Math Anxiety in Elementary Teachers

Alfred S. Posamentier commented on the high rate of Mathematically illiterate and anxious Elementary teachers and offered what he suggests might alleviate this problem in his op-ed “Let’s Conquer Math Anxiety” published on Sept 13, 2011 at Newsday. He’s the dean of the School of Education at Mercy College, so he’s well positioned to gauge the Mathematical illiteracy of our elementary education candidates.

Posamentier suggests that one solution is to use specialists to teach Math at the elementary level. Instead of having one teacher cover Math, English, Science, and History, have teachers team together and assign one to teach Math and Science and the other to teach English and History. He argues that such an approach would allow each teacher to “specialize” in that subject and become intimately familiar with what’s expected of students in that subject both in their grade level and going forward.

That’s a pretty good idea.

Here’s another suggestion – raise the entrance requirements for Elementary Education so that candidates have to have completed the coursework in High School that will enable them to take and pass college level Calculus, and require them to take and pass college level Calculus. We’re not talking about complicated topics at the elementary level, we’re talking about adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing. Elementary math isn’t difficult, and if the thought of subtraction or division gives you heartburn, elementary education, where you’ll be expected to teach children how to subtract and divide, is probably a poor career choice. Not to insult teachers, but if Math isn’t your strong suit and you really don’t like it, you probably shouldn’t choose a career that requires you to teach it to children.

Posamentier has another suggestion which I think highlights just why our public schools are doing so poorly at teaching our children. He suggests that getting the right answer shouldn’t be emphasized as long as the process is solid.


Yes, process matters. But so does getting the correct answer. If you want to split hairs then fine – have two scores, one for process and one for accuracy. But this is Math we’re talking about, not English Language Arts where inferences might differ based on what you’ve experienced in life. In math 6 + 8 = 14 ; not 13, not 15, not 68. 14. How you get there – counting on your fingers and toes, finding your 10 and counting on, or been there know that – all are perfectly acceptable, though you do expect the fingers and toes to be put away at some point. The correct solution – 14 – is just as important, if not more so, than how you got there.

By the way – the only reason Posamentier claims that the process is more important than the answer is because he and the NCTM advocate giving children calculators from day 1 in school. In school today children in Kindergarten are taught to use a calculator rather than what 6 + 8 is. With a calculator, as long as you know that addition results in a higher number and subtraction results in a lower number, then knowing the result is irrelevant as the calculator will do the thinking for you and give you the correct answer.

Students in China, India, Canada, Japan, Finland and more countries than I can remember that routinely make our kids like dolts on international assessments aren’t given calculators until they begin college level course work. We give our children calculators in kindergarten. No wonder American kids stink at Math. This NCTM advocated practice of giving students calculators as soon as they start school is considered by many Mathematicians to be one of the leading reasons American kids are falling behind their peers internationally.


One Response to “Math Anxiety in Elementary Teachers”

  1. John Says:

    When I turned 16 my father bought me a car for my birthday, It was an old beat up 1979 Datson B210. Don’t get me wrong, it was a great gift but at the same time all my friends parents were giving them much nicer cars. The reason why my father gave such a beater was because he wanted me to learn the basic of driving and the experence before moving on to a nicer car (Which of course I would have to buy). I guess the point I’m trying to make is you must learn the basic of math before you should even know about a calculator just like you need to crawl before you can walk.

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