Why is it important for a teacher to understand human growth and development?

It is important for a teacher to understand human growth and development in order to best meet the needs of students, both collectively and individually. By understanding typical patterns of growth and development, teachers are better equipped to make appropriate educational choices. They are also better able to recognize students who do not follow typical patterns of development and to then assist those students in obtaining needed educational support to improve student success.

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It is useful for teachers to first have knowledge of human growth and development so that they can develop appropriate educational choices for their students. Although individuals do differ in their learning abilities and no two children will learn exactly the same way, we can make some generalizations about how a child's mind develops. Therefore, some educational choices would be inappropriate based on typical child development. For example, Piaget concluded that there are four stages of cognitive development, and that all children must proceed through those in order:

  • Sensorimotor stage (birth to roughly 2 years)
  • Preoperational stage (roughly ages 2–7)
  • Concrete operational stage (roughly ages 7–11)
  • Formal operational stage (roughly ages 12 and up)

Thus, children are not simply a bank of knowledge that teachers invest into, but the way children are able to learn actually changes over time. Attempting, therefore, to reason with a five year old by using hypothetical situations is likely to fail. Likewise, attempting to teach a one year old to read is inappropriate as he has not yet developed the ability to recognize symbolic representations of ideas. As teachers reflect on their teaching practice, it is important to consider whether the content and the methods being used to deliver that content are appropriate, and a knowledge of human development is crucial in making those determinations.

A knowledge of typical human development is also crucial for teachers as they seek the best educational opportunities for each of their students. When teachers recognize the typical patterns of development, they are also able to recognize the outliers to those patterns. For a multitude of factors, the number of students in our schools who require additional assistance in order to be successful is growing. One in seven American children has an Individualized Education Plan and receives special services. Many of these children enter schools with undiagnosed or unnoticed difficulties. Thus, it falls to teachers to recognize when students are in need of extra support, which could include a wide range of differences in ability:

  • health issues (examples: attention deficits, type 1 diabetes, asthma, severe allergies, limited strength, and autism)
  • struggles with speech (examples: delayed skills, apraxia, receptive disorders, selective mutism, orofacial disorders, and stuttering)
  • emotional and mental challenges (examples: depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, and schizophrenia)

Teachers are asked to do so much more than simply deliver content each day. In many ways, they are the gatekeepers to incredible resources which could benefit students in need. Students come to school from incredibly diverse backgrounds, and teachers are tasked with meeting the needs of all of those students. Being able to recognize the needs of individual students and to then obtain needed services to help ensure student success is of paramount importance and is reliant on a core knowledge of human development.

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Teachers play an important role in the growth and development of students. Teachers help students by imparting knowledge and guiding them through the acquisition of the knowledge. They also ensure that an adequate environment is provided for the learning function.

In order to perform or facilitate the teaching function, teachers need to understand human growth and development. The reason behind this is that teachers, or larger the education system, will need to group students into appropriate groups and deploy teaching methods that are appropriate for the group. These groups are established based on human growth, and an important demographic aspect that is mostly used is age.

Students belonging to the same age group are grouped together because it is expected that they would learn efficiently through similar techniques. However, challenges in their ability may occur, and this may force the teacher to take special considerations for individual students, to ensure they keep up with the rest. In such a case, the teacher is aware of human developments and understands that not all students develop the same.

Thus, human growth and development determines how teachers perform their functions. Their understanding of these elements is critical in ensuring that all students get an equal opportunity to increase their knowledge and capacity.

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I can think of two reasons why it might be important for teachers to study and understand human growth and development. First, if a teacher intends to teach a course on such a subject, it would be wise for him or her to have a thorough understanding of human growth and development before teaching others. Secondly (and more importantly, in my opinion), knowledge of growth and development is vital to creating appropriate lessons. Knowledge of physical, mental, and social development in humans is important for teachers to consider when developing their lesson plans.

Let's consider the importance of understanding physical growth and development. Teachers either should not have students perform exercises they physically cannot do, or may choose to alter the exercise so it is appropriate for the student. Children and adolescents are in a period of development where they are still "getting the hang of" their bodies. The development of fine motor skills is especially important for academic tasks like writing, typing, and crafting. Activities should be appropriate to the student's skill level. It would also be prudent for a teacher to have an understanding of human growth and development and problems which may arise in exceptional circumstances. If a child suffers from pain in their legs during or after a physical education course, teachers should have some understanding of the possibilities of fractures or nutritional deficiencies.

Mental development is similarly appropriate to creating lessons which meet and challenge a child's skill level. Children may be in varying stages of development which hinder or allow them to practice abstract thought and object or personal permanence. Abstract thought is especially important to subjects like math and science, which may involve lessons about things which are intangible. Children typically do not study physics both because they do not have foundational knowledge of the subject and because their brains may not be entirely capable of the functions necessary to understand the laws of physics.

Of the three of these, I think social development needs the most additional attention in educational settings. Young people may be maturing at different rates or have different experiences with socialization, and teachers should have a good understanding of social development and how it affects education. For example, if one student has been lacking in their socialization and experiences anxiety at school, the discomfort they feel can impede his or her ability to learn. 

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