social disparities in literacy, research and statistics, and assistive technology in literacy learning. You’ll take courses like:
As noted above, master’s in literacy and language programs come in two flavors: MAT or MEd. Consider your career goals in choosing the best one for you. Teachers who are interested in becoming literacy experts but want to advance in the classroom typically opt for MAT degrees. Educators who plan to transition to literacy-specific roles inside or outside the school system choose MEd programs. That said, the curriculum in MAT and MEd programs can be quite similar, so don’t rely on naming conventions alone when researching programs. Always read course lists carefully to make sure a program has the kinds of classes you’re looking for.
Take note that naming conventions at different colleges and universities vary when it comes to master’s in literacy in language programs. Some examples of degrees offered in this field are:
Some of the best master’s in literacy and language programs can be found at:
While a degree from a prestigious school can definitely help you stand out from other applicants when you’re looking for work, getting a fancy degree from the best school isn’t necessarily worth it. It’s definitely not worth it if really can’t afford it. It’s probably not worth it if enrolling in the program will cause significant upheaval in your life.
Regardless of which school you choose, you need to be sure that you graduate with not just a degree, but also whatever else you’ll need to work in the field of literacy education. Many states require reading specialists to have a special certificate, license, or literacy education endorsement. As you research master’s degree programs, look for those that will help you meet the standards for literacy specialists in the state or region where you plan to work and have curricula designed to meet certification exam requirements.
Some programs treat literacy and language as a discipline. Some treat it as a specialty. In both cases, graduate students may have the opportunity to customize their degrees by choosing a concentration or subspecialty, such as:
Getting a master’s degree means making a significant investment in both time and money, so it’s essential to look at the pros and cons when deciding whether any degree is worth it. If you’re even considering getting a master’s in literacy and language, however, chances are you’re probably already something of a literacy fanatic, so the number one drawback of getting a master’s degree—the cost—likely won’t factor into your decision. Just keep in mind that jobs in education usually aren’t big moneymakers, even when you’ve earned an advanced degree. If you decide that getting a master’s in literacy and language is worth it, look for programs that you can attend without taking on crippling student loan debt.
The two biggest pros of getting a master’s in literacy and language include:
Whether a master’s in literacy and language is right for you depends on what kind of career you want. You can teach people to read in or out of the classroom without a master’s degree or a reading specialist certification, but is that where you’ll be able to do the most good? You should also think about where you’ll experience the greatest fulfillment. Some teachers can’t get enough of seeing students’ ah ha moments, but to see those moments, you need to be in a position where you’re working one-on-one with them. You can do that with a MAT in literacy and learning, but you can also do it with many other master’s degrees for teachers. Or with only a bachelor’s degree.
On the other hand, you’ll be able to help many more students who are struggling with reading and writing as a literacy coach working with teachers in K-12 classrooms, schools, and districts to build literacy-promoting learning environments. To become a literacy coach, you’ll most likely need a master’s degree—and a master’s in literacy and language will probably be the most useful to you throughout your career.
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