# Tutor: How to deal with meddling parent?

I am currently tutoring a student for the Integrated Algebra regents, and he's really doing great.

It's his father that bothers me.
He does do some math (he's an accountant or actuary of some sort), but doesn't have the time to help his son. Whatever. But whenever I meet him, he makes an argument that I should not be focusing so much on the multiple choice, but more on the free-form questions at the end. (Every. Single. Time.)

FWIW, I think he's wrong for a few reasons: the way I teach, I teach math over test method (so I'm really teaching both whenever I tutor); the argument that they're worth more is really false (30 multiple choice * 2 points each = 60 points, which puts us in the 80's); and I'm really just grading my student's practice tests, on which (taking the last one for an example) he gets all the free-form questions right, and really needs the most help on the multiple choice; on the free-form if you make a mistake, you can get partial credit, unlike multiple choice; and a few other reasons.

I have given the father most of these reasons at one point or another, in a rational and respectful manner (he is, after all, the one paying me;), but I would like some advice on how to tell him to let me do the job he hired me to do without repeated, unsolicited and unhelpful input from him.

Bonus: I'm not too closed-minded to think that my way is the only way. Does my employer have any saving grace specifically in his arguments that more focus should be placed on the final sections of this test?

• Even though my question revolves around the Algebra regent, I did not use the algebra tag because the question is really about how to deal with the parent....I wanted to use a "Parent" tag, but don't have the rep (yet?) to create tags – Tutor Jun 11 '14 at 5:02
• In retrospect, should I open the "Bonus" section of my question (thrown in last minute) as a new question? – Tutor Jun 11 '14 at 5:06
• I don't think the bonus track merits another question, I feel it is an integral part of it. – vonbrand Jun 11 '14 at 11:34
• @GammaFunction Thanks for the tag! – Tutor Jun 11 '14 at 16:06
• You really need to have a conversation with the parent and listen more than talk. Make the parent feel heard, and compromise a little (note this can be a 1% to 99% percent compromise). Ask him why he feels the way he feels. You likely agree with some aspect of his reasoning. See how you can incorporate the things you agree with. The student will ultimately do better if there isn't this lingering (somewhat unrelated to learning) argument between parent and tutor. – WetlabStudent Jun 11 '14 at 16:42

It might help to review a written summary of the student's progress, e.g.

$$\begin{array}{c|cc} & \text{Multiple-Choice} & \text{Free-Form} \\ \hline \text{Session #1} & 50\% & 100\% \\ \text{Session #5} & 75\% & 100\% \\ \end{array}$$

If the father sees that and prefers that you focus on the free-form questions, that is his prerogative.

However: the free-form problems are intended to test a broader range of skills. So this pattern of getting more free-form than multiple-choice problems right seems odd, and calls for explanation. What would the numbers look like if you graded the free-form answers more harshly?

My guess is that the father believes that the free-form work will help his son in contexts beyond this test.

• Thanks for the answer...can't blame you for asking "What would the numbers look like if you graded the free-form answers more harshly?", but really, grading leniently on practice is idiotic because it doesn't help....there might be a small confidence boost, but that's not worth the knowledge gained of being told how to do it right. – Tutor Jun 11 '14 at 18:41

I believe there is a serious issue of talking past each other here. As MattF. hints at, I'm sure the parent has his reasons, which you should ask him about. You can't know if he is right or not without knowing what he thinks, and even less convince him he is wrong (if he in fact is). As you tell it, you have explained your reasons, but it seems they weren't understood either.

Perhaps he is looking not for training for a specific set of tests, but more broad learning?

• "I believe there is a serious issue of talking past each other here." maybe.... – Tutor Jun 11 '14 at 18:42

You really need to have a conversation with the parent and listen more than talk. Make the parent feel heard, and compromise a little (note this can be a 1% to 99% percent compromise). Ask him why he feels the way he feels. You likely agree with some aspect of his reasoning. See how you can incorporate the things you agree with. The student will ultimately do better if there isn't this lingering (somewhat unrelated to learning) argument between parent and tutor.

While your first priority should always be the student's best interest, being a tutor is different than being a teacher. If your tutoring sessions are one-on-one and you are paid by the parent, then the parent is your client (in a business sense) and hence you have to make a big effort to make the parent happy in addition to maximizing the student's learning.

The real answer is you should discuss this openly with the father. Rather than viewing this as him questioning your method, think of you two as a team, dedicated to the goal of educating the child. Teams can freely discuss strategy with one another. He brought you in for your teaching skill, but he may have some insight as well - after all, it is his kid, he should know pretty well how he learns.

This is pure speculation, but my guess is that the father feels that learning how to answer multiple choice questions about math is not the same as learning math, and that the free-form questions are, at least in some sense, closer. Hypothetically, if one knows how to write out full, complete solutions to every problem, one should also be able to get the answer on multiple choice without any issues. (There is also a peripheral benefit to this in that the kid will do better in future mathematics, after the test is over.) He may not realize that you are teaching math over test method, and you reassurance that this is the case could be exactly what is needed to appease him.

• "...after all, it is his kid, he should know pretty well how he learns." I don't agree with this statement (in general). I think many parents have no idea how their children learn (mathematics). – Benjamin Dickman Jun 17 '14 at 1:10
• @BenjaminDickman Well, maybe, maybe not. What I'm saying is there might be some insight there, and that it's worth taking what he says into consideration. – Alexander Gruber Jun 17 '14 at 1:33
• "my guess is that the father feels that learning how to answer multiple choice questions about math is not the same as learning math, and that the free-form questions are, at least in some sense, closer" ....if I would be the father, then I would assume this about myself....his sole (voiced) argument is that the questions are worth more on the test [which, as per my question, is true question by question but not overall (for this test)] – Tutor Jun 17 '14 at 2:21