Emily Kirschenbaum

I never wanted to homeschool

I thought OK, she'll get her assignments and sit in my office next to me and it will be blissful and fun. It was neither blissful nor fun.
Photo by Deleece Cook on Unsplash
Photo by Deleece Cook on Unsplash

I love my kids. I truly do. And I love spending time with them. But I also love when they leave for school in the morning and I know that some other (hopefully) responsible adult is in charge of them and their education for the duration of the day. 

I am one of those parents who reads all of the messages on the class Whatsapp group, but still has no idea (nor do I particularly care) what assignments are due when, what the test schedule is, or which teacher is going on maternity leave. I know the names of my kids’ classroom teachers, but I couldn’t tell you the names of most of the individual subject teachers and I certainly wouldn’t recognize any of them on the street. 

This is not out of laziness nor out of a lack of caring about my kids’ education. I care deeply. Possibly even too much. My attitude towards their education is driven by two fundamental facts or beliefs:

First, at the end of the day, I am an immigrant in an unfamiliar culture. I’ve learned to accept the fact that there are certain things I will just never understand (such as the need to wear white shirts so often and the hierarchy of the generic statements written on report cards). It’s simply impossible for me to be the super-involved parent when it comes to school because I don’t always have the right words in Hebrew nor do I even know the right questions to ask. 

I’ve never had kids in the education system in America, so I do not know if I would feel or act differently there where I do speak the language and know the culture, but the second fundamental belief leads me to believe that I probably would have behaved similarly there too:

A lot of time and effort went into choosing the schools to which we send our children. Three kids in three different schools is proof enough that my husband and I both value their very individual needs over what would be more convenient for us. I send them to schools where I trust as much as I possibly can that the teachers know what they are doing – if I didn’t, I wouldn’t send them there. So, why should I micromanage the teachers? They are professionals and I am not. Sure, I know my kid(s) well, but I don’t see them in a classroom setting. I may be able to spot that my 3rd grader is not reading at what I think should be grade-level, but I have no idea how to even guess what the underlying cause of that is or how to address it. But her teacher does know. Because she is a teacher and I am not. 

Let me emphasize that again. I am not a teacher. My oldest son was taught to tie his shoes by his tennis teacher when he was six – never even crossed my mind that I should teach him that! Again…I am not a teacher. When any of my kids ask me a general knowledge question, my answer is almost always either “ask Daddy” or “ask Alexa” or “Google it.” Sometimes I do know the answer but I do not know how to teach them the knowledge. 

(I just want to be clear here – I am talking about teaching hard skills and things you learn in school. Obviously I am very much a teacher when it comes to imparting the values that I want my kids to have, but that is a topic for another post.) 

So, you can imagine the scenario back in March when suddenly I became a homeschool teacher. I know tons of parents can relate – the shock, the fear, the realization that 3rd grade math is beyond my abilities! Granted, we were very lucky. My older kids, in 8th and 10th grades, both had excellent distance learning programs that required minimal involvement from me other than the occasional tech support, including and not limited to, the dog eating the internet cable. For the 3rd grader, things were not as simple. Her school tried and I continue to have the utmost respect for the teachers and administrators, but running a class of 30-something 8 years olds on Zoom is just not going to work. 

In my head, I thought – OK, she will get her assignments and she will sit in my office next to me and I will do my work and she will do hers. It will be blissful and fun. Needless to say it was neither blissful nor fun. I could barely understand the assignments myself (in Hebrew), let alone explain them to my daughter in a way that she could understand and then do the work on her own. To do it properly would have involved hours of sitting with her to the neglect of my own work. And I’m sure it would have ended with both of us in tears. 

Instead, she attended all of the Zoom classes when they took place. She did whatever work she was able to do on her own. She supplemented with some online projects and classes from Khan Academy and others. And she watched a ton of YouTube videos, probably including ones that were totally inappropriate for a child of her age. She now has a “life hack” for every possible situation. 

I think she was almost as excited as I was when school resumed in May. I have no idea what is going to happen in September. But I am terrified. I keep picturing my daughter’s future, my sons’ too – as part of a generation of children who will have missed a year (or more? Who knows!) of their formative education.  

There are so many unknowns about both the short-term and long-term impact of corona. One thing that is 100% certain is that nothing will ever be the same again – for good and for bad. I, like many others, am still looking for the lessons to be learned. I am hopeful for the emergence of strong leaders, for medical advances that will lead to a vaccine, for people to come together and put on masks even if they think it goes against their basic human rights because it just might save a life. 

I never wanted to homeschool my children and I still don’t want to. I don’t know what the 2020-21 school year is going to look like. I hope it involves me going back to being relatively uninvolved in the day-to-day of my kids’ education. Because, as the best meme I’ve seen during this whole crisis said, “You think it’s bad now? In 20 years the world will be run by people who were homeschooled by day drinkers.” 

About the Author
Emily Kirschenbaum planned to spend one year in Israel 16 years ago...She now resides happily in Ra'anana with her husband, 3 Israeli-American kids and the cutest dog in the world. In her professional life, she runs a content marketing business ( with an awesome partner!
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