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Pre-Service Teachers and Math Anxiety

Guest post by Dr. Carol Buckley

Experiencing math anxiety can be a lifelong battle and have a lasting impact. In a document written for Medical News Today, West (2022) defines math anxiety as “worry or fear about doing math calculations.” Math anxiety may cause panic, taking over the working memory and making it harder to think and perform calculations (West, 2022). People experiencing math anxiety may perceive an inability to do Math, exacerbating the phenomenon. Symptoms of math anxiety may include a lack of confidence in math, engaging in behaviors to avoid math, low performance, or lack of interest in math-related activities.

Children can pick up on the math anxiety of the adults in their world at a young age and take on that anxiety. Murphy-Paul (2013) shares that parents’ feelings about Math often influence how their young children view Math. Likewise, preschool and elementary teachers may experience math anxiety and unknowingly pass this on to the young learners in their classrooms. According to Murphy-Paul (2013), female teachers who are more anxious about math are more likely to have female students who endorse negative stereotypes about females’ math ability being inferior to boys. Female elementary students in classes where the teacher has higher math anxiety often perform poorly on math achievement tests (Murphy-Paul, 2013). Teachers who are less confident with math content may feel less capable of teaching the subject and become less motivated to try innovative teaching strategies (Geist, 2015; Murphy-Paul, 2013). Their teaching is less effective, and student progress suffers increasing student anxiety. Teachers may also subtly convey a fixed mindset, implying that our math abilities cannot grow, improve, or change. This perpetuates the problem. However, if teachers are more confident with math content, they will show that they value math and teach it with more engaging and creative pedagogy (Geist, 2015).

Math anxiety becomes critically important as we prepare future teachers. Undergraduate students who study elementary education have the highest math anxiety of any college major (Murphy-Paul, 2013). To avoid passing on this negativity surrounding math, we must support our pre-service teachers in finding ways to change their attitudes about math. Awareness of math anxiety is the first step toward preventing transmission from teacher to student (Murphy-Paul 2013). When enrolled in math courses, pre-service teachers should preview content presented next in class to familiarize themselves with it. As soon as possible after class, students should review class notes, seek clarification on anything unclear, and interact with the content daily. Make sure to stay current on all homework and seek help when needed.

Educators can help students in their class to prevent/overcome math anxiety by using positive language surrounding math and seeing math experiences as an opportunity rather than a burden. Be enthusiastic about the content and design/implement engaging lessons that make students WANT to be in your math class! Make math IRRESISTIBLE! Encourage students to keep an open mind and a positive attitude and model a growth mindset. Establish math class as a safe environment where students are encouraged to take academic risks and embrace mistakes in math class as an opportunity to learn.


GEIST, E. (2015). Math Anxiety and the “Math Gap”: How Attitudes toward Mathematics Disadvantages Students as Early as Preschool. Education, 135(3), 328–336.

West, M. (September 28, 2022). Math Anxiety: What It Is and How to Overcome It. Medical News Today.

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