Jill Biden is “shattering the norms of what first ladies do” by returning to in-person teaching, an educational leader says.
The first lady, 70, returns to the Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) this week after teaching classes remotely for more than a year since the start of the pandemic.
She is the first presidential spouse to leave the White House to carry out a full-time job, and is raising the profile of an “under-appreciated” profession, according to the head of the country’s largest teaching union.
Dr Biden has spoken often of her passion for teaching, and her determination to continue to work as her husband contends with the nation’s top job.
“Teaching isn’t just what I do. It’s who I am,” she said.
Dr Biden will teach the English Composition Readiness II course for students who need extra writing help, NOVA’s dean of Liberal Arts, Jimmie McClellan, told the Washington Post.
She also taught at NOVA’s Alexandra campus during the eight years husband Joe Biden was vice president, and has always maintained she would not give up her career when she moved into the White House.
While continuing to teach the class remotely during the pandemic, and even marking class papers while flying on Air Force One, Dr Biden has long expressed a preference for in-person learning.
“There are some things you just can’t replace, and I can’t wait to get back in the classroom,” she recently told Good Housekeeping magazine.
She is almost always pictured wearing a mask in public, and will wear one in the classroom, as required by the commonwealth of Virginia.
Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association (NEA), welcomed the chance for the first lady to raise the profile of an “underappreciated profession” and influence the administration’s education policies.
“She sees it up close and personally and now, in the position as first lady, not only does she give voice to that from a place of understanding, she has an opportunity to create a platform and to have influence,” Ms Pringle told the AP.
“It shatters the norms of what first ladies do,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.
Her twice-weekly, 15 mile commute from the White House, will be by presidential motorcade and she’ll be guarded by a “phalanx” of Secret Service agents, the Washington Post reported.
While Dr Biden is the first first lady to hold a full time job, others have held a variety of roles within their husband’s administrations.
Eleanor Roosevelt acted as a special ambassador for her husband Franklin D Roosevelt, travelling around the US and advocating for the poor, minorities and other disadvantaged people.
Hillary Clinton also led unsuccessful attempts to reform healthcare in the 1990s.
Laura Bush, who was an elementary school teacher and librarian, stopped working outside the home after having children and was not employed when her husband was elected.
Michelle Obama, a distinguished legal academic and lawyer, decided against continuing her career to focus on raising her two daughters Sasha and Malia in the White House.
Dr Biden tries to keep politics out of the classroom, and has previously said many of her former students had no idea she was married to the vice president.
“Secret Service agents accompanied her for security, but she had them dress casually and tote backpacks in an attempt to blend into the campus environment,” the AP reported.
Dr Biden started teaching in 1976, a year after she began dating then- Senator Joe Biden, and has since earned two master’s degrees and a doctorate in educational leadership.
President Joe Biden told teachers attending the NEA’s annual meeting that he learned about what they were going through by watching his wife as she learned how to teach online.
“It gave me an appreciation firsthand that I thought I had, but I wouldn’t have had had I not seen it,” he said in July.
“And then going out and teaching – she was working four or five hours a day, getting ready to teach, putting her lesson plans together... a different way.”
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