Adult Literacy Teacher: Job Description, Salary and Career Outlook

Adult Literacy Teacher: Job Description, Salary and Career Outlook
Robbie Bruens October 4, 2012

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Literacy is essential to personal, educational and professional success. Indeed, a lack of basic reading and writing skills deprives millions of adults of basic opportunities and essential services every day. If you want to help disadvantaged people overcome illiteracy, you should consider becoming an adult literacy teacher.

Adult literacy teachers help adults learn how to read and write. As an adult literacy teacher, you can make a huge difference in the lives of your students. And teaching adults how to read and write also yields enormous social and economic benefits.

This guide will provide an overview of what it takes to become an adult literacy teacher, including the prerequisite education, likely income, and advantages and disadvantages of this career. Browse through the article or use the following links to skip forward to what you’re looking for:

> Adult literacy teacher job description
> Income projections for adult literacy teachers
> Who makes a good adult literacy teacher?

Types of adult literacy teachers
> Adult literacy teachers
> Developmental educators

Professional development
> Continuing education

Related careers
> Additional jobs beyond adult literacy teaching

Best of the web
> Websites and Twitter handles to follow

At-a-glance: adult literacy teachers

Job description

Adult literacy teachers teach their students how to read and write. They prepare and present lessons on the alphabet, sentence construction, grammar, vocabulary, reading strategies and more.

At the beginning of most courses, an adult literacy teacher assesses the capabilities of each student in the class. These initial assessments help teachers customize their lesson plans and teaching methods to suit students’ precise needs.

Adult literacy teachers test their students’ abilities formally and informally throughout the course. Regular tests allow the teacher to evaluate student progress and modify lesson plans and learning goals based on what’s working and what’s not.

Many literacy courses meet early in the morning or later in the evening because most students have work and family obligations. Adult literacy teachers must keep in mind their students have important responsibilities competing for their attention outside of class. However, students typically choose for themselves to enroll in an adult literacy program, so they usually are highly motivated to succeed.

Income projections for adult literacy teachers

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and various career-centered websites offer average salary estimates for adult literacy teachers and developmental educators:

  • BLS: $50,280
  • $48,590
  • $39,917
  • $46,503

The BLS estimates average job growth over the next 10 years for this career.

Who makes a good adult literacy teacher?

People who are:

  • Sociable and easy to talk to
  • Patient and resourceful
  • Good at motivating and inspiring students
  • Organized and careful about time management
  • Devoted to learning
  • Service-oriented
  • Thoughtful about interacting with people from diverse backgrounds
  • Able to express ideas precisely in writing and in oral presentations
  • Qualified with a degree in an education-related field

Interested in becoming an adult literacy teacher?

Check out this video to to gain a perspective on what it’s like to be an adult literacy teacher.

Different types of adult literacy teachers

Adult literacy teachers help people beyond traditional school age become literate and fully participate in society. Developmental educators, by contrast, work with high school graduates who lack the literacy skills to succeed at the college level. Let’s take a deeper look at these two types of literacy teachers:

Adult literacy teachers

Here’s a summary of the most common type of adult literacy teacher.

Continue reading to learn more about adult literacy teachers

What adult literacy teachers do

Adult literacy teachers teach courses that help adults learn to read and write at or above the high school level. To succeed, adult literacy teachers must keep their courses organized and carefully planned. During each class, they:

  • Lead students through lessons and in-class skill exercises
  • Assign homework such as essays, worksheets and projects
  • Assess student progress via their performance on homework, tests, quizzes and in-class participation
  • Modify future lessons and homework based on assessments of student progress

Most adult literacy courses focus on practical rather than academic concerns. Therefore, teachers should focus more on the ability of their students to read street signs and newspapers than literary works and philosophical essays.

Lessons often emphasize skills that help students find jobs. For example, a vocabulary lesson may focus on words and common phrases used on job postings and applications, and in the workplace.

Adult literacy teachers help students find practical solutions to everyday problems. At the end of the course, students should be better prepared to read and complete job applications, contracts and other paperwork often necessary in professional life.

Some adult literacy courses go beyond basic literacy skills. Adult literacy teachers should be prepared to provide instruction in basic numeracy and mathematics while helping students develop their critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. These lessons help students become effective employees and prepare them for career advancement.

Educational and certification requirements

Adult literacy teachers must have a bachelor’s degree at minimum. Some states also require adult literacy teachers to be certified to teach elementary or secondary school. A master’s degree in education, internships with educational institutions or prior student teaching experiences are common requirements for more selective employers.

Many adult literacy programs seek out teachers certified in adult basic education (ABE). The ABE certification exam tests for mastery of the skills taught in adult literacy courses.

