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Making History: A teacher in The White House

Dr. Jill Biden will make history for still teaching while in The White House.
Published: Feb. 8, 2021 at 11:20 PM EST
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(WJRT) - First Lady Dr. Jill Biden will make history as the country’s first First Lady to hold a paid job outside the White House. But it’s not just any job. She will be teaching.

Many fellow educators say they are not only finding inspiration in Dr. Biden, but also encouragement.

It is no secret a number of educators were not a fan of the direction public education was heading under the guidance of Michigan’s own Betsy DeVos at the helm, as former Secretary of Education. Both established educators and those about to enter the field say they are hoping for brighter days ahead for teachers and students.

The First Lady’s passion for her career is clear.

Dr. Jill Biden has said on a number of occasions, “Teaching is more than just a job for me. It’s a calling.”

Dr. Jill Biden will be at least the 10th First Lady to have classroom experience, according to the National First Ladies’ Library. But she will be the first to hold a paid teaching position outside the White House. More than 47 women have held the role over the course of history.

“Trust me. I believe she’s going to be having her husband’s ear on a lot of issues when it comes to education,” says Frank Burger, President of the Carmen-Ainsworth Education Association.

An educator for 24 years, Burger had the chance to rub elbows with Dr. Biden before. They are both members of the National Education Association.

“I’m absolutely relieved that we’re going to be able to work with an administration who values public education, sees it as a cornerstone of democracy,” says Burger.

President Joe Biden selected Connecticut education commissioner Miguel Cardona as his education secretary, who has an extensive background in public schools.

But it is his wife of more than 40 years that gives teachers like Burger, confidence. As Second Lady, when President Barack Obama was in office, she taught English and writing at Northern Virginia Community College. Known as “Dr. B” to her students, she will continue that role.

After earning two master’s degrees, Jill Biden earned her doctorate in education from the University of Delaware in 2007 but she was recently called out by a critic, telling her to drop the title of ‘doctor.’

“If that were a man in that position, a white male in that position, he would have never had an article written about him,” says Burger.

For Burger, he is ready to leave the past in the past.

Former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who resigned after the deadly insurrection at the nation’s Capitol, was often criticized for her changes to Title IX, her support of school choice and charter programs, and for changes to Obama-era student loan borrowing policies.

“The problem with Betsy DeVos, she was never an educator. She never worked in a public school. She never worked in a school in her life! Yet, she’s in charge of our nation’s schools?” asks Burger.

On top of that, Burger says teaching in a pandemic only made things worse.

“All we’re hearing from Betsy DeVos is, ‘School’s gotta be open! School’s gotta be open! School’s gotta be open!’ and ‘Kids need to be in-person learning.’ Well, you’re not giving us the guidance on how to do that,” says Burger.

“You know, this whole time that I’ve been in college with my peers, we’ve been under the Trump administration, so we’ve kind of been learning to teach in a reaction to a lot of things; in reaction to policy changes and in reactions to racism we’ve seen in the news, stuff like that,” says student-teacher Anna Dietrich.

MSU student Anna Dietrich is finishing up her internship year at Carman-Ainsworth High School.

She feels like she is entering the field at the right time with Dr. Biden as First Lady.

“It’s really hopeful because I’ve never seen somebody in education so far up,” says Dietrich.

Dietrich teaches English as a second language to a number of students.

“There have been many moments like when I’m working with students who are immigrants and there’s anti-immigration policies and anti-immigration rhetoric being pushed in our nation. And it’s really hard and it’s really scary to see our students having to worry and it’s really heartbreaking to hear,” says Dietrich.

She recognizes being a teacher is more than just making sure students learn.

“We definitely have to be an advocate for our students at all times. Because often times we’re the only voice that they do have besides their parents. And often, school is the only chance they get to see where you can make a change. That’s the first place that they see there’s some difference in the world between their experiences and other peoples’ experiences,” says Dietrich.

Dietrich is hoping more diverse voices will be heard with a Biden administration.

“Our students are the voice of our nation. Our students are who are going to make change and it’s our job to help them get there,” says Dietrich.

The Biden Administration wants to make sure every child has access to pre-school. With nine in 10 teachers paying for supplies for their classroom, the administration is pushing for more competitive salaries and wants to double the number of psychologists and counselors to help students.

“We’ve all in education breathed a sigh of relief knowing that we’re going to have somebody we can rely on who knows the ins and outs of public education,” says Burger.

For both Burger and Dietrich, it is a personal mission, and now feel like they have someone in their corner.

“All of your students become you kids in a way. You get to know their lives. You see them for more hours a day than their parents do sometimes. You see their jobs, who they’re caring for, what they’re trying to do and solve in their lives, and the issues that impact them in the world that they bring into the classroom every day. It’s a very emotional job,” says Dietrich.

For more information on the vision of public education from the Biden Administration, click here.

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