Closing The Gap

Why Jill Biden plans to return to her day job even as first lady

Dr. Jill Biden introduces her husband democratic presidential hopeful former US Vice President Joe Biden during a town hall at the Proulx Community Center in Franklin, New Hampshire on November 8, 2019.
Joseph Prezioso | AFP | Getty Images

Jill Biden, a longtime educator and wife of President-elect Joe Biden, has played a huge role in supporting and uplifting her husband's presidential campaign. And, according to those closest to her, she's done so all while maintaining close ties to her day job as an English professor at Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA).

This year, for the first time since 1981, according to The Washington Post, Biden took a break from her teaching career to devote more time to her husband's campaign. But, even during her temporary break, Jim McClellan, NOVA's liberal arts dean, said that Biden has attended voluntary training sessions in online teaching, and the former second lady stated in August that she planned to return to her day job even if her husband was elected. This move, according to Anita McBride, who runs the First Ladies Initiative at American University, will make Biden the first first lady to hold a day job outside the White House. 

"If we get to the White House, I'm gonna continue to teach," she told CBS News correspondent Rita Braver. "It's important, and I want people to value teachers and know their contributions, and lift up the profession."

Joe Biden kisses his wife, Jill, at Brandywine High School, where she taught English from 1991 to 1993, during the virtual 2020 Democratic National Convention, August 18, 2020.
DNC | Reuters

Biden, who first joined NOVA in 2009, comes from a long-standing career in education. Prior to NOVA, she spent several years teaching at various public schools in Delaware, including Brandywine High School in Wilmington, Delaware, where she delivered her 2020 Democratic National Convention speech. The 69-year-old, who has a doctorate degree in education, also spent time teaching at Delaware Technical Community College before stepping into her most recent role at NOVA. 

While her husband served as vice president under the Obama administration, Biden became the first second lady to hold a full-time job outside the White House. In a 2016 interview, former First Lady Michelle Obama spoke about what it was like to watch Biden juggle the duties of her day job and the duties of her role as second lady. 

"Jill is always grading papers," Obama said. "Which is funny because I'd forget, 'Oh yeah, you have a day job!' And then she pulls out her papers and she's so diligent and I'm like, 'Look at you! You have a job! Tell me! Tell me what it's like!'"

In an interview with Vogue, Biden detailed how as a professor she would have Secret Service dress like college students and sit in the hallway on laptops to disguise themselves. Mary Doody, a former assistant dean at Delaware Technical Community College, recalls how even when Joe Biden served as Delaware's senator, Biden would keep her identity low key. 

"At Delaware Tech, they simply did not know that she was Senator Biden's wife," Doody said. "She kept it under wraps. And when she got her doctorate she got it under 'Jacobs'; she didn't use Biden, because she has just always wanted to be her own person and for the students to know her as a teacher and not as the wife of a senator. She doesn't need that affirmation. It's just who she is."

In addition to working her day job, there are a number of things Biden says she would love to work on as first lady, many of them the same initiatives she focused on as second lady.

"Education would be right up there—and military families. I'd travel all over this country trying to get free community college," she says, while adding that she would also prioritize preschool and kindergarten education. "We need good reading programs, and we need equity in schools. We're competing in this global market, and the U.S.'s standing has got to get better."

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