About forty-five years ago, Dr. Jill Biden had her first teaching position at St. Mark’s High School in Wilmington, Delaware. So, when talking about education, you can be sure the First Lady of the United States of America would be an authority in the conversation.
And she is still front and center in the education scene, as she now occupies the position of professor of writing at Northern Virginia Community College and is also an advocate for community colleges.
It was a huge honor to hear that she wanted to assist us in celebrating the bravery of our teachers after the Covid pandemic made it a very problematic year for teaching.
In that light, we’ll have Jill dipping into her wealth of experience to tell us some of her favorite aspects of being a teacher and some things she wishes everyone to understand about the great profession.
What or who made you want to become a teacher?
I started by helping out older students who found it hard to read. That was in college. I wanted them to discover the same delight I had gotten from books. It was at that point I knew that teaching was exactly what I was meant to do.
What have you missed most about being in the classroom during the pandemic?
Many teachers will tell you that there are a lot of things that can’t be transmitted over a computer screen, and I agree.
It’s important to analyze people’s body language to know when they aren’t connecting with whatever it is I’m teaching. That can’t be done over a computer screen, and I’ve missed it.
I miss the liveliness of a packed class. You know when everyone is bringing up ideas and debating them, talking over each other in the process. That feeling is electrifying.
I also miss my conversations with students who stay back after class with a few questions on their minds.
The year did bring a lot of surprises, though. I had thought it would be a bit more challenging to recreate the unique energy that we usually get in our classes, but somehow, my students were up to the task.
We discovered new ways to bring that connection back. It was a new experience that taught me many things that I’m sure would come in handy while I teach in the future.
But there are still some aspects of our classes that we just can not replace, so I’m looking forward to our return to the classroom this fall.
When has a student showed you appreciation, and what kind of impact did it have on you?
This particular event happened a few years back. I had told my class that I wouldn’t be there for our next session for personal reasons.
Now, my students have always been curious lot. So, they began to ask me where I was going.
At that time, my sister had been going through her first cancer treatment, and she was going to spend the next six weeks in the hospital. It was a tough time for all of us. I gathered all my strength to tell my class what was happening, but the words got stuck in my throat.
I turned to the whiteboard, trying to hold back my feelings, and when I turned around, the entire class had gotten to their feet. They queued up, and every one of them hugged me.
It was then it dawned on me that I needed their strength. I struggled with the situation, but I hadn’t realized just how much until that moment. I realized that this group of students was my family too.
What’s the most rewarding part about being a teacher?
There are a lot of them. There’s that moment a spark lights up your students’ eyes as they finally understand a concept. Watching a student use their unique voice after you’ve helped them find their confidence is also gratifying.
There is a lot of satisfaction that comes while working with community college students. They put a lot of effort into getting to class, juggling their professions and their families. They want to learn, and you can see that in their actions.
My students bring different viewpoints to each meeting—different experiences of travels, jobs, and difficulties they’ve had to surpass.
It is a privilege to be the person to lead them through their schooling, the one to give them the means to unlock life-changing potential.
What makes community colleges so important?
Community colleges are drivers of economic growth. They cater to the needs of the students and communities in a lot of ways.
They offer flexible schedules, preventing the students from having to choose between school and work. They prepare the students for actual jobs; they are set up with their community in mind. They also give the students a strong base for a four-year degree.
The students I teach come from various backgrounds. A mother who hopes to rekindle her career after raising her children. A youth who is undecided on what academic path to choose. A worker that’s trying to add some 21st-century skills to his skillset.
All of them have one similarity. They’re all in search of better lives for themselves through schooling in their communities.
I believe that two years of community college should be free for all Americans, and my husband, the president, is of a like mind with me. To keep up with our changing world and economy, we should do more than kindergarten to high school.
Above everything else, what do you wish people would understand about teachers?
Teaching is more than a job; It’s a calling.
As teachers, we are highly dedicated to our students and want them to succeed. It’s funny that many believe teachers have it so easy, we leave school at 3 o’clock and have the summers off.
But the truth is that the classroom bit is just a tiny part of the job. Teachers spend hours at home grading tests or preparing lesson plans. Not to talk of the fact that we’re constantly carrying our students around.
Wherever I am, there’s always that part of me that’s wondering what my students are doing and how I can help them with any difficulties they have.
Teachers always struggle to satisfy the needs of their students and their families, too, especially this past year. Teachers have prevailed through the confusion and uplifted students in their times of need.
However, one of the few positives of the pandemic is increased communication between parents and teachers. Now, people are more enlightened on how much work educators put in.