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What Is a Cross Categorical Teacher?

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The primary responsibility of a special education teacher is to make lessons accessible to students with specialized needs. While some special education preparation programs produce teachers with narrow licensures, qualifying them to handle only specific disabilities – others provide teaching candidates with licenses that enable them to service students with a broad range of needs. Cross categorical teachers are teachers who hold this license and, as such, are qualified to educate students with varying needs.

Special Education Branch

Special education teachers are specifically trained to accommodate and assist children with special needs. In a typical special education program, teacher candidates select focus areas – such as “mild to moderate” or “moderate to intensive.” At the conclusion of these typical programs, learners are only qualified to assist students with special needs that fall under the categories in which they were trained. In cross categorical programs, candidates prepare to assist students of varying ability levels. As a result, they leave their programs not bound by these category restrictions.


Because cross categorical teachers must be prepared to assist students of varying ability levels or disability types, the preparation program for this type of certification is commonly more varied. Instead of studying interventions for mild to moderately disabled students only, for example, these candidates must study banks of interventions for more potential disability varieties.


One of the primary benefits teachers with cross categorical special education certifications enjoy is the opportunity to teach students of varying ability levels while staying Individualized Education Plan compliant. As the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction notes, students with IEPs are entitled to receive specialized instruction from someone certified to instruct students with their specific disability types. When a district hires a cross categorical teacher, the district doesn’t have to worry about IEP compliance, as the teacher is qualified to teach a larger variety of disabled students.


While the cross categorical special education set-up may be more advantageous for a school or district than hiring special education teachers with more limited certifications, teaching in this type of arrangement can present some uncommon challenges. Particularly if when teachers’ caseloads are heavy and include students with an array of different disabilities, it can be challenging for them to develop a refined enough knowledge of each disability and adequately plan to support each learner’s specific needs.


Erin Schreiner is a freelance writer and teacher who holds a bachelor's degree from Bowling Green State University. She has been actively freelancing since 2008. Schreiner previously worked for a London-based freelance firm. Her work appears on eHow, and RedEnvelope. She currently teaches writing to middle school students in Ohio and works on her writing craft regularly.

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