Whether is due to math anxiety, math hatred, math phobia, or just poor choices, many students put off their math until their last semester and then say, “I need to pass this class to graduate. Ironically, this makes the course even more high stakes and adds to the anxiety level they feel.

Math anxiety and phobia are real. They come with real symptoms. Elevated heart rate, trembling, sweating, and difficulty breathing are just some of the physical symptoms. Many articles and even books have been written about how students can reduce symptoms. What role can faculty play in keeping anxiety down? Is it even our job? In the AMATYC Beyond Crossroads document they say:

“In a standards-based learning environment, students are viewed as partners in the learning experience.  To nurture that partnership, faculty may need to help students identify their academic strengths and weaknesses, develop strategies to minimize mathematics anxiety, and learn how to take responsibility for their own learning.”

Some strategies for helping include:

  • Make expectations clear so there are no surprises.
  • Encourage students to ask questions and answer without a “you should know that” attitude.
  • Be open about when and where help is available from you, college provided tutoring, and any online tutoring that might be available.
  • Have information available in advisement about the advantages and disadvantages of various modes of delivery. (math avoiders often land in online classes that are a poor fit for their abilities and propensity to delay and not face their math lessons and homework)
  • Be aware of the signs of a student in physical distress and provide assistance as needed.
  • Provide students with information about what THEY can do to improve the situation (see below)

If we accept this idea of partnership and recognize that both we and the student have a role to play in keeping anxiety down, some of the problem may be mitigated.