An important feature of human reasoning is to make quick, knee-jerk decisions based on new information (Kahneman, 2011). However, some of this reflexive decision-making is shaped by social context and can ultimately serve as implicit biases that favour privileged social groups and/or harm marginalised social groups. Biases are ubiquitous in society and arise in many contexts, including in schools and the workplace. Even well-intentioned individuals who consciously avoid discriminatory behaviours can enact unconscious biases in their daily lives, which in turn can have serious consequences for marginalised social groups, and teachers are not impervious to such biases. The focus of this article is on the sources of and influences of teachers’ explicit and implicit stereotypical perceptions, and their implications for STEM teaching and learning. We would like to note early on that our aim is not to blame teachers for larger social problems, but rather, to call attention to pervasive stereotypes that exist in our society that can potentially shape well-intentioned teachers’ perceptions and reactions to their students.
Teachers’ perceptions comprise one of many factors that can influence students’ self-perceptions, beliefs, and achievement. Despite competing hypotheses from economics, social psychology, neuroscience, and sociology regarding different factors that might drive race and gender disparities in educational outcomes (such as arguments emphasising biological vs sociocultural causes of gender disparities; Halpern et al., 2007), evidence from multiple disciplines is converging on the idea that teachers’ conscious and unconscious bias remain important factors contributing to inequitable student achievement outcomes, particularly in mathematics-intensive STEM fields such as computer science or engineering (for reviews of how teacher race and gender bias comprises one of many contributors’ disparities, see Ceci et al., 2009; Cheryan et al., 2017; Dixson and Rousseau, 2005; Wang and Degol, 2017, Warikoo et al., 2016).
This article provides interested researchers, practitioners, and policy makers with an overview of research on teacher bias and provide direction for those intending to create interventions to mitigate teacher bias and close these educational gaps. Namely, we summarise research on teacher bias including its history, current empirical research identifying teacher bias, the impacts on students, potential moderators, and implications for teacher education. Following this broad overview, we also include a section providing an in-depth illustration of how bias literature can help us understand a prominent issue: teacher gender biases as they relate opportunities for women in STEM. Also note that, while the focus of this article is on teachers’ implicit and explicit biases, we also draw evidence from sources pertaining to other populations as well.