Jill Biden would scramble into cocktail dresses in a bathroom at Northern Virginia Community College before rushing to White House receptions when her husband was vice president. She graded papers at night in a tiny nook on Air Force Two. Her Secret Service agents dressed like college students and carried backpacks to blend in when she was on campus.
Now “Dr. B,” as her students call her, plans to continue teaching English and writing at the college when she moves into the White House in January. She will be the first president’s wife to continue her professional career as first lady, after becoming the first second lady to do so. She will also be part of a small group of union members to hold the title, including Eleanor Roosevelt and Nancy Reagan.
For Biden, 69, roles as a top White House figure and an educator will be intertwined, just as they were during her time as second lady, as she recalled in her memoir. A member of the National Education Association, she is a natural emissary to the teachers unions that aggressively supported President-elect Joe Biden’s bid for president after four years of battling the Trump administration and prior tension with the Obama administration over academic standards, charter schools and testing.
She plans to keep pushing two years of tuition-free community college, just as she did during and after the Obama administration, along with her work on initiatives to support military families and fight cancer. New plans include addressing food insecurity issues created by the pandemic, as well as tackling unequal access to technology and broadband for students, according to the campaign.
“It would be a real modernizing of the first ladyship ... to have the president’s spouse live the kind of life that the majority of women live, which is working outside the home professionally,” said Ohio University professor Katherine Jellison, who studies first ladies.
Jill Biden has assured union members that teachers will have a “seat at the table” in a Biden administration, and she said her husband will want to appoint an Education secretary who is an educator with public school experience and who will fight for the right to organize and collectively bargain.
She describes living a “double life" in her memoir, “caught between State receptions and midterm exams.” Biden told NEA members during the fundraiser that she found her “niche” teaching at a community college, with students from “all different walks of life.” But she was never interested in letting them know her identity.
When students asked if she was Joe Biden’s wife, she would tell them that he’s a relative. “Or if I get pushed I say, ‘you know, I’m your English teacher,’” she told NPR in 2013, adding that she has a separate role as a professor. “That’s who I want to be. I want to be Dr. B, their English teacher, and I think they like that, quite frankly.”
According to her top tags on RateMyProfessors.com, Biden gives her students “good feedback” and is “respected” and “inspirational,” but she’s also a “tough grader” who gives “lots of homework.”