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.