Pros and cons of being an adult literacy teacher

As you consider a career in this field, make sure to take into account the positive and negative parts of the job.


  • Help low-income and immigrant students earn an opportunity for better jobs
  • You need only a bachelor’s degree (and a teaching credential in some cases)
  • Working irregular hours can leave your daytime free


  • Not as prestigious as other teaching jobs
  • May include contacting students or assessing student work on the weekends
  • Some adult literacy programs are underfunded or lack administrative support

Developmental educators

These teachers help their students prepare for college-level academic work.

Continue reading to learn more about developmental educators

What developmental educators do

Many students enter college missing academic skills they need to succeed in their studies and earn a diploma. Developmental educators help these college students get up to speed in literacy and numeracy. To accomplish this goal, developmental educators teach remedial courses in English, math and reading.

At the beginning of each course, developmental educators assess the academic competency of their students. They must be sensitive and thoughtful about the individual differences and special needs of each student. These initial assessments help developmental educators craft personalized learning plans so each of their students can succeed.

The most important day-to-day duties of a developmental educator include:

  • Preparing and presenting lessons in reading writing, and math
  • Providing one-on-one tutoring when necessary
  • Offering medium- to long-term mentorships to interested students when appropriate
  • Fostering peer-to-peer partnerships between students
  • Holding regular office hours to answer questions and provide homework/study assistance as well as personal, academic, and career counseling
  • Administer tests and quizzes and modify future lessons and assignments based on student progress
  • Create, assign and grade homework such as essays, worksheets and projects
  • Help students work through in-class practice, including essay-writing workshops and math challenges
  • Encourage participation in class discussion and question-and-answer opportunities

Educational and certification requirements

Most employers want developmental educators with a bachelor’s degree and teaching (or tutoring) experience. More selective employers may require their developmental educators to have a master’s degree in an education-related field.

Pros and cons of being a developmental educator

Keep in mind the advantages and disadvantages of becoming a developmental educator:


  • Teach students who are dynamic, enthusiastic and eager for opportunities
  • Rewarding to educate many first-generation college students, often from immigrant families
  • Opportunity for breaks from work between courses


  • Many developmental educator jobs are adjunct, meaning little job security and lower pay than full-time teachers
  • Can be frustrating to teach only the basic building blocks of academic subjects

Professional development for adult literacy teachers

If you decide to become an adult literacy teacher, start thinking about your career prospects, skills and connections. First, assess how your resume looks. If you’re missing a bachelor’s degree and teaching experience, you’ll want to earn that degree and start working in education as soon as you can. Working as a teaching assistant or tutor while you attend college might be a good approach.

Once you have a bachelor’s degree, a teaching certificate and some classroom experience, look into ways you can go above and beyond the minimum that most adult literacy programs require. One way to make yourself stand out and improve your salary prospects is to earn a master’s degree in an education-related field.

Benefits of continuing education

Adult literacy teachers must have a high level of teaching skill. If you want to improve your abilities as an educator, consider pursuing a master’s degree in an education-related field.

Additional jobs for adult literacy teachers

With additional education or certification, adult literacy teachers may become librarians, instructional coordinators, assistant principals, principals, or an educational administrator at a college or university.

Elementary and secondary school teacher: Many adult literacy teachers also work as elementary and secondary school teachers. You must have a bachelor’s degree and a teaching credential.

Librarian: A master’s degree in library science (MLS) is generally required for employment, and some states also require librarians to pass a standardized test.

Instructional coordinator: Instructional coordinators generally need to complete a master’s degree related to a subject like curriculum and instruction, and they may be required to have a teaching or educational administrator license.

Academic advisor: With a master’s degree in an education-related field, you can transition into being an academic advisor at either the K-12 or college/university level.

Education consultant: Adult literacy teachers can become education consultants if they want to tackle challenges in a variety of schools and education systems. You’ll probably need an advanced degree in an education-related subject.

Education policy analyst: With an advanced degree in an education-related subject, adult literacy teachers can become policy analysts and examine big-picture issues affecting education and literacy nationwide.

School principal: Adult literacy teachers wishing to become a school principal should seriously consider earning a master’s degree in an education-related field. Most states also require public school principals to be licensed as school administrators.

Education administrator: Depending upon the position, either a bachelor’s or master’s degree may be required. For a higher-level position such as dean or president, a master’s degree or doctorate in educational leadership may be required. Some states require you to earn a school administrator license for these jobs.

Best of the web: our favorite adult literacy teacher blogs and websites

The web makes it easy to stay connected to prominent adult literacy educators. Here is a list of our favorite websites and blogs, in no particular order:

Favorite adult literacy teacher websites and blogs

Favorite adult literacy teacher Twitter handles

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