Listening to Students, Listening to Myself: Addressing Pre-service Teachers' Fears of Mathematics and Teaching Mathematics

Aug. 15, 2010

Source: Studying Teacher Education, Volume 6, Issue 2, August 2010, pages 175 – 186.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The author's goal was to help her pre-service students improve their attitudes toward mathematics and teaching mathematics to elementary students.

These were her two research questions:
1. How can the I hear my students' voices and see through their eyes so that I can create a learning environment that will encourage them to grow in confidence in their math learning and math teaching?
2. How do my pre-service students respond to the opportunity to participate in a new K-3 math methods course which includes hands-on and collaborative learning strategies, and opportunities to apply their learning in a concurrent primary classroom placement?

The author designed a new methods course which consisted of a three-hour lecture each week for 13 weeks and a concurrent 11-week, two-days-per-week practicum in a K-3 classroom.
The author decided to employ self-study methodology to research her own teaching and learning as well as her students' teaching and learning in this new course.

The author taught 24 students in the first year and 32 students in the second year. Both groups are part of this self-study.

The author's research approach was qualitative. The author had a relatively small sample of pre-service teachers whom she studied in depth, the reflections were largely open-ended, and the themes emerged as the study progressed.
Throughout the two years, the author often analyzed the emerging data with critical friends in her collaborative teacher action research group.


The data demonstrate that when students are able to directly address and discuss their attitudes about mathematics learning and teaching, their anxiety is reduced. In addition, the students found comfort in the knowledge that they were not alone in their feelings and that the author accepted and responded to their emotional needs.

Furthermore, this research illustrates that having opportunities to re-learn primary mathematics content in small groups and to plan and present mathematics lessons collaboratively using a jigsaw strategy can increase confidence in math teaching.
Being able to re-learn primary mathematics content through NCTM-recommended pedagogy, including the use of hands-on materials and activities, increases pre-service students' confidence in their math knowledge and their confidence to teach.

Finally, this study illustrates that course assignments that include planning, implementing and assessing math lessons in primary school placements increase students' confidence in their ability to teach math and willingness to experiment with appropriate teaching strategies.

However, what the author did not realize at the outset was that the students and her would be on a parallel journey. While the students struggled to feel like “real” math teachers, the author struggled to feel like a “real” math professor. Fear of teaching math to young children was mirrored by the author's fear of pioneering a new course.

Furthermore, the role of a critical friend with whom to plan, reflect, and problem solve was crucial to the author's understanding of her teaching situation and to her learning.

The author concludes that facing the students' feedback, and learning from it, strengthened the relationship with her students, increased her confidence, and made her a better math professor.

Updated: Feb. 01, 2011