Of all the educators returning to classrooms in person this fall, only one will be ferried there by a motorcade of Secret Service vehicles that depart from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
First lady Jill Biden on Tuesday starts her 13-week teaching session at the Alexandria, Virginia, campus of Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA). Biden, who prefers students call her “Dr. B.,” teaches composition writing classes — this semester on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
All told, Biden has been a teacher for almost four decades, but she now also holds the distinction of being the first first lady to have a job outside of the East Wing.
Biden taught at NOVA, where she has been faculty since 2009, last semester too, and the story of her learning how to become proficient in leading Zoom classes while on the campaign trail with her husband became an oft-told anecdote.
Yet this week will be different. Biden and her students will be in class with masks on and socially distanced, per Virginia’s mandate. As such, Biden is facing the same challenges and fears many educators have upon returning to the classroom in person.
“She is looking forward to teaching and communicating in person rather than through the screen,” her press secretary Michael LaRosa tells CNN.
Biden is not unaware of the very real controversy brewing in America regarding kids and masks and classrooms, with heated discussions between parents and school boards sometimes bubbling over into screaming matches.
“A new adventure, messy and magical, is about to begin. The anticipation and excitement of this time of year is one of the best parts of being a teacher,” Biden wrote Monday in an essay for Time magazine, which outlined the additional challenge of starting a school year in the midst of an ongoing pandemic.
“As we return to our classrooms this fall, it will take all of us coming together to keep our schools safe and open. We must remember that our enemy is the virus, not one another.”
Biden has several times as first lady visited classrooms and educators in several states and has seen and heard firsthand the enormous deficit Covid-19 has caused for many families and teachers and school systems.
“It’s been different learning over Zoom and trying to connect and feel that sense of community that, I think, teachers create in classrooms,” Biden said at a school event in Arizona in March.
With Covid cases again on the rise in America as the Delta variant surges, especially among the unvaccinated, the hopeful sense of return to normalcy now feels tenuous. Last month in an open letter, Biden addressed the current state of anxiety.
“As this school year begins, families across the country thought we could exhale after so many difficult months and now we’re holding our breath once again,” she wrote.
There remains no guarantee that in-person classes will hold through the remainder of the school year, or even the semester. Yet, as Biden heads back to school, she is hopeful teachers, herself included, have the opportunity to do their job face-to-masked-face.
In her essay published on Monday, titled “A Tribute to Classroom Heroes,” Biden said: “Educators, always remember that right now, someone out there is a better thinker because of you.”