TV Show Review: Abbott Elementary

Some Background

Abbott Elementary, a mockumentary style sitcom, aired its pilot episode on December 7, 2021 and throughout its 13 episode first season, has not missed a beat on delivering belly-aching laughs and satirical (but truthful) commentary on teaching and schools. Created by Quinta Brunson, the daughter of a teacher, Abbott Elementary follows teachers from an underfunded school in Philadelphia and the different lengths they go to in order to provide the best for their students. Abbott Elementary also features a Black-led cast, including Tyler James Williams from Everybody Hates Chris and Sheryl Lee Ralph from the original Dreamgirls cast on Broadway.

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The show follows main character Janine Teagues, a second year teacher, who is energetic, hopeful, and somewhat naive in her undertakings at school. Through Janine, viewers meet varying teachers that you could quite possibly see if you were to walk into a school today. There’s Barbara Howard, the 20 year veteran teacher who is able to line her kindergarteners up without a peep from them. Melissa Schemmenti, another veteran teacher, who has all of the connections to be able to support teachers in getting the things they need like rugs, school supplies, and more. There’s Jacob Hill, another second year teacher who so desperately wants to be liked by the kids that he will go to any length. Greggory Eddie a substitute teacher who is wondering each day how the school is running. Finally there is Ava Coleman, the principal who never taught a day in her life and makes decisions so baffling, the teachers are always left picking up the pieces.

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My Thoughts

Abbott Elementary is pure joy. When recommending this show to others, many have said, “Claudia, why would want to watch a show that connects to your job?” Well, reader, that’s because although this is about an underfunded public school (which I can relate to), the show is comedic enough to make the difficulties I face every day, funny. From the pilot episode of seeing teachers struggle to get funding for a classroom rug to seeing the teachers build relationships as colleagues through their common interests and struggles, Abbott Elementary is extremely entertaining. Each episode follows the group of teachers through a new challenge from classroom behavior management to burnt out light bulbs. Yet within these challenges, there are glimmers of hope within the Abbott teachers through their students. For example, after a school power outage during record breaking temperatures, the teachers set up chairs on the front steps of the school, while the children play in the fire hydrant water full of smiles and laughter (with reminders to the kids not to drink the water). With each challenge comes words of wisdom from the veteran teachers such as Melissa sharing with Janine that, “we care so much we refuse to burn out. If we burn out who takes care of these kids?”

Barbara: “Janine, teachers at a school like Abbott, we have to be able to do it all. We are admin, we are social workers, we are therapists, we are second parents, hell, sometimes we are even first. Why? It sure ain’t the money.”

Melissa: “I can make more working the street, easy. Look we do this, because we are supposed to. It’s a calling. You answered”

-Episode 1: Pilot

Unfortunately, much of the relatability of Abbott Elementary is due to the truth behind underfunded schools with teachers creatively finding solutions to problems, having to ask outside donors to fund their classrooms, or even using their own money to support their students. Yet, Abbott Elementary is not only making the news for its perfect score on Rotten Tomatoes, but also for Quinta Brunson’s incredible actions. For example, Brunson used the marketing money for Abbott Elementary to instead support real life teachers by purchasing school supplies. Brunson leads the show with compassion for educators that are so resilient each day and find joy in the smallest things with their students. The show itself was actually named after Brunson’s sixth grade teacher Ms. Abbott because she had such an impact on her.

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Considering how relatable Abbott Elementary is, there are moments where I have said to my partner while watching, “there is no way that would happen in a real school.” For example, it seems that although the five teachers we follow teach all grade levels from Kindergarten to Sixth grade, they all have the same prep periods and lunch. As a result, they are always spending time together! I wish I had the ability to meet with my colleagues as much as the Abbott teachers because I definitely could learn more from my team members and I would love to actually get to know them outside of the confines of our school.

With all of this in mind, I am a huge fan of Abbott Elementary and will be impatiently waiting for season 2 to premiere this fall. Until then, I will be trying to write down all of the funny things my kindergarten students say each day so someday I can write a book or create a TV show of my own.

You can watch Abbott Elementary on Hulu or live on ABC when it returns for season 2 during the fall of the 2022-2023 school year!

Claudia Neu has a passion for language immersion and intersectional children's literature. When she is not working with children or reading, you can find Claudia cuddling with her cat or trying to keep her houseplants alive. Check out her instagram @claudianeureads for more book recommendations and reviews. Favorite genres: queer literature, contemporary fiction, and young adult.

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