Jill Biden aims to keep full-time teaching job as US first lady

·4-min read

As President-elect Joe Biden begins preparations to take over the White House, incoming First Lady Jill is gearing up to sharing the limelight. The outspoken woman plans to use her teaching experience to bring the presidency closer to the people – and aims to make history by becoming the first presidential spouse to keep her full time job.

At 69, Jill Biden will become the 46th first lady of the United States, following her husband's election victory announced on 7 November.

They are no strangers to the White House, where they were the vice presidential couple for eight years, from 2009 to 2016, alongside Democratic President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle.

Originally from New Jersey, Jill, the eldest of five girls, grew up in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania.

Her father, a bank teller of Italian origin, changed the family name from Giacoppa to Jacobs, while her mother was a homemaker.

In 1975, during her last year at university in Delaware on her way to becoming a teacher, Jill was introduced to Joe Robinette Biden, a recently widowed 33-year-old with two young children Beau and Hunter.

The pair married in 1977 and had a daughter Ashley in 1981.

Dedicated educator

Jill never gave up teaching all the while supporting her husband’s long political career since, which included campaigning for senatorial elections and Democratic primaries in 1988 and 2008.

She also campaigned for Joe’s son Beau, who was elected attorney general for Delaware in 2006 and 2010 before he died in 2015 at the young age of 46 from cancer.

Jill earned two Master's degrees and went on to earn a doctorate in education in 2007. She still teaches at Northern Virginia Community College.

"I never wanted to ask Joe if I could have 100 dollars here and there. I think it’s important for each woman to have her own money and independence," she told CBS news in 2009.

Jill did make an exception with a year off to help with her husband’s 2020 presidential campaign, also in part motivated by her frustration over the handling by Donald Trump's administration of the Covid-19 crisis in relation to schools.

"He had no plan in place for re-opening schools. I don’t think his education minister Betsy Devos has any interest in public schools. Joe Biden wants to give money to schools, so that each child has an internet connection," she told CNN on 1 September.

Making history

Jill Biden has expressed her desire to continue teaching even after she takes up the role of first lady, breaking with tradition.

"I want people to have respect for teachers, and show we value this profession," she told CNN in August.

And she has the support of the president-elect. "Teaching is not what she does, it’s who she is," Biden told the press.

Throughout her husband's third race for the White House, Jill was one of his most effective and forceful supporters.

She presented her husband as the candidate who best appealed not only to moderate Democrats, but also to independents and Republicans disappointed with Trump.

In her convention speech from a classroom at a Wilmington high school where she taught English in the 1990s, she vouched for her husband's character, capabilities and heart.

'Acts of compassion'

"How do you make a broken family whole?" she asked when speaking of Biden's persistence through adversity – a quality she believes connects him with millions of Americans suffering through the coronavirus, mass layoffs and racial tensions.

"The same way you make a nation whole," she answered. "With love and understanding – and with small acts of compassion. With bravery. With unwavering faith."

On top of politics and teaching, Jill Biden is also involved in charity work. In 1993, she established a charity to raise awareness for breast cancer, the Biden Breast Health Initiative.

She has also been involved in a mission to rally around military families that she and Michelle Obama started in 2011.

Compared to Melania Trump, who preferred to keep a low profile during her husband's presidency, Jill Biden comes across as "warm, extroverted, passionate and sincere," says Nicole Bacharan, a French-American political commentator and co-author of First Ladies.

"She’s likely to want to be useful. As first lady she will no doubt take up many social causes, and she’ll do it wholeheartedly."