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Female Teachers Can Transfer Fear of Math and ­ndermine Girls' Math Performance


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University of Chicago (UC) researchers have found that female elementary school teachers can pass on their anxiety and stereotypes about math to female students. A year-long study of 17 elementary school teachers and 52 male and 65 female students 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," says UC's Sian Beilock. Math anxiety could undermine girls' confidence and reduce their interest in science and engineering subjects.

Other research shows that elementary education majors have the highest rate of mathematics anxiety of any college major and that adults' attitudes greatly influence elementary school children. This relationship is strongest for students and adults of the same gender. "Thus it may be that first- and second-grade girls are more likely to be influenced by their teachers' anxieties than their male classmates because most early-elementary school teachers are female, and the high levels of math anxiety in this teacher population confirm a societal stereotype about girls' math ability," Beilock says.

From University of Chicago
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