Overcoming a Fear of Math

Confession time: Math was NOT my favorite subject in school. Some students, and even teachers, might agree with me — math felt a bit tricky and it’s hard to feel motivated when you don’t see the practical applications or struggle finding answers.

As an adult who has worked on overcoming a fear of math, I realize more and more how getting comfortable with mathematics is a basic foundational skill. A dislike or fear of math can add frustration to an otherwise pleasant everyday activity, such as cooking, leaving a tip, calculating a sale, and exercise.

Math is so inter-linked and inter-related to the world around us that no one can really live life without using any math. In addition (see?), our attitudes as teachers influence our students. For example, when teaching students about the galaxy, a discussion might start about light years. A teacher may hesitate to move into greater depth for fear of not being able to understand or properly explain the calculations.

As we move toward understanding integrated education and cross-curricular connections, it becomes important that each of us are confident in approaching math-related problems and overcoming any fears. Our confidence in the classroom can help students develop their comfort level and have solid answers when tackling real-life problems.

Math Anxiety in the Classroom

Millions of adults suffer from math anxiety, the feeling of tension and frustration that interferes with the ability to understand and do mathematics. This disability poses a serious problem as many of the decisions we need to make on a daily basis involve some understanding and comfort level with mathematics.

The causes of math anxiety include both societal and educational factors. As a society, we are prone to gender bias and myths about math genes. These misconceptions about math give students permission to give up in their efforts to understand math.

Other factors contributing to math anxiety happen in the classroom. Many math anxious adults connect their anxiety to negative experiences in the classroom, such as an embarrassing math moment or the feeling of not being able to solve problems fast enough. These societal and educational factors suggest that math anxiety is a learned behavior to an emotional response.

The good news is that if behavior can be learned, it can be unlearned. This is done by changing the experiences students have with math. As teachers, we need to understand that the way we choose to teach math and the expectations we hold from each of our students play a significant role in overcoming math anxiety. We also need to recognize that math anxiety is real and, as such, we must carefully and honestly examine our personal feelings and beliefs about math.

As teachers we are in the position to positively influence our student’s attitudes toward mathematics. With a positive math mindset, our students will build the confidence and skills they need to successfully take on the challenges that await them.

Every teacher can become a pro at integrating mathematics into their curriculum. Explore more with the online professional development class: Mathematics for All Teachers.


About the Author
Ellen Paxton is a respected expert in education and best known as the Chief Learning Officer of Professional Learning Board. As a two-time National Board Certified Teacher, Ellen has successfully published and customized online professional development courses and Learning Management Systems for 20 years to help teachers meet their state continuing education renewal credit requirements. Through ProfessionalLearningBoard.comRenewaTeachingLicense.com, and ConnectedPD.com. Ellen has established solutions and maintained partnerships with several accredited universities, higher education institutions, teachers’ unions and state Departments of Education while setting strategic direction that makes a difference and overseeing implementation of popular online PD.