How To Respond When Parent Complains About Too Much Homework

Although I try to limit the amount of homework I assign to my students, I still get a few parents every year that complain that I'm asking too much of their sons or daughters. I've had a few of these conversations get very heated and unpleasant. How can I respond to these kinds of complaints, particularly when they seem so unreasonable?

This is a tough one unless you know exactly WHY the parent is complaining. Is it because he or she is being inconvenienced? Is it because the parent believes the homework is interfering with other outside activities? Or is it that the parent sees the child struggling, and getting frustrated, and may have legitimate concerns about the child "turning off" of learning?

You would choose to handle these different "reasons", in different ways. However, here are some pointers about what works and what doesn't.

How NOT To Respond To "Too Much Homework"

The natural teacher response is to say things like:

"You're the only parent that has complained about the homework load."

"We can't change the homework because there's simply not enough time in the day."

"I don't think thirty minutes a day of homework is out of line if we are concerned about the child's learning."

"I can't assign less homework to your child, when everyone else is doing fine."

While these responses may make sense to you, they don't work because, to the parent, it appears you are brushing off their concerns, and falling into that "expert" mode that parents also complain about. Worse, these kinds of responses just end up with more arguing, and don't generate positive conversations that might help the child.

The Tack To Take

Try To Identify The Parent's Underlying Concern

Seek first to understand the underlying concern of the parent. You can't enter into problem-solving or "negotiation" without knowing where this complaint is coming from. Ask questions. For example: "Are you seeing Jane getting frustrated because the homework takes here so long?", or "How is the homework load affecting Jane?"

If you can find out what's underneath the complaint, the root cause, you may be able to find a solution that works for everyone and benefits the student.

Acknowledge The Concern Of The Parent

If you try to brush off the parental concern, you get nasty arguments. The parent wants to be heard, and in fact, deserves to be heard as part of the essential partnership needed to teach the child. It may be you aren't going to change the homework assignment, regardless. It may be that you think the parent is dead wrong, but you still need to treat the parent as a valued partner and invite input, albeit constructive input.

Use The Parental Concern As An Opportunity To "Investigate"

If you don't give the homework concern a serious hearing, you may be missing out on something important to the welfare of the child. That's why it's so important to listen and ask questions. Let's say the parent complains about the homework. If you ask the right questions, you might find that Jane takes ninety minutes to do the work at home, when in fact, her classmates take only about twenty minutes. That's something you need to know, because it may indicate a learning problem that can be remedied before it ends up putting Jane way behind. Perhaps there's some dyslexia, for example.

So, investigate first, rather than judge first. don't shut the conversation down. The side benefit here is to create a sense for the parent that you, the parent and the child are essentially on the same side and can work together. To build that, you need to listen, and not shut down the inputs of a parent.

Building Bridges Between Home And School: The Educator's/Teacher's Guide To Dealing With Emotional And Upset Parents contains over 100 tactics to deal with difficult and emotional parents, includes a number of techniques to defuse angry parents, and building the sense that teacher, parent and student are on the same side.