Even though women have risen in math achievement they still trail men. And a study of first and second graders has suggested that female elementary school teachers who are concerned about their own math skills pass that along to the little girls they teach. Because young students model themselves after adults of the same sex, many of these teachers have fears of math which means the stereotype that boys are better than girls when it comes to math, is reinforced.

The study looked at 52 boys and 65 girls in classes with 17 different teachers all of which were female. And they found that teachers that were more anxious about their math ability by the end of the year had female students that felt the same but the boys didn’t follow that trend. And girls that agreed with the stereotype that “boys are good at math and girls are good at reading” scored lower on their math tests.

This is a problem especially since 90 percent of U.S. elementary school teachers are women. And elementary education majors show the highest levels of math anxiety of any college major. So this stress affects their own performance and also their students.  Because of this experts believe that math requirements for earning an elementary education teaching degree need to be rethought.  If these teachers are expected to teach effectively then they need to develop strong math skills and attitudes.

While teachers aren’t the only reason that girls don’t excel in math; it is a factor. Some girls are unaffected by the stereotype and pursue careers with a lot of math and science. But many avoid those careers particularly in physics and engineering. In these fields men dominate because many girls avoid harder math classes which many of these majors require.

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