As a fellow educator and as your first lady, welcome to the white house. As you can image, you know I’m still feeling all of the emotions that yesterday inspired – you know the excitement, and the pride for all that we accomplished together; hope for all that we’re going to do and most of all, overwhelming gratitude for the trust and the faith the American people have given to us. So I’m ready to get to work with you, and the unions that support you every day. And Becky, it’s been such a pleasure to get to know you and to see you in action. You know, I’m so proud that you are leading the NEA, which as you probably know, is my union. And your passion for education shines just through everything you do. And Randi, you’re the kind of general who’s never far from the front lines. You’re a tireless advocate, and you never give less than 100% for the educators who rely on you and the AFT. So, I couldn’t wait one more day to have this meeting; because I have never felt prouder of our profession.
In this pandemic, educators have shown heroic commitment to their students. You know, we’ve used all of our creativity to make classroom experiences, whether in personal or virtual, the best that they can be. And I’ve been so inspired by so many of you who have gone above and beyond to meet your students where they are in this past year. Teaching late nights because your students don’t have access to computers until, maybe, you know, somebody in their family, who’s finished using the computer can give it to them. Driving hotspots to neighborhoods without Wi-Fi; taking tearful calls from parents who felt like they could not juggle it all. Supporting parents, distributing food, doing everything that you can to support student’s mental health.
And educators, you’ve done it all, while taking care of your own families and facing your own challenges. So on behalf of a grateful nation, thank you. You have been so strong. And now it’s time for us, to be strong for you. You know, I know how hard it is. I am teaching hybrid this semester myself. And I have to tell you, you know, the one thing I love about educators is that we all, I think, help one another. And so I had to take the hybrid training – and actually, on Tuesday morning before we got on the plane to come to Washington, I was actually teaching my class. And, I had the help of my colleagues, where I teach, who said “hey Jill, try it this way, or try it that way, or do this, or do that.” And that’s what I love about our profession – we always help one another.
And now, you know, I couldn’t wait to get to the White House, because one of the things you know I promised you, is that we would work together. And let me just tell ya, this is day one, and I want – I don’t know whether you listen to the news last week and today, but we’ve already started. You know, last week – Joe, the president elect, called on congress to provide our schools with historic support and funding. And his plan provides resources so that we can meet the goal of safely reopening a majority of our k-8 schools in the first 100 days of this administration. And that means that access to PPE; hiring more councilors, nurses, and custodial staff; reducing class sizes – we all want that – and talking the digital divide so that our students can continue learning wherever they are. And he’s going to work to address racial and economic inequities - gosh we’ve seen that so much – and give students what they need to succeed.
We’re also going to give you the job support you need right now. Scaling up COVID testing at schools; and promoting access to vaccines for educators; and providing funding to state and local governments so that you can keep your job. Because your safety and wellbeing, are critical to the success of our students. And then today, our first day, I mean our first working day, Joe – I mean it’s funny to call President Biden ‘Joe’ – signed an executive order to direct the Department Of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services to work together on safely reopening childcare programs in schools. And they’re going to do that by following the science. They’ll provide guidance and best practices; collect and share data, and engage with educators – all of you, and your unions.
And today, Joe also released a national strategy for our country’s COVID-19 response – and safely reopening schools is critical to that plan. Haven’t we been all waiting so long for this? You know we know this won’t be easy, but we have to do two things right now: make sure that the health and safety of educators are protected, as well as the families they serve; and give our students the educational support they need in the schools they love. That’s our goal. And with dedicated educators like all of you, I know we’re gonna get there. So I wanna thank you again for being with us today, for all the work that you have done, during this pandemic, and all the work that we’re going to continue to do together. And no I’m going to pass it over to Becky. Becky?
[Becky Pringle speaks.]
[Randi Weingarten speaks.]
Thank you Randi.
Ya know, over and over I’ve made you a promise: that when Joe was elected president – that you will always have a seat at the table. And I meant it. Our schools, our students, our communities – you know we’re all facing so many challenges right now, and I know that you are stretched thinner than most. But educators, this is our moment. Because we know how to turn chaos into something beautiful – we do it every day in our classrooms. We know how to learn the lessons of our past, and grow into something new. We never stop learning and growing. We know how to be a light in the darkness. And Joe is going to be a champion for you, because he knows that’s the best way to serve our students. Together, we are going to transform our nation’s education system. And when we do that, we will change the course of our future forever. And if you ever wonder if it’s possible, just remember that the first lady of the United States, is one of your own.
So I wanna end by saying thank you for all that you do, in the day to day – we don’t always recognize how much this work matters, but it does. Right now, someone out there, is a better thinker because of you. Someone is standing a little taller because you helped them find the confidence that they need. Someone is working a little harder because you pushed them to try. And someone is kinder because you showed them what it meant. Someone is braver because you helped them find their courage. Student by student, you are changing the world. Thank you for that work, and thank you for all that you will help us do, to build a better future, for all students. Thank you.
Biden, J. (2021, January 21). Education Forum with First Lady Jill Biden [Speech audio recording]. C-SPAN. Retrieved on April 11, 2022 from https://www.c-span.org/video/?508221-1/education-forum-lady-jill-biden.