Some free advice for freaked out parents from a homeschooling, remote-working former teacher
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

As employees are being asked to work from home whenever possible and schools across the nation are closing down for weeks, millions of parents have suddenly found themselves in the role of remote worker and homeschool parent.

Since this is the life I've been living for 15+ years, I'm a bit of an expert—if there were such a thing.


(My background: I have an education degree and worked as a public school teacher. Not thrilled with the education system, I started exploring alternative options as my first child approached school age and ultimately landed on homeschooling. That child is now 19 and in college. My other two kids, ages 15 and 11, have always been homeschooled as well. Through our years of homeschooling, I have also worked from home—part-time when the kids were young, full-time now.)

As a former teacher and remote work/homeschooling veteran, I thought I'd offer some advice to the parents who feel like they just got thrown into the deep end.

Everyone's circumstances are different, so I'm not going to specifically tell you how to homeschool while working from home. Rather, I want to help curb your anxiety over your new role and help you adjust your expectations.

Here we go:

1. Lower your standards on housework.

I'm starting with this one because it is so very real. Your house is going to be messier. It just is. Especially now, when we're all spending a lot more time inside our homes than usual, it's going to be hard to keep up with.

When the whole family is home all day, you use more dishes, clutter is inevitable, things get dirtier, bathrooms get used more frequently, etc. Set up chores and create the expectation that everyone helps tidy, clean, and maintain, but also accept that having a pristine home and family home all day are not compatible realities. I've been fighting this battle for 15 years and have learned to embrace the fact that my house will never grace the cover of a magazine.

2. Relax. Your kids will learn despite you, I promise.

I see parents sharing schedules and curriculum ideas on social media, and I'm sure that helps people feel like they have some semblance of control in this situation.

But here's the thing: While routine is important and some people really do thrive on structure, detailed schedules are not necessary from a learning standpoint. If it helps you and/or your children feel more stable, then by all means go wild with your schedule-happy self, but don't freak out if the wheels fall off that cart.

First of all, teaching one kid something takes a fraction of the time it takes to teach 20 to 30 kids something. You don't need to spend hours doing formal schooling each day, and it's healthy for most kids to have lots of free, creative time.

Second, I've fluctuated between structured and unstructured learning with our kids over the years, and aside from math and the basics of learning to read, I've found it makes little difference either way. Humans tend to retain knowledge that interests them or that they need in order to do what they want to do. Everything else gets tossed into a slush pile in our brains.

Learning is a natural, organic, ongoing, non-linear, non-standardized process. Humans instinctively want to make sense of the world and will seek answers to their questions in order to do so. Recognizing that fact can relieve a lot of the stress you might be feeling about having to officially teach your kids anything in particular.

Most of my kids' best learning has happened when they have easy access to information (the internet, books, and tools of communication) and the freedom to explore what intrigues them. We've kept math structured because my kids don't naturally gravitate toward it and they'll need it for standardized testing purposes. But almost everything else has been led by their own interests.

And this method appears to have worked. My oldest graduated with honors from community college at 17 and is now in her second year as an honor roll student at a 4-year university. My 15-year-old is wrapping up her second community college class with a near perfect score—and that's the kid I have most worried about being "behind" at various times over the years. Our loose, free approach to learning has clearly not resulted in academic failure in any way.

So relax. Your kids are not going to fall into academic ruin no matter what you do or don't do during these weeks, I promise.

3. Recognize that learning at home looks almost nothing like learning at school.

Let me assure you that your lack of teacher training makes zero difference in your ability to homeschool. Seriously. I know at least a dozen homeschooling parents who were certified teachers, including myself, and we all agree that our formal teacher training is often more of a hindrance to homeschooling than a help.

Educating a few kids you know intimately is nothing like teaching a classroom full of kids from different families. Homeschooling bears no resemblance to teaching in a classroom, and it shouldn't. It takes a lot less time. It can be a lot looser and freer. It can look like doing a formal lesson for a bit and then curling up on the couch with a book. It might look like binge-watching National Geographic specials or Brain Games (super cool show). It might be hours of strategy games played between siblings. It could be watching "Captain America," coming up with questions about World War II, and researching the answers.

