Jill Biden returns to teaching this week, making history

(VIRGINIA) — Like many educators this fall, Jill Biden headed back to the classroom at Northern Virginia Community College Tuesday as the first presidential spouse to hold a full-time job while also serving her duties as first lady.

She was also the first second lady to continue with her full time career while her husband was serving as vice president.

Biden is teaching two sections of an introductory academic writing course this semester, with one section fully in-person and the other being a hybrid model of in-person and online learning, according to the college’s course catalogue.

Throughout the pandemic Biden has advocated for the importance of returning to in-person instruction, writing for ABC’s “Good Morning America,” “I know that classrooms are so much more than places where our children learn math and reading.”

Elizabeth Natalle is a founding and board member of the First Ladies Association for Research and Education, an organization that promotes and publicizes the contributions of first ladies.

She said Biden’s dual career as a first lady and a professor is not only historic but it more accurately reflects the reality of American women which is a reality that embodies both being a working professional and having families.

“I think Jill Biden is very purposefully being quite vocal about her title, about her professionalism, about her work as a way to inspire and be a role model for American women and for girls growing up,” she said.

Having been an educator for over 30 years and continuing to teach during her husband’s two terms as vice president, Biden had already established some precedent that she could do both, according to Anita McBride, the director of the First Ladies Initiative at American University, which studies the influence of first ladies on politics, policy and public diplomacy.

“It’s something that she made clear that ‘It’s not just what I do, it’s who I am,’ and she prepared the country for the fact that she would continue to do so,” McBride said.

Over the past few presidencies, the country has been inching towards having a first lady who also has a job to balance with presidential spousal duties, McBride said. And Biden is not unlike other first ladies in her efforts to move America forward on its views about working women.

“You can point to almost any first lady in our history and show where they have risen to the occasion and tried to move the country forward and just push the envelope a little bit further on various issues,” she said.

Biden, who goes by “Dr. Biden” in class, has her doctorate of education in educational leadership from the University of Delaware. Last December, an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that garnered explosive reactions called on Biden to drop the title.

The op-ed’s author, Joseph Epstein, wrote that the use of doctor by Biden “sounds and feels fraudulent, not to say a touch comic.”

In a tweet, Biden responded by saying “Together, we will build a world where the accomplishments of our daughters will be celebrated, rather than diminished.”

Natalle said that first ladies are embroiled in a paradox of public criticism for either being too involved in political matters and not focusing on other duties or not being involved enough — and Biden is no exception.

“First ladies, no matter what they do, find themselves between a rock and a hard place,” she said.

While Biden has been vocal about continuing to teach and the importance of returning to in-person learning, she keeps a low profile about her second job as first lady.

The two courses she is teaching are listed on the semester’s course schedule as being taught by “Tracy, J.” — which is her middle name.

According to her Rate My Professor profile, which is a website that allows students to review college professors, one student wrote that “I mean, who — in her position — would continue here with all that’s going on in her family’s very public life? But in the classroom she’s simply Dr. Biden.”

She is also classified as a “tough grader” but also a “wonderful teacher” by student reviews.

Natalle hopes that Biden’s commitment to continue in her profession will create a lasting impact.

“I hope that she sets a precedent for future first spouses, whether that’s a man or a woman, to be a working person who’s respected for that,” she said.
 

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