What Teachers Know Matters; How They Feel Matters, Too
Here’s another reason that allowing alternative teacher certification in Missouri was a good idea: Teachers who are anxious about math can transmit that attitude to their students, who may then lose confidence in their ability to learn math. Specifically, a study has found that girls who were taught by female teachers with math anxiety were more likely to believe that boys are better at math. The girls who formed that opinion also earned a lower average score than their peers on a math test. The difference in scores did not appear at the beginning of the year, before the students had been influenced by their teachers.
Alternative teacher certification is a good way to fill the teaching force with people who are both knowledgeable about math and comfortable with it. Proponents of alternative teacher certification have long highlighted the knowledge that teachers bring to the classroom. Obviously, a teacher with little math background won’t have the same level of expertise as someone who’s worked in a math-intensive field. But this study shows that a teacher’s feelings toward her subject are also important. A teacher who hasn’t developed confidence by using math can change how students think about their potential to learn. And that could prevent them from learning from other teachers later on.
While this study focused on negative effects of teachers, it would be interesting to see whether teachers can inspire previously reluctant students to like a subject. Can a confident teacher turn around students’ attitudes and make them enthusiastic about math and science?