What having Jill Biden in the White House could mean for educators

Dr. Jill Biden is an educator herself and can provide a critical perspective on education in her position as first lady. (Photo via Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons)

Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.

The incoming first lady, Jill Biden, offers a glimmer of hope for not only working women but also for the nation’s educators. She will make history as the first president’s spouse to continue to work outside of the White House. For me, it is inspiring to see her continue working without having to give up her passions to fit her husband’s goals and desires. But even more than that, she has experience as an educator, which is promising when so many teachers feel underappreciated.

American educators have long pushed for more benefits and higher pay. First-year teachers can expect to make less than $40,000 per year. As a result, 20 percent of educators are forced to take on a second job, and nearly 62 percent have considered leaving the profession after feeling undervalued by their communities. 

But teachers are a pivotal factor in the overall development of children, with 83 percent of students saying a teacher has boosted their confidence and self-esteem. Teachers prepare America’s future doctors, lawyers and politicians. 

As an English professor at Northern Virginia Community College, Biden can understand the profound effect teachers have on the lives of their students. She should be able to empathize with educators’ struggles and concerns in a country they might feel disregards their work. And with her new position as first lady, she has some power to actually do something about it.

So far, Biden has assured union members they will be supported in the new administration and outlined her husband’s plan to appoint an education secretary with experience as an educator and as an advocate for unionization. Throughout her husband’s campaign, she also held multiple events with teachers unions in order to hear their concerns and struggles.

In office, she can continue to meet with teachers unions and advocate for reform so teachers are compensated and appreciated, and she might work on initiatives with the Education Department. If nothing else, as someone with major access to the president and his Cabinet, she can be a sounding board and offer new ideas.

Biden might also provide some help to educators, fostering a more inclusive and civil classroom environment. Educators are the first line of defense against ignorance; the classroom is often the place where children learn proper communication skills and how to respect differences in opinion. But without proper backing, teachers may lack the resources to provide a supportive classroom environment. However, with Biden as first lady, teachers may finally have someone with the experience and passion for education in a position of power to assist them.  

Over the next four years in office, Biden will not only have the power, but also a moral obligation, to incite change on behalf of all American educators as first lady. And at the very least, teachers will have a like-minded woman in the White House.

Gabriella Kurczeski is a junior English and psychology major. She can be reached at gkurczes@terpmail.umd.edu.

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