Why all teachers are like Jill Biden

The next US first lady has said she wants to continue teaching – other teachers understand why, says Emily Gunton
9th November 2020, 12:47pm

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Why all teachers are like Jill Biden

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archive/why-all-teachers-are-jill-biden
Jill Biden: Fe, Let's Follow Her Example & Step Into Tv

Dr Jill Biden is 69 and a teacher. Before we even explore the fact that she is going to be the first lady of the United States of America, let's pause for a moment and commend her for still teaching at the age of 69. I often wonder if I am still going to have the energy to be teaching at 39, let alone 69. 

My question is, why does she want to keep teaching when she can easily fill her time in her role as first lady?

Every first lady who has ever had a career has given it up, or at least reduced it in some capacity, as soon as her husband uttered the words "run for president". Ever since Martha Washington was firs lady, 231 years ago, all the first ladies have quit their day job in full - except for Eleanor Roosevelt, who continued to write and deliver lectures. 

But Jill Biden has no plans to stop. And why should she, particularly when her new job will earn her the grand sum of $0? Maybe, at last, we have reached a milestone where it is OK for first ladies - or, hopefully, one day, first gentlemen - to keep their identity as a professional in their own right, while their other half assumes their role as commander-in-chief. 

Jill Biden: a committed teacher

Maybe the normality of a regular job is the thing that keeps Jill Biden sane and their marriage grounded? Her job has seen her through her PhD, husband Joe's vice-presidency and the death of her stepson. 

Jill is so committed, she didn't even take a day off for the Democratic National Convention last year. She just hooked up to the secret services' equivalent of Zoom, and gave her speech from her classroom.

Over the past 20 years, some of the previous first ladies have had some pretty impressive CVs. Hillary Clinton was a lawyer, and she gave it up. Michelle Obama was a lawyer, and she also gave it up. And then there is Melania, who, according to the White House website, "has an aptitude for showing love and compassion in all that she does".

Anyway, back to Biden. Her husband is a workaholic. You've got to be one if you want to be in any form of employment at the age of 77, let alone the job of US president. 

Let's face it, Jill Biden doesn't have to do any cleaning, cooking or childcare. She doesn't have the stress of a mortgage or the worry of the car not starting in the morning. She doesn't need to panic about getting stuck in traffic or where to park, and I can't imagine her covering period six on a Friday afternoon. 

And maybe, like the rest of us, she loves being in the classroom and teaching. She recently tweeted: "Teaching is not what I do. It is who I am."

Why teaching is so rewarding

Jill Biden isn't doing it for the money. According to Forbes, the Bidens are worth $9 million. They have access to Air Force One, so don't need to spend endless evenings scouring Expedia for cheap flights in peak season. Maybe just carrying on as normal is an easier option than driving through a new initiative and facing the heavy controversy that Hillary Clinton went through, with her proposed 1993 healthcare reform package. Or could we see Jill Biden pushing for change from the shop floor? 

When everything is stripped back to just the teaching, it is one of the most rewarding jobs out there. That is why, despite a recruitment crisis and this thing called a pandemic, thousands of teachers are turning up to school, ready to stand in the line of fire, with masks and visors, smelling like they've been showering in hand sanitiser. 

To be doing that, in the current climate, goes a long way to show that we're not in it just for the pension or the six-week summer holiday. We're in it because it is a vocation.

Fundamentally, we do it because, like Jill Biden, we want to have an impact on the lives of young people, and to make a difference. We thrive off the rushes of dopamine we get when we've nailed a lesson, and we thrive from knowing that there is no other job like it.

Jill Biden is quoted as saying: "I want people to value teachers and know their contributions, and to lift up the profession." If only we had someone like Jill Biden in government, championing our cause, the outlook for the education system in this country would be very different. 

Emily Gunton is director of music, head of co-curricular and outreach and school consultant teacher at Blackheath High School

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