Remarks as Prepared for Delivery by First Lady Jill Biden at the American Federation of Teachers 2022 Convention
Good morning, it’s wonderful to be back in Boston and with you, my fellow educators, my family. Isn’t it nice to be back in person?!
Randi, one of the things I love most about you is how you show up for people. When there’s a problem, you find a solution. When someone’s in need, you ask: How can I help?
And it’s what makes you such a powerful leader here at AFT. So, thank you for your friendship. Thank you for caring. Thank you for putting this organization first every day.
It’s always an honor to share a stage with Senator Warren and our great Secretary of Labor, Marty Walsh—and I had the chance to travel here with Senator Markey and Congresswoman Presley.
Like some of you, I just got an email this week asking me to sign my contract for next semester. And it made me think about the first one I signed 38 years ago.
Looking back, it’s hard to believe anyone could be that excited to scribble a name on a line—but I was. It felt like so much more than just an employment contract—it felt like becoming the person I was meant to be.
Do you remember that moment? When you first decided to take this path?
To be a teacher. It isn’t an easy job. So, why do we do it?
For me, I thought about just how much books had shaped me—how I loved falling into them and escaping or learning something new. And it broke my heart that there were people who didn’t know that joy. I realized that it was a gift I could give to someone. That I could teach someone else to read.
And I bet that you have a similar story—a moment when you realized that you wanted to be the person to open up the world for someone else, to give the smile that helps that student find the confidence she didn’t know was inside her, to be the one who says, “It’s OK, we’ll figure it out together.”
We believe that there is something profoundly optimistic about education.
To answer this call of service is, in itself, an act of hope. And we need that hope now more than ever.
As Randi said yesterday, teaching has become so much harder. But you don’t quit. You show up to work with a granola bar because you know someone may come to class hungry.
You keep your voice calm when you explain active shooter drills and how to stay quiet when they hide under desks—even though a part of you breaks into pieces each time.
You tell your students that change is possible, even though you know that the young women looking up at you with those hopeful eyes have lost rights that they don’t even understand yet.
You turn down the news on TV telling you about people who want to stop you from doing your job, put your shoulders back, and focus on your students.
There is so much weight on all of you—but you carry it. Our schools are where policies become people. And educators are at the center of it all.
And we’re not alone. Healing is hopeful as well. As Joe always says, “If there are any angels in heaven, they are all nurses.” America is so grateful for the sacrifices you’ve made.
I’m proud of what Joe’s done in these last two years: From historic investments to re-open schools, to addressing the mental and academic needs of our students, to signing the bipartisan gun bill and defending women’s reproductive health care, to delivering on the promise of loan forgiveness for public servants.
In fact, almost 150,000 public servants have already received loan forgiveness because of changes our Administration has made.
The president that you elected is working every day to keep his promises—but we need partners who will join him. Because we believe that AR-15s, the weapon that tore apart 19 children and two teachers in their classroom, have no place on our streets.
We believe women should be able to make their own decisions about their own bodies and pregnancies.
Ending child poverty, providing affordable child care and free community college are not divisive issues, they should not be red or blue.
Our government represents the will of the people.
And that’s why the people need to get involved. Teachers. Nurses. Higher education and health care workers, public servants. All of us.
Yes, we need to vote—in races at every single level. And we need to remember that voting is the bare minimum.
We have to get involved in the local governments that decide how cities plan their budgets and protect their students.
We have to speak 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.
We have to come together—as AFT always has—and demand that we be heard.
I’ll be there beside you, every step of the way.
Now, it’s going to be difficult. We know that. But we do this work because we believe that a better world is possible—and we know that we are the ones who make that future real.
Underestimate the power of this coalition at your own risk. We will fight for the communities we care about and we will never give up.
Because that’s who we are: Optimists. True believers. Fighters. And that’s what we do, every day, in little ways and in big ones: We change the world.
So, let’s get to work.