First Lady Jill Biden has a big job. She is a wife and mother. She appears publicly both with and without her husband, President Joe Biden. She promotes important causes such as fighting cancer. She hosts world leaders. And if that isn’t enough, this fall, Dr. Biden returned to the classroom as a teacher—the first First Lady to leave the White House to work a full-time job.
After months of teaching writing and English to college students via computer, Dr. Biden has resumed teaching in person from a classroom at Northern Virginia Community College. She has taught there since 2009.
“There are some things you just can’t replace, and I can’t wait to get back in the classroom,” she told Good Housekeeping magazine this summer.
The First Lady has been eager to see her students in person after more than a year of virtual teaching brought on by attempts to manage the coronavirus pandemic.
A working First Lady is a “big deal,” says Tammy Vigil, a Boston University communications professor. She wrote a book about First Ladies Michelle Obama and Melania Trump.
The nation’s early presidential spouses did not work outside the White House. They did perform vital functions inside its storied walls, though. The women supported and counseled their husbands, raised children, and hosted global leaders.
Many First Ladies made numerous public appearances to promote their own or the president’s humanitarian and cultural agendas. Abigail Adams, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Nancy Reagan were among the nation’s most influential First Ladies. But even these powerful women kept 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as their home and work base.
More recent First Ladies, such as Laura Bush, who was an elementary school teacher and librarian, had stopped working outside the home after having children and were not employed when their husbands were elected. Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama were working mothers who set aside their careers during their White House years.
Jill Biden is forging a new path. She taught at the Virginia community college during the eight years that her husband was vice president. She has decided not to let being First Lady force her to give up a career she so closely identifies with.
“Teaching isn’t just what I do. It’s who I am,” she says.
Leaders of the nation’s largest teachers’ unions are pleased that one of their own is now in a position to help influence the administration’s education policies. They hope Dr. Biden will raise the profile of the teaching profession—one that many have long felt was unappreciated.
“She sees it up close and personally,” says Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association (NEA). “And now . . . she has an opportunity to create a platform and to have influence.”
Now 70 years old, Jill Biden started teaching high school English in Delaware in 1976—just a year after she met and began dating then-U.S. Senator Joe Biden. She later taught at a psychiatric hospital and at Delaware Technical Community College. She earned two master’s degrees and a doctorate in educational leadership during those years.
After Joe Biden became vice president in 2009, Jill Biden joined the faculty at Northern Virginia Community College. She continued to teach there after he left office and throughout his 2020 presidential campaign.
Dr. Biden tries to keep her political identity out of the classroom. She says that 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.
Her virtual teaching continued as First Lady from her office in the White House East Wing or hotel rooms when she traveled to promote administration policies. She grades papers on flights.
Jill Biden will teach on Tuesdays and Thursdays. She will travel only on days when she is not in the classroom.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, says, “It shatters the norms of what First Ladies do.”
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men. — Colossians 3:23
(First Lady Jill Biden speaks with students as she tours Fort LeBoeuf Middle School in Waterford, Pennsylvania, on March 3, 2021. Mandel Ngan/Pool via AP)