“Dr. B,” aka first lady Jill Biden, began her official FLOTUS life Thursday evening with a virtual event to honor teachers, among whom she has counted herself for decades.
The 20-minute event was a heartfelt paean to the work of educators, embellished with a promise that she, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are on the side of teachers and their unions, who helped win the election for the new administration.
“The first lady of the United States is one of your own,” Biden said. “Thank you for all that you do in the day-to-day. It’s not always recognized how much your work matters, but it does… Student by student, you are changing the world. “
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden wave as they arrive at the North Portico of the White House, Jan. 20, 2021.
One day after Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th POTUS, with his wife holding the Biden family’s massive Bible, the first lady of the United States convened a meeting with teachers union presidents Randi Weingarten, of the American Federation of Teachers, and Becky Pringle, of the National Education Association, to pay tribute to educators and celebrate the start of what the first lady described as a pro-teachers Biden administration.
Wearing a claret-colored dress with long ropes of pearls around her neck, Biden hailed the actions that “Joe” has taken already (she said she’s still getting used to calling him president). These include signing executive orders establishing a national strategy to get the coronavirus pandemic under control, and pledging the resources to help re-open most K-12 schools safely within 100 days.
“He’s following the science and best practices, and he will be engaging with educators, all of you and your unions,” Biden said. “He has a national strategy for COVID-19 response and safely reopening schools is critical for that plan.”
It was not a coincidence that the teaching profession was highlighted on Biden’s first full day of her unpaid job: Her paid job, which she also held as second lady during the Obama administration, is teaching English at Northern Virginia Community College in suburban Washington.
It’s also not a coincidence that Biden, a professor of literature, was the one to spot the talent of Amanda Gorman, 22, and recommend her as the inaugural poet – the youngest ever. Her recitation of her poem “The Hill We Climb” left everyone gasping in admiration.
Biden has indicated that she will continue advocating for teachers and students, and especially those at community colleges, placing education at the top of her agenda.
Her voice, already amplified by her FLOTUS platform, will be further enhanced by her vow to continue working as “Dr. B,” as her students know her (she has a doctorate in education): She’ll be the first FLOTUS in the role’s 231-year history to pursue her career and keep a paying job while serving in the White House as first lady.
The two union presidents could not say enough good things about the first lady, the president and the vice president.
“The president told me to call him Joe on the campaign trail but we all worked too hard to make sure we call him President Biden, so that’s what I’m going to call him,” joked Pringle, whose union has 3 million members.
“We knew we had a partner in the White House, and he didn’t come by himself: We also have Vice President Harris and Dr. Jill Biden, an educator who is still teaching.”
Weingarten, the politically savvy longtime leader of the second-largest teachers’ union, with about 1.7 million members, also pledged to work with the Biden team.
“Today is a moment when educators feel respected,” Weingarten said. “We’re working with an educator in the White House, someone who walks in our shoes, who knows the challenges and aspirations of our children. That is more than I can ever have imagined before this moment.”
Biden said now is the time to seize the moment.
“I promised you would always have a seat at the table and I meant it,” she said. “Educators, this is our moment, because we know how to turn chaos into something beautiful – we do it every day in our classrooms.”
In the morning, Biden joined her husband, Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff for a socially distanced presidential prayer service in the State Dining Room at the White House. The service, a tradition dating back to the first inauguration of President George Washington, went virtual this year due to the pandemic.