A University of Chicago study has found that girls may be learning math anxiety from female teachers who have qualms about their own math skills. Sian L. Beilock, an associate professor in psychology, and her colleagues studied students of both sexes in the classes of 17 different teachers, most of whom were women, and found that the female students of the female teachers who thought they were not good at math were more likely to agree by the end of the year that boys were better at it. Those girls also scored worse on math tests.
"It's actually surprising in a way, and not. People have had a hunch that teachers could impact the students in this way, but didn't know how it might do so in gender-specific fashion," Beilock said in a telephone interview.
Part of what drove the study was that elementary education majors in college are more anxious about math than students in any other college major, Beilock said. If anything, this is an argument for better teacher training. It wold be hard to find an "elementary education" major at many high-ranking colleges, but those schools often provide teacher training certification programs that complement, rather than supplant, more area-specific majors like math. Luring math majors into teaching careers with better salaries would be another start, too. But it's not surprising that young girls would pick up this sentiment from their female teachers. As a kid, I always issued the disclaimer that I was bad at math, in part because its exactly what my mom said before she did anything remotely numbers related.
-- Monica Potts