First lady Jill Biden visited the American Federation of Teachers’ 87th biennial national convention in Boston on Friday to encourage educators to create partnerships in their communities and work together.
Biden, who has been a classroom teacher for over 30 years and teaches writing and English at Northern Virginia Community College, was one of the speakers during the convention’s “Making a Difference in the Labor Movement” morning session at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center that focused on the importance of unions.
“Underestimate the power of this coalition at your own risk,” she said. “We will fight for the communities we care about and we will never give up because that’s who we are.”
During her speech, Biden recalled how she decided to become a teacher. It was her love for books and wanting to teach people how to read so that they could experience the same joy she felt learning something new while reading.
She asked the audience if they remembered similar moments when they chose to become teachers, adding that it isn’t an easy job but that “there is something profoundly optimistic about education,” and that hope is needed “now more than ever.”
“Teaching has become so much harder, but you don’t quit,” Biden said. “You show up to work, like I do, with a granola bar because you know that someone in your class is going to be hungry. You keep your voice calm when you explain active shooter drills and how you teach your kids to stay quiet when they have to hide under their desk — even though a part of you breaks into pieces each time.”
She said that schools are “where policies become people” and encouraged attendees to get involved in their local government, go out to vote in “races at every single level,” and stand up for justice and equity.
“All of us have a teacher voice for when things go off the rails, and now is the time to use it,” Biden said. “We have to come together as AFT always has, and demand to be heard.”
Biden’s AFT appearance was part of a three-day visit to Massachusetts. The First Lady landed in the state on Thursday and visited military families, veterans, service members, and clinicians at Home Base in Boston, then later dined at Row 34 in Seaport. She also plans to attend a Democratic National Committee finance event in Nantucket on Saturday.
Other notable speakers who joined the First Lady on Friday included Senator Elizabeth Warren, US Secretary of Labor and former Boston mayor Marty Walsh, President of the Amazon Labor Union Chris Smalls, and President of the AFL-CIO Liz Shuler.
“No one understands more just how important teachers are and how much we need them to build a better future for all Americans,” Warren said. “We are really lucky to have an educator as our First Lady.”
The four-day event kicked off on Thursday and over 3,000 AFT members from around the country are expected to be in attendance. This is the union’s first in-person convention since 2018 due to the pandemic.
Mayor Wu and the Boston Teachers Union also announced at the convention on Thursday a new tentative three-year contract agreement. The contract includes a sizable pay increase at a time when Boston and other districts are grappling with labor shortages, especially among teachers, and calls for increasing the number of school staff working directly with students.