Study: Female teachers' math anxiety affects girl students
By Kristen Mack
Tribune staff reporter
2:27 PM CST, January 25, 2010
Women teachers' anxiety about math may undermine girls' confidence in learning the subject and decrease their performance in fields that depend on a grasp of math fundamentals, such as science and engineering, research at the University of Chicago shows.
The findings are the product of a year-long study of 17 first- and second-grade teachers and 65 girls and 52 boys who were their students. The researchers found that boys' math performance was not related to their teacher's math anxiety while girls' math achievement was affected.
More than 90 percent of elementary school teachers in the country are women and they are able to get their teaching certificates with little mathematics preparation, according to the National Survey of Science and Mathematics Education.
"We are not sure whether it's something overt, whether it's non-verbal behavior or perhaps (teachers are) not spending much time on the subject," said Susan Levine, a psychology and human development professor and co-author of the study "Female Teachers' Math Anxiety Affects Girls' Math Achievement," published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this month.
"It's not just a teacher's knowledge of the subject, but there's something about their feeling about the discipline," Levine said
Sian Beilock, a U. of C. expert on anxiety and stress as they relate to learning and performance, was lead author of the report.
To determine the impact of teachers' math anxiety on students, the team assessed teachers' feelings about the subject. Then, at both the beginning and end of the school year, the research team tested student math achievement and gender stereotypes about math.
At the beginning of the year, the students' achievement was unrelated to their teachers' level of math anxiety. By the end of the year, however, the more anxious their female teachers were about math, the more likely girls--but not boys--were to endorse the view that boys are better at math. Girls who bought into the stereotype scored six points lower in math achievement than other students.
The authors suggest that elementary teacher preparation programs be strengthened by requiring more math as well as addressing attitudes and anxiety about the subject.
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