Developing a strong math foundation in young students begins with building teachers' confidence in the subject. A great deal of research has shown that math anxiety is a widespread problem among adults, including professional educators. And women, who make up nearly 90% of primary school teachers in the USA, are among the main ones to be affected by this issue.
A lot of elementary school teachers hate teaching mathematics, even at a beginner level - and the Covid-19 pandemic has only made matters worse. Acquiring maths skills is an incremental process. It is, therefore, very important to strengthen teachers' self-confidence in this key area, which is just as important as literacy.
"If you look at how a child is doing with math when they enter kindergarten, that's the best way to predict how they're going to be doing with math later, all the way up through eighth grade," said Jennifer McCray, an associate research professor at the Erikson Institute, a graduate school focused on child development in Chicago.
A 2020 study revealed that first-grade kids taught math by teachers with high anxiety in the subject performed worse than their peers taught by more confident teachers. It's a common issue in elementary, a level at which teachers are expected to handle every subject. According to Lauren Solarski, a coach and consultant with the Early Math Collaborative at Erikson, "There's a misbelief that in order to teach early childhood math, you don't really need to know math well."
However, it doesn't mean that early childhood teachers need to be experts. They need to know this: lessons that are not directly related to mathematics can be linked to topics that their students will learn later in their studies. And all this starts with colleges, which must improve the training of future teachers and prepare them well to understand both mathematical pedagogy and mathematical concepts.
Picture: Female teacher teaching basic math to preschoolers in a classroom (ChildUp & DALL-E - 2023)