If your school has a specific plan for kids while they're home, that's one thing. But if you are left without a plan, it's okay to say, "What are you interested in learning about?" and then help them find resources for them to learn about those things. It's okay to let them play outside for hours. It's okay to hand them a roll of duct tape and the recycling bin and challenge them to build the coolest thing they can think of.

It's even okay to take an "unschooling" break from formal academics altogether and embrace a curiosity-led approach to learning. You—and your kids—might find it totally refreshing.

You'll find it much easier to work from home while your kids learn if you view yourself as a facilitator of their natural learning process rather than a formal teacher who has to fulfil the requirements of a specific curriculum. That's part of the beauty of homeschooling—learning is just a way of life, not something separate that has to be done a certain way.

4. Take care of yourself. For real.

Everyone has just had their lives upended. All of us are feeling on edge. It feels like a superhuman feat to manage our own uncertainty and fear while also managing our children's.

And being at home with the family all day every day is a stress of its own, even if you love your children dearly. I've been doing this for many years, and while I love many things about this lifestyle, the near-constant togetherness and the feeling pulled in several directions all the time can wear me down. Clearly, that's exacerbated right now when I can't go escape to a coffee shop and we can't all hop over to a friend's house. If you aren't used to this life, it's going to feel overwhelming. You're probably feeling that already. This is a hard time for everyone.

But your mental health is important, so take care of yourself as best you can. If you need to hole up in your bedroom for a while, put on a video for the kids without any guilt—even if you think they've already had too much screen time. Send all the kids to their room for quiet solitude time and take some of your own. Go outside and get some fresh air. Take a bath. Do some meditation. Whatever you can do to replenish your inner resources, because you need them now more than ever.

The kids are going to be fine through all of this and you will be too. Relax. Loosen your standards. Lower your expectations. Embrace curiosity and expect some days to feel chaotic. It probably won't feel like it every hour of every day, but you've got this. Learning might not look like what you imagined it would, but your kids will be learning no matter what, I promise.


Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

I'll never forget the exhilaration I felt as I headed into the city on July 3, 2018. My pink hair was styled. I wore it up in a high ponytail, though I left two tendrils down. Two tendrils which framed my face. My makeup was done. I wore shadow on my eyes and blush on my cheeks, blush which gave me color. Which brought my pale complexion to life. And my confidence grew each time my heels clacked against the concrete.

My confidence grew with each and every step.

Why? Because I was a strong woman. A city woman. A woman headed to interview for her dream job.

I nailed the interview. Before I boarded the bus back home, I had an offer letter in my inbox. I was a news writer, with a salary and benefits, but a strange thing happened 13 months later. I quit said job in an instant. On a whim. I walked down Fifth Avenue and never looked back. And while there were a few reasons why I quit that warm, summer day: I was a new(ish) mom. A second-time mom, and I missed my children. Spending an hour with them each day just wasn't enough. My daughter was struggling in school. She needed oversight. Guidance. She needed my help. And my commute was rough. I couldn't cover the exorbitant cost of childcare. The real reason I quit was because my mental health was failing.


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Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

I'll never forget the exhilaration I felt as I headed into the city on July 3, 2018. My pink hair was styled. I wore it up in a high ponytail, though I left two tendrils down. Two tendrils which framed my face. My makeup was done. I wore shadow on my eyes and blush on my cheeks, blush which gave me color. Which brought my pale complexion to life. And my confidence grew each time my heels clacked against the concrete.

My confidence grew with each and every step.

Why? Because I was a strong woman. A city woman. A woman headed to interview for her dream job.

I nailed the interview. Before I boarded the bus back home, I had an offer letter in my inbox. I was a news writer, with a salary and benefits, but a strange thing happened 13 months later. I quit said job in an instant. On a whim. I walked down Fifth Avenue and never looked back. And while there were a few reasons why I quit that warm, summer day: I was a new(ish) mom. A second-time mom, and I missed my children. Spending an hour with them each day just wasn't enough. My daughter was struggling in school. She needed oversight. Guidance. She needed my help. And my commute was rough. I couldn't cover the exorbitant cost of childcare. The real reason I quit was because my mental health was failing.


Keep Reading Show less
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Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."