“Abbott Elementary” is a new ABC series centered around elementary teachers in an underfunded Philadelphia public school. Premiering in December 2021 and capturing the hearts of schoolteachers and students nationwide, I find myself missing the wacky mockumentary that recently ended its first season. “Abbott Elementary” is a refreshing comedy that talks about real issues, highlights Black joy and seems inspirational without even trying.
It’s a show that is so painfully needed as it focuses on ordinary Black people. It doesn’t feel like some fictional place far removed from our reality. In fact, each character reminds me of someone I know, like that one teacher from third grade, or the one lady from church – they’re so realistic and different from anything I’ve seen before.
Most TV shows I’ve been watching these days depend on main characters who go through traumatic events (“Euphoria”), characters who are stuck on the same issues for seasons (“Grownish”) or have casts that despite excellent writing lack a significant amount of color (“New Girl”). In “Abbott Elementary,” these characters are fleshed out people different from each other in their personalities but shared in their motivation to help their students (besides Ava).
“Abbott Elementary” takes such a regular part of life and adds a new meaning to it. It’s easy for me to look back at my elementary school and think of all the things I did as a student, but it’s not so easy for me to think about how much work my teachers put in. I now have a fresh understanding of how hard it must be to be surrounded by children who expect so much when teachers are given so little. There were so many things I didn’t understand when I was younger, and this show does a great job at my random questions like why gifted and talented programs exist or how the smartest kid in class can cause the most trouble. Not only does “Abbott Elementary” explain these questions, but they show teachers’ decisions play a large part in how a child can view themselves and their education.
I think it’s important to mention that “Abbott Elementary” is organically funny in a refreshing way. It’s filled with situational humor, sneaky looks at the camera, and dry sarcasm. I laugh so easily and it’s hard to explain why something is funny. One of my favorite comedic elements of the show is the way that the teachers and staff are able to tease each other. They make jokes about each other the same way I joke around with my family and friends, picking on meaningless things we do until everyone has been sufficiently roasted. The light-hearted banter really makes the staff team seem like a true school family, an experience that makes me think of my elementary experience.
My elementary school was a majority-Black charter school in Milwaukee, not just in the student population but the teachers as well. When the students learn from people who look like them, it creates an atmosphere of mutual understanding and it makes the school feel like a second family. I think that’s why I love “Abbott Elementary” so much, it reunites the soft nostalgia of elementary school with my current knowledge of how unfair the school system can be. It doesn’t shy away from serious school topics like underfunding, gifted and talented programs and inadequate school lunch, but it also doesn’t make all of these issues the focus of the school. Instead, we see the steps the teachers take to give their students their best.
It reminds us that we will always be lacking something, the school system simply wasn’t created for Black people, but through it all, we persist. We laugh, we love, we grow and we learn from each other.
There’s a quote from a teacher on the show that has stuck with me since I heard it: “My students do not need to feel less because they do not have stuff. We talk about what they do have, not what they don’t.”
That is what “Abbott Elementary” does for me, it reminds me that no matter how hard school gets or how insecure I might feel at UW-Madison, I do have things. I have friends, family, and past and present teachers who want me to succeed. I have people I can joke around with and small moments of joy every day. But, on those days when I feel like I’m the only one struggling with life and school, I can look to “Abbott Elementary” to pick me back up again.