Kelly Clarkson teamed up with Norwegian Cruise Line for the Giving Joy Contest, which will reward 100 teachers with a vacation

Kelly Clarkson is getting real about pandemic parenting.

In the new issue of PEOPLE, the American Idol alum, 40, opens up about the challenges her family faced with remote learning.

"I was like, 'Dear God, I hope my nanny doesn't quit,'" says Clarkson, who in the early days of the coronavirus was alone with her kids, daughter River, 7, and son Remington, 6, and their nanny.

Clarkson says the experience only reinforced her appreciation for educators.

"I hope we never have to do it again, because my kids are very creative, outgoing and social, and did not want to be at home with an adult," Clarkson adds of remote learning. "It was very hard, like [them] learning how to read. I've always held teachers in the highest of regard, but people that didn't really think about it before got a real eye-opening experience at how hard teachers work. I'd hear people in the industry in interviews be like, 'Oh my God, I'm trying to wrangle these two or three kids.' But imagine having 26 to 30, because that's what a teacher has. It's a crazy hard job."

To honor educators, the Grammy winner and talk show host teamed up with Norwegian Cruise Line for its Giving Joy Contest, which will reward 100 teachers with a vacation aboard its newest ship, Norwegian Prima; in addition, three grand prize winners will be awarded with $25,000, $15,000 and $10,000 for their schools. (Nominate teachers here through June 3.) Then, in the fall, Clarkson will join the winners as they set sail from Galveston, Texas — and perform at the award ceremony.

Kelly Clarkson
Kelly Clarkson
| Credit: Chris Haston/NBC/Getty

"I initially wanted to work with NCL because I'm from a small town. Once I hit 19, I was on Idol and I ended up winning and going all over the world — and it broadened my view of everything. It was like a different kind of education that I think is very valuable, just getting to see different cultures, getting to know different people, hear different languages," Clarkson says. "I think it's really cool to be able to do that for teachers. Then they're going to bring that back to the kids, and they'll be able to teach from a different perspective had they never have gone there." kellyclarkson Verified “These aren't the droids you're looking for.” We had so much fun at Disney World! All the rides were amazing but oh my gosh, y’all, Pandora and the Star Wars rides are where it’s at! Thank you for a magical vacation, Disney ❤️
Kelly Clarkson with son Remington and daughter River
| Credit: kellyclarkson/Instagram

Clarkson knows just how important educators are — because she was raised by one. Her mom, Jeanne, was an elementary school teacher.

"She was such a hard worker," Clarkson says of her mom. "I saw everything she did to sacrifice for her students. She didn't make much money, but she still took money out of her pocket to do things for kids in the classroom, especially those that needed extra help or that would come in with the same outfit every day or without food. I didn't become a teacher, but seeing her selfless heart helped me on my path in life. Now I get to shine a light on people and be a part of things like this."

And Clarkson says she learned from of the most important life lessons — like to "just persevere" — from her mom.

"When [my parents] divorced, I ended up with my mom, and she put herself through college," Clarkson says. "I went to some of her classes with her because she didn't have childcare — and I watched her push through so many hurdles. She taught me you can do hard things, to never quit."