“It was kind of surreal:” Knox Co. mom leaves workforce to homeschool kids

A Knox County family went from two incomes to one.
Published: Feb. 9, 2021 at 6:58 PM EST
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - A Knox County family went from two incomes to one. Add in a third-grader and fourth-grader who need to be homeschooled, a six-month-old, and a daughter getting ready to join, and, it’s quite a task.

“It was kind of surreal. It was sit down and crunch numbers and see what we were going to be able to do,” said Jennifer Zielke.

Zielke was used to working and being a mom. She’d done it for years. Then the pandemic hit.

“They stopped going to school and at that point there was no end. They didn’t have a plan for next year. We had no idea childcare wise what we were going to be able to do,”

said Zielke.

She made a major sacrifice. She left the job she loved to care for her big family. New financial pressures began.

“It’s been really tough. I ended up having to withdraw my retirement accounts just to be able to make it.”

They cut out cable, a home phone and even changed insurance companies to have less coverage. A new tight budget became a lesson for her kids a teacher doesn’t often discuss in school.

“It’s really hard with kids. Kids don’t understand you know they say, ‘oh, mom we’re out of this, we need it’. They don’t understand, well, I can no longer just run to the store and you’re going to have to wait until payday. That’s a new concept for them,” explained Zielke.

Her kids in school tried virtual learning in the fall, but it wasn’t the right fit.

“The kids were sitting in front of a screen for eight hours a day, by the end of it, they were exhausted and frustrated. I was exhausted and frustrated.”

She began homeschooling in the spring semester.

“If I fail at teaching them the basics that they’re supposed to be learning now I’m hindering them for years to come and it’s not fair,” said Zielke.

She’s done all she can to give her kids that “in-school” feel. She created a schedule and got the same books other students use. Now mom has learned along the way, too.

“There’s things that they do that I have no idea how to. I’m on Google constantly like what does this even mean?”

She’s learned to be the best teacher and mom she can be.

“My hope is to continue to do what I can for my kids. And I would love to go back to the workforce,” explained Zielke, “I absolutely adored my job, but ultimately, right now it’s day by day, and just do what I can for my kids now.”

She had advice for other parents: “Don’t beat yourself up.”

There are resources out there to help families. PBS had virtual learning resources.

Muse Knoxville and the Boys and Girls Club offer learning pods for remote students.

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