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"I want students to see me as their English teacher. I am not mentioning it in my classes AT ALL," Biden wrote to colleagues after the inauguration. "Thanks for honoring my teacher identity"

By Sean Neumann
April 02, 2021 07:26 AM
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First Lady Dr. Jill Biden

Two months into the Biden administration, a fuller picture of First Lady Dr. Jill Biden's job in the classroom is emerging.

A CBS News report on Wednesday outlines Biden's efforts to coordinate with both school administrators and fellow staff members at Northern Virginia Community College, where she has returned to teaching this spring after taking the fall off to focus on the 2020 campaign.

Biden, 69, is the first first lady to maintain a full-time job while carrying out her White House duties.

"It's important," she said last year, upon announcing her intention to continue teaching English as she has done for decades. "I want people to value teachers and know their contributions and lift up their profession."

According to CBS, the first lady hit some administrative — and technical — roadblocks while gearing up to make her return, however.

Emails obtained by the outlet show school officials and lawyers for the first lady had to first navigate how she would get paid for the job, maneuvering around a Constitutional provision called the Emoluments Clause, which aims to prevent presidents from profiting off the office.

The issue was "not a question of if she would teach but how," went one email, written by the school's dean.

jill biden
First Lady Dr. Jill Biden

Ultimately, the college told CBS that Biden would be paid through non-state funding, bypassing the issue altogether.

The first lady has since been teaching fully remote English introductory courses — including college composition courses — this semester.

Online schedules for the school reviewed by PEOPLE show one of her 13-week classes, for example, started five days after husband Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president in January.

The night before the Inauguration Day, 13 of Dr. Biden's staff members sent her an email showing support as she geared up to take up the simultaneous roles.

"We are so proud of the work you do as an English professor at NOVA and know you will bring inspiration and grace to your new position as First Lady," the group of fellow staff members wrote to her, alongside a photo they took over Zoom of them wearing T-shirts that read, "Doctor, First Lady, Jill Biden."

According to CBS, the group's email was sent after a Wall Street Journal editorial criticized the first lady for continuing to use the title "Dr.," which an opinion columnist claimed was misleading as it refers to her degree in education. He faced near immediate blowback.

The group landed on calling her "Teacher-in-Chief," according to CBS.

The week after the inauguration, CBS reports, Dr. Biden wrote to her colleagues: "I am an English teacher at NOVA — not First Lady. I am trying to keep my roles separate as I did as Second Lady. I appreciate your enthusiasm, but I want students to see me as their English teacher. I am not mentioning it in my classes AT ALL. Thanks for honoring my teacher identity. Jill"

US First Lady Jill Biden speaks with students in Becky Taylors classroom as she visits the Christa McAuliffe School in Concord, New Hampshire, on March 17, 2021
Dr. Jill Biden
| Credit: SUSAN WALSH/POOL/AFP via Getty

The first lady has since taught her slate of classes in a "totally remote" format, according to the school schedules.

Dr. Biden had asked school administrators if she could physically come into her classroom at the campus to host Zoom sessions with her students, in an effort she wrote in an email had been meant "to keep work separate" from her work at the White House. 

However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, her request was denied, CBS reports. The White House says Dr. Biden is still teaching remotely, as the semester winds down.

The professor also hit some technical snafus during her return, accidentally getting locked out of her school account last December while completing a training course, according to an email from the dean.

But overall, class appears to be going well.

Students on the website "Rate My Professor" have given Dr. Biden mostly favorable reviews since she started teaching at the school in 2009, when she was simultaneously the country's second lady. (As she told PEOPLE at the time: "I want to do what I love. I knew if I let any time lapse, I would be sucked into Joe's life.")

Many students say Dr. Biden is a "tough grader" who gives "a lot" of homework and writing assignments. Like any group of college students, they appear split on the workload.

"She was genuine, and she was humble," one former student told The Washington Post in January. "She cares deeply. She's incredibly engaging and challenging and kind."