There’s a new ABC TV show that’s catching people’s attention. “Abbott Elementary” is a comedy filmed as a mockumentary, much like “The Office.” But instead of following the weird situations that happen in the office of a paper company, this show tells the story of a group of teachers at a public school in West Philadelphia.
While the show is meant to be funny, and definitely hits the comedy mark in many scenes, it also draws attention to some of the most glaring issues in our education system.
The main character, Janine, is a positive new teacher who believes she can change her school to make it a better place for her students. However, her dreams are often met with resistance due to an administration that doesn’t listen and the other, more seasoned educators telling her that nothing will ever change.
These other educators might seem cynical at first but, in reality, they care a lot; they’re just trying to survive a system that doesn’t support them or their students. As the one teacher says in episode two: “We care so much, we refuse to burn out. If we burn out, who’s here for these kids? That’s why you gotta take care of yourself.”
And teacher burnout and retention rates are no joke, especially since the pandemic started. Many teachers are over-worked for an underpaid job in an under-staffed school, which has led to teachers leaving their jobs in droves, making it even harder on the educators left behind.
Teacher burnout isn't something new, either. We see this burnout all the time in educators who believe in inclusive education for all students but don’t feel supported by their administration or colleagues. Fighting for change in your school isn't always easy, and it can be a lonely road.
But Janine continues to fight for change anyway. Janine’s main mission is to help get funding for her school, which we see is horribly underfunded from scenes that include broken toilets and a lack of Elmer’s glue. The teachers don’t have simple supplies and are often left to their own devices to fix their decaying school building. While her mission to get ordinary things like pencils for her students might seem hilarious, it’s all too real. There are plenty of teachers out there who are using their own money to help supply their classrooms.
And as the teachers struggle, so do the students. “Abbott Elementary” might not focus on the student experience, but one can easily imagine how their education is being affected by all these issues.
Even though “Abbott Elementary” is, in some ways, a goofy show that’s easy to turn on after a long Tuesday, it’s also a grim commentary on the current state of our schools. And Janine’s story leaves me begging these questions: How will Janine and our real-life educators find the strength to keep going? How can we fix an education system that seems so broken?
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Kayla Kingston is the Communications Specialist for MCIE. A recent graduate of the University of Dayton, she loves reading, writing, and supporting all things inclusion.