Abby Freireich and Brian Platzer are education contributors at The Atlantic and have written frequently for the New York Times. They're both classroom teachers, tutors, and parents, and are co-founders and directors of Teachers Who Tutor, a tutoring business in New York City.
It tackles a range of common frustrations, such as how much parents should get involved, what constructive help looks like, and how parents can support their children to work independently. It offers strategies so homework supports what kids are learning, and also helps build confidence and skills in areas ranging from reading, writing, and math, to time management and organization.
I couldn't wait to talk to Abby and Brian about creativity, parenting, and habits.
Gretchen: What do parents fundamentally not understand about homework?
Abby and Brian: Parents too often believe that succeeding at homework means getting a good grade on a particular assignment. In fact, what’s most important about homework is that it provides an opportunity for kids to independently question, apply, and internalize concepts. Homework also requires using time management, organizational systems and routines, skills that are crucial to students’ success beyond the classroom. Simple techniques like using checklists, beginning with the most daunting tasks, and breaking up large assignments into smaller chunks are all incredibly important life skills that can start with middle school homework.
What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?
There are of course less pleasant aspects of teaching and tutoring—the prepping, grading, and logistics—but the time we actually spend with students one-on-one or in a classroom always leaves us feeling more energized and animated than before the class or session began. Figuring out what skills the students need to learn, imparting those skills, and watching students put them to good use: there’s no better feeling!
What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
That happiness and fun aren’t the same thing. We were too enamored of fun when we were 18. Big events, parties, wild times were all fun, and we’re all for 18- (and 50-!) year-olds indulging in them now! We’ve realized over the years, though, that happiness doesn’t require a big event. It’s a more sustained feeling of fulfillment and contentment in the time spent with those we love and also in the feeling of genuine accomplishment.
Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or your happiness? (e.g. travel, parties, email)
Kids! They simultaneously provide the greatest happiness and the greatest obstacle to healthy habits and self-care. We both have two sons. Abby’s are 6 and 9; Brian’s are 5 and 7. And they need attention and food and clothes and baths and love and rules and games and toys and blankets and puzzles and books and hugs and comforting and scolding and bribes and threats and snuggles and treats and snacks and sports and costumes and independence and help! All of this makes it difficult for us to calm down and eat well and exercise and take care of ourselves and our spouses. But we wouldn’t trade the chaos for anything.
Has a book ever changed your life—if so, which one and why?
The Body Politic (Amazon, Bookshop), a novel written by my co-writer Brian Platzer fundamentally changed the way I see why people act the way they do when it comes to health and politics. It made me a better parent, friend, and spouse. (This one is just from me, Abby. Brian asked me to choose another book, but I refuse! It’s a really powerful novel!)
In your field, is there a common misconception that you’d like to correct?
While many teachers do enjoy some time off in the afternoons and during summers, most work really, really, really really hard. Way harder than you could ever imagine.
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