Broken lights, no glue: 'Abbott Elementary' gets teachers talking

In the second episode of “Abbott Elementary,” a new ABC mockumentary about a group of (mostly) dedicated educators at an underfunded pub...

In the second episode of “Abbott Elementary,” a new ABC mockumentary about a group of (mostly) dedicated educators at an underfunded public school in Philadelphia, a second-grade teacher named Janine decides to fix a ceiling light in glittering hallway that the school had ignored.

“The most experienced teachers are used to giving in,” says Janine, the bright-eyed protagonist (played by the show’s creator, Quinta Brunson), “but me, I’m young, lively and I know where they keep the scale.”

For Maurice Watkins, a 28-year-old music teacher in Maryland, Janine’s approach to caring was ridiculously familiar. Just recently, he had gone to a discount store to buy mops and brooms to clean the floors in the classrooms of the three public schools where he teaches. While traditional classrooms undergo regular cleaning, the spaces where he teaches music and the orchestra do not.

“As a teacher, you’re left to fix it yourself,” said Watkins, who works with students in grades four through six. “Almost every day I go through one of these situations.”

(Fortunately, Watkins’ attempts at janitorial duties didn’t go sideways like Janine’s: after adjusting a loose wire, much of the school’s electricity went out.)

Six episodes, Brunson’s “Abbott Elementary” has quickly become a gossip among teachers who see themselves and their colleagues reflected in the show’s main characters, who are repeatedly pushed to the limit by administrative chaos, paltry resources and the antics of their students. . On social networks, some the viewers gushed How? ‘Or’ What Reliable the show is for them.

Ratings have been strong so far, with over 7 million total viewers across all platforms in approximately the first month after the premiere, according to ABC. (There’s also the Hollywood buzz: on Jimmy Kimmel’s late-night show, the host brought Joyce Abbott, Brunson’s sixth-grade teacher whom she named the show, bringing the actress to tears.)

The teachers say they recognize the staff at the fictional school in their own hallways: the young teacher who is too new to be cynical, the selfish principal, the veteran ace teacher who is stubbornly set in his ways, and the teacher white man who falls on himself trying to appear progressive around his black students and colleagues.

Watkins said the day after the first episode of “Abbott Elementary” aired in December, “every teacher at the school was talking about it.” For some, however, it hit too much close to the house.

“Some teachers I know can’t even watch it,” Watkins said.

Teachers say they strongly identify with the challenges that Janine and her colleagues face on a daily basis: a persistent lack of funding, student behavior issues and difficulties in introducing new educational technologies.

“D – all of the above,” said Alisha Gripp, principal of a charter college in Kansas City, Mo. One aspect of the show she totally doesn’t identify with, however, is the incompetent principal of the school, Ava Coleman (played by Janelle James), who spends her time trimming her Chia Pet and ranking student records by who has the hottest dad.

“I think she’s hilarious – but I’m not like her,” Gripp said with a laugh.

Gripp, who was an educator for 17 years, said she thought ‘Abbott Elementary’ was a more realistic portrayal of teaching than many other Hollywood fare, including “Boston Audience”, a Fox drama by David E. Kelley. This show tended to lean into melodrama in the fictional high school where it was set, making Gripp think, “They’d be fired; they would be fired; this kid would be suspended.

“It’s really cool to have a more realistic, but still entertaining upbringing,” she added.

Much of the show’s background comes from Brunson’s mother, who was a public school teacher in Philadelphia for 40 years, according to two of the show’s executive producers, Justin Halpern and Patrick Schumacker. The producers and writers also interviewed teachers, school staff and board members about their work.

Many plot points come from real-life educators, including the main arc of an episode in which Janine is extremely successful at using TikTok to ask people to donate school supplies. It seems both funny and sinister because she has to resort to social media for basic materials like scissors and glue.

The TikTok episode reminded Kristina A. Holzweiss, a 52-year-old former teacher and librarian who is now an education technology specialist at a Long Island high school, of a time when she independently raised more than $100,000. to buy enrichment several years ago. materials like Chromebooks and a 3D printer for his library. This was before TikTok took off, but teachers could use a website called DonorsChoose, which helped them with crowdfunding for their classrooms.

“Teachers shouldn’t have to do this; it’s not in our job description,” Holzweiss said, “but teachers always put their students first.”

For some, a show that spotlights hardworking and committed educators is especially welcome right now. As schools across the country reopened after prolonged pandemic shutdowns, teachers were placed at the center of battles over mask mandates and in-person versus remote learning.

The difficulties of teaching during a pandemic – as well as long-term problems with low pay, benefits and irregular hours – have contributed to a nationwide labor shortage in schools, which have struggled to find replacements for sick teachers and teachers who have resigned.

“When the pandemic happened and everything shut down, teachers were heroes,” said Jennifer Dinh, a 31-year-old second grade teacher in Chino Hills, Calif. “But as soon as the next school year started, everything went out the door.”

“Abbott Elementary” tackles the issue of teacher burnout from the get-go, showing a young teacher walking out of the building carrying a box of her things and raising a choice finger as she walks out. (“More sales than a bakery,” jokes Barbara Howard, played by Sheryl Lee Ralph, who has taught in the school district for 20 years.)

One of the themes of the show is the clash between young, newer teachers like Janine, who learn the physical and emotional consequences of trying to fix a dysfunctional school, and more experienced teachers, who have learned to accept certain things – a flickering light, for example – to avoid burnout.

“If we run out, who is there for these children? asks Melissa Schemmenti (played by Lisa Ann Walter), an outspoken Sicilian American second grade teacher.

After more than three decades of teaching, 57-year-old TV fan Jocelyn Hitchcock is determined not to burn out. After 20 years as a music teacher, she became frustrated with dwindling arts funding and turned to core subjects. Last fall, Hitchcock began teaching at a small elementary school on the Walker River Paiute Reservation in Nevada.

Her school recently faced a severe shortage of teachers (the principal had to teach in the classroom), and she now spends time before and after school tutoring children to help them make up for deficits in education. learning created by the pandemic.

In “Abbott Elementary,” she says, she finds validation in seeing people on television going through what she goes through day-to-day.

But because the show is set in a non-pandemic world (at least so far), Holzweiss said she thinks the show lacks an exploration of the biggest challenges facing teachers right now: hybrid teaching, shortage of staff and students who are academically and socially backward.

“It’s an entirely different world now,” she said.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Broken lights, no glue: 'Abbott Elementary' gets teachers talking
Broken lights, no glue: 'Abbott Elementary' gets teachers talking
Newsrust - US Top News
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