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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Sunday, March 3, 2024
Arts | TV

‘Abbott Elementary’ tackles harsh realities of our education system

“Abbott Elementary” premiered on Dec. 7, 2021.

The new ABC mockumentary-comedy show, "Abbott Elementary" (2021–), has been shooting to the top of everyone’s watchlist this winter and making waves in on-screen representation. The show follows a group of educators at Abbott Elementary, an underfunded public school in Philadelphia based on the realities of the American public educational system. The show is shot in the same style as the American "The Office" (2005–2013), with the educators being the center of an in-universe docuseries following their careers and lives. 

The show depicts the hardships underfunded and overworked teachers go through as they try to give the best they can for their children. With most of the cast being minorities, the series is able to show the struggle educators go through as they pull money out of their own pockets and work overtime to give their students a stable and loving learning environment. “Abbott Elementary” does a great job at showing the impact a single teacher can have on the lives of a student by giving them the resources and support to succeed at school.

The educators in the show also are able to represent teachers at various stages in their careers. The clearest way we see this dichotomy is between the new teacher, Janine Teagues, and the school’s older teacher, Barbara Howard. While Teagues is shown as a go-getter from the start, looking for new ways to help the school and how to contribute to the well-being of the students, Howard seems to take more simplistic routes. When the school needs more school supplies for their students, Teagues makes use of social media and TikTok to encourage donations while Howard uses the by-the-book list.When Howard’s route seems futile, it is Teagues who helps her adopt new classroom practices.

Teagues also learns from Howard that sometimes the old way is the best way to do things. When Teagues accidentally fries the electricity in the school or upsets the principal, Howard is there to help pick up the pieces and comfort her. When an even newer teacher, Gregory Eddie, enters the scene and has trouble with parents and students, both Janine and Barbara are able to impart their own knowledge and charisma onto him to help make him a better teacher. 

Not only do all the characters work towards being better at their jobs in the few episodes we have gotten, but they all also work to keep each other going. There is a shared understanding in the teachers of Abbott Elementary that they have a lot of responsibility for their students. There is also a shared love for teaching and guiding these students in their lives. The characters of "Abbott Elementary" truly make the show.

The show consistently displays the work it takes to be a good teacher in a low-privileged setting, taking on the roles of a parent, a friend or even a social worker. The teachers have to get their hands dirty in order to keep the school running. They have to jump through hoops to earn classroom basics and constantly find ways to make learning and going to school fun and wanted by the students. 

As mentioned before, what truly makes this series a must-see is the chemistry between the characters and actors. With a stacked cast including Quinta Brunson, Tyler James Williams and Janelle James, every minute of this show is full of hope, laughter and love. 

The realistic aspects of "Abbott Elementary" should give the show a sad or solemn tone, but the scriptwriters and cast are able to tackle these hard-hitting topics with light heartedness. This show not only brings light to the conditions underserved communities of color have to face in the educational system, but it also brings hope and knowledge that there are educators who truly care for their students.

By breaking up more heart-wrenching scenes — such as when our main protagonist has to watch her student catch up on sleep on the floor with teachers joking about “not asking the name of the supplier” for a new rug — the show keeps your attention without becoming overwhelming.

"Abbott Elementary" is a light hearted and much needed show that is both a learning experience and a good laugh. With its outstanding cast, witty writing and important messages, this is one show you cannot miss.

Summary The new ABC mockumentary brings humor and provides a platform to the issues confronting underserved public schools in America.
4 Stars