Female elementary school teachers can pass on their anxiety and stereotypes about math to female students, and girls who adopt this outlook perform worse at math, research at the University of Chicago shows.
These findings, released in late January, 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 math anxiety affected the math achievement of girls but not boys.
“Having a highly math-anxious female teacher may push girls to confirm the stereotype that they are not as good as boys at math, 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, 2010 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.
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.