When A Parent Complains: "This Homework Is Too Hard" How A Teacher Can Respond

At a parent-teacher conference Ms. Jones complains to the teacher that he is assigning homework that is too hard, and is frustrating the child. The assigned homework is being completed well by most of the students in the class.

How should the teacher respond?

The Keys: Move To Problem-Solving and WE

The parent is coming in with the idea that somehow, it's the teacher's fault that the student is finding the homework difficult and frustrating. The keys here are:

  • Move the conversation about how hard the homework is to finding ways to help the child do the homework successfully.
  • Move the conversation away from "It's the teacher's fault" to "Here's what WE can do to help the child learn and do the homework more successfully".

Example Dialogue:

(1) Parent: John (the student) has never had any problem doing his homework before. I think you are asking way too much here, and I want you to change things so it's not so hard.

(2) Teacher: I can see that you don't want John to dread doing homework or get frustrated, and that's a good thing. I don't want that either.

(3) Parent: So you'll lighten up on the tough assignments?

(4) Teacher: I'm sure you'll agree that we don't want John to fall behind his classmates, and I certainly agree that John shouldn't be struggling so much with the homework. The homework is a really important part of helping John learn long division right now. Can we talk about how we can work together to make things a bit easier for John?

(5) Parent: Well, I guess, but the homework is just too hard for him.

(6) Teacher: We can come back to that if we have to. Can I ask you a few questions about what you are seeing when John tries the assignments? You can help figure out exactly where the problem lies, and then we can look at what we can do.

(7) Parent: OK. I'll give it a try.

The teacher then asks a few questions about what the parent sees when John tries the homework. That helps the teacher identify that John could probably do much better if the parent can sit with him during the homework, and guide him through it until he gets the hang of it.

The teacher and parent come up with a strategy to use for the next week or so, and agree to touch base after that to follow-up.

Key Elements: Teacher Doesn't Get Defensive

The teacher could have become defensive, and try to justify his or her decision to assign that homework, saying things like "Well, none of the other students are having trouble". That would be a very bad course of action that will turn this discussion into a destructive argument nobody can win.

The point isn't to prove to the parent that s/he is wrong, or out of line, but to focus on the parent's concerns in a way that ends up with some sort of solution.

In this situation, the parent isn't being unpleasant or abusive, although a sensitive teacher could feel that this is an attack on his or her competency. It's not.

Notice that the teacher acknowledges the concerns of the parent in #2.

In #4 and #6 the teacher doesn't completely close the door on changing the homework assignment (even though that's probably not going to happen because it's not in the interest of the child). Also in #4, the teacher asks the parent if it's OK to ask some questions, and in #6, invites the parent to share what he has observed when John tries the homework. That recognizes that the parent has valuable insights and information about what's going on.

A long drawn out argument is prevented.