Biden with a Head Start teacher and children in Alabama in 2021
Cameron Smith—The White House
Ideas
September 2, 2021 6:45 AM EDT
Dr. Biden, a classroom teacher for over 30 years, is a community-college professor and the First Lady of the United States. She is also the author of Where the Light Enters.

Every classroom offers a sense of possibility amid the worn books and clean whiteboards at the start of the new school year. A new adventure, messy and magical, is about to begin. The anticipation and excitement of this time of year is one of the best parts of being a teacher.

Over a year ago, classrooms closed as COVID-19 shut down our country. The pandemic has been difficult for everyone, and that was especially true for the educators who had to reimagine our lesson plans and rethink our classrooms almost overnight. Cafeteria workers spent long hours making sandwiches for hungry families. Teachers retaught lessons for students who couldn’t use the family computer during the day. Bus drivers drove wi-fi hotspots to neighborhoods with no connection. Counselors took call after call from parents in tears, just trying to juggle it all.

Educators across the country worked through the anxiety and unknowns, often while struggling to support their own families at home. As difficult as it has been, I have never been prouder to be a teacher. We put our shoulders back and did the work that needed to be done. We leaned on each other—even from six feet away—and carried the weight of this burden together. America’s students and families needed champions like never before, and they found their champions in educators. With all of my heart: Thank you for being the heroes we needed.

Photograph by Damon Casarez for TIME

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As we return to our classrooms this fall, it will take all of us coming together to keep our schools safe and open. We must remember that our enemy is the virus, not one another.

The pandemic has changed us. It forced our nation to adapt. It showed us how essential our schools are—not just to students and families but to our entire community. Right now, an enormous opportunity exists to transform education. We are coming together to give our children what they need to thrive—whether it’s access to technology or more school nurses. We are building a better education system, one where our students have the same great opportunities to learn, no matter where they live. We’re helping families get mental-health support and social services from a place they know and trust: our schools.

Educators, always remember that right now, someone out there is a better thinker because of you. Someone is standing a little taller because you helped her find the confidence she needed. People are kinder because you showed them what that meant. Your strength and resilience, your creativity and kindness, are changing lives and changing the world.

Our work has never been more seen. As our President sets the course of our country, there is an educator standing right beside him.

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