Teachers anxiety has knock on effect on pupils


According to research published by the University of Chicago (25 Jan) female elementary school teachers can pass on their anxiety and stereotypes about maths to female students, and girls who adopt this outlook  and perform worse at maths.

“Having a highly maths-anxious female teacher may push girls to confirm the stereotype that they are not as good as boys at maths, which in turn, affects girls’ math achievement,” said Sian Beilock, Associate Professor in Psychology at the University of Chicago.  She is lead author of a paper, “Female Teachers’ Math Anxiety Affects Girls’ Math Achievement,” published in the Jan. 25 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Beilock is an expert on anxiety and stress as they relate to learning and performance. The findings are the product of a yearlong study of 17 first- and second-grade teachers and 52 male and 65 female students, which found that a teacher’s maths anxiety affected the maths achievement of girls but not boys.

Other authors were University graduate students Elizabeth Gunderson and Gerardo Ramirez as well as Susan Levine, the Stella M. Rowley Professor of Psychology at the University of Chicago. More than 90 percent of elementary school teachers in the country are women, and often they get their teaching certificates with little mathematics preparation. Other research shows that elementary education majors have the highest rate of mathematics anxiety of any college major.  At most US colleges and universities, the mathematics requirements for students majoring in elementary education are minimal .As a result, students can successfully pursue a career as an elementary school teacher even if they have a propensity to avoid maths. Yet, fears and anxiety about maths may have more widespread consequences than merely having an impact on the achievement of maths-anxious individuals themselves. If people who are anxious about maths are charged with teaching others mathematics—as is often the case for elementary school teachers—teachers’ anxieties could have consequences for their students’ maths achievement too.

So Teachers’ anxiety might undermine female students’ confidence in learning mathematics but also may decrease also their performance in math-dependent subjects such as science and engineering.  To determine the impact of teachers’ mathematics anxiety on students, the team assessed teachers’ anxiety about math. Then, at both the beginning and end of the school year, the research team tested the students’ level of mathematics achievement and their gender stereotypes.

To assess stereotypes, the students were told gender-neutral stories about students who were good at mathematics and reading, and then were asked to draw each type of student. Researchers were interested in examining the genders of the drawings that children produced for each story.

At the beginning of the school year, student maths achievement was unrelated to teacher math anxiety in both boys and girls. By the end of the school year, however, the more anxious teachers were about maths, the more likely girls, but not boys, were to endorse the view that “boys are good at math and girls are good at reading.” Girls who accepted this stereotype did significantly worse on math achievement measures at the end of the school year than girls who did not accept the stereotype, and than boys overall.

Other research has shown that adults’ attitudes strongly influence elementary school children, and that this relationship is strongest for students and adults of the same gender.  The authors suggest that elementary teacher preparation programmes be strengthened by requiring more maths as well as addressing attitudes and anxiety about the subject.  What is also interesting about this study is the revelation that so few teachers in elementary school in the States are men in common with the UK.  Importantly the authors believe that, maths anxiety can be reduced through maths training and education .This suggests that the minimal mathematics requirements for obtaining an elementary education degree at most US universities need to be rethought.   The report concludes that if the next generation of teachers—especially elementary school teachers—is going to teach their students effectively, more care needs to be taken to develop both strong maths skills and positive maths attitudes in these educators.


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