Is Abbott Elementary a Realistic Portrayal of Teaching?

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When Abbott Elementary premiered in late 2021, the show was an instant success.

Creator and Star Quinta Brunson skyrocketed to fame, and Abbott Elementary and its cast were nominated for and won numerous awards.

What makes Abbott Elementary work is its ability to tackle complex issues within the education system through humor and sensitivity.

The Whole Gang - Abbott Elementary

The show has done an excellent job of reaching viewers and making us laugh, but how well does Abbott Elementary portray the realities of teaching?

Abbott Elementary is a low-income public school that faces real challenges involving funding and recognition.

Makin' Money - Abbott Elementary Season 2 Episode 13

The show sometimes has to bend reality to create story drama or get big laughs, but overall, it's a reasonably accurate look at what life is like for teachers in public schools.

Funding is a Major Issue in Public Schools

Abbott Elementary absolutely nails the difficulties many public schools face when dealing with limited funding.

The show tackles this issue right from the get-go.

On Abbott Elementary Season 1 Episode 1, Janine's classroom rug is ruined, and she learns there is no school money to replace it. She'll have to replace it herself.

Janine collecting signatures - Abbott Elementary Season 2 Episode 19

She needs this rug. It's the only way to get her students to sit quietly for storytime.

Though the show takes a humorous approach to solving this problem -- Melissa uses her shady contacts to procure a new rug -- the issue is a serious one.

Teachers all across the country are forced to use their own resources to buy supplies for their classrooms. This is not a problem unique to Abbott.

It's not unusual for teachers to build wishlists for their classes to solicit donations (another issue portrayed accurately on Abbott Elementary) or pay for supplies out of their own meager paychecks.

It makes sense that the show gets this major education issue right.

Quinta Brunson attends the 74th Primetime Emmys at Microsoft Theater

Quinta Brunson's mother was a teacher for forty years, and Brunson is from Philadelphia, where the fictional Abbott Elementary is set.

She's approaching these issues from a place of experience. When handling something as delicate -- and at times controversial -- as education, it's essential to do it right.

Abbott Elementary's Teachers Have Real-Life Passion

Abbott Elementary also gets another aspect of teaching right: the passion teachers have for their jobs.

Teachers don't do it for the money; that much is evident from the low pay and long, stressful hours.

Barbara and Melissa High Five - Abbott Elementary Season 3 Episode 6

Teachers teach because they want to help kids and see the value in an educated society.

Brunson's Janine Teagues is the personification of this passion. Is she a little over-the-top in her excitement for her job? Sure, but that makes her such a delight to watch.

It's not just Janine who puts her heart and soul into her job.

Every school has a veteran teacher like Barbara, who's seen it all and still loves what she does.

Young go-getters like Gregory and Jacob can be found roaming the halls of any public school.

Gregory and Jacob - Abbott Elementary Season 3 Episode 6

Like Gregory, there's always a teacher or two vying for an administrative position. And any teenager will tell you they have at least one teacher who tries -- and fails -- to be cool like Jacob does.

Even among teachers who seem jaded, like Melissa, there's still a love for the students that keeps them coming back each year.

On Abbott Elementary Season 2, Melissa faces a combined classroom and too many students.

Overcrowded classrooms are a common concern in public schools, and the show does a great job of portraying how a seasoned teacher like Melissa gives her all to make it work.

Melissa Smiles With a Salad - Abbott Elementary Season 3 Episode 6

Schools and Districts Often Clash

Abbott Elementary's clashes with the Philadelphia School District really hit home for anyone who has worked in education.

In one early episode, the teachers are given a laughably cheap gift from the district. Though this might seem like a plot point for comedic effect, it's actually a reality in many schools.

After a challenging year of teaching, teachers are often rewarded with a chocolate bar or gift card as a "thank you" from their school district.

Of course, as we mentioned, teachers aren't in it for the money, and they certainly don't do it for the accolades.

Barbara Smiles in Blue - Abbott Elementary Season 3 Episode 5

However, a little appreciation goes a long way when teachers shell out their own money for supplies, endure threats from aggressive parents, and spend their free time writing lesson plans and grading papers.

Public schools like Abbott also have difficulty getting what they really need from the district.

During Season 3, Janine works for the school district and tries her best to get resources for Abbott, but she finds herself up against numerous hurdles.

This is a sad reality for so many schools. Often, the people at the district level don't see the day-to-day struggles of the teachers and students.

Or if they do see it, they're powerless to help. The red tape Janine must navigate to get any funding or resources to Abbott is a genuine concern in many school districts.

Janine Smiles Season 3 Episode 5

Abbott's Students Mirror Reality

Though the show focuses on the lives of the teachers, Abbott Elementary knows what it's doing when it comes to student life.

The Abbott Elementary Season 1 episode "Desking" perfectly and hilariously portrays what happens when a viral trend makes its way through a school.

In this episode, students learn about a trend called "desking," in which students film themselves jumping from desk to desk without touching the floor. The teachers then band together to stop it.

Every teacher has war stories of trends they battle in the classroom, from bottle flipping to fidget spinners to TikTok dances.

Gregory Smiling - Abbott Elementary

With the rise of cell phone use amongst younger and younger kids, teachers at all grade levels worry about students filming videos in their classrooms.

The Abbott Elementary Season 3 episode "Smoking" tackles this issue when a student films the Abbott teachers discussing their various vices, such as smoking and vaping.

Teachers must be constantly vigilant and assume they could be recorded at any moment.

Where Does Abbott Elementary Get It Wrong?

Like any TV show, we must suspend our disbelief when watching Abbott Elementary occasionally.

Janine at the Water Cooler - Abbott Elementary

While the show does a great job of addressing real issues facing schools nationwide, there are some areas where it falls short.

As a former teacher, I couldn't help noticing how much free time these teachers seem to have during the school day.

Barbara gets her nails done during lunch, and other teachers leave campus to grab a sandwich. Teachers always seem to have time to congregate and talk.

Though every teacher's experience differs, most will attest that their days are packed.

Teachers get their lunch break at the same time the students do, so they often only get 20 minutes to eat. That's certainly not enough time to get your nails done or even pop out for a quick bite.

Jacob Talks with Janine - Abbott Elementary Season 3 Episode 2

Teachers are also responsible for the students in their classroom at all times. It is all but impossible for a teacher to even step out for a bathroom break, let alone visit with another teacher.

We know Abbott Elementary needs to show us the friendships between these teachers so we can let this one slide. But it may give people outside the world of education the wrong idea.

A common rebuttal when teachers ask for better pay is that teachers "get the whole summer off." Showing teachers sitting around chatting during their school days might support the argument that teachers don't work enough.

Another unrealistic aspect of Abbott Elementary is the behavior of the principal, Ava Coleman.

Ava outside school - Abbott Elementary Season 2 Episode 19

Don't get us wrong -- we LOVE Ava. She brings so much humor to the show, and she's always fun to watch.

We need Ava to balance out Janine's over-eager optimism.

But even with blackmail in her back pocket, a principal would never get away with behaving the way Ava does.

The relationships between teachers and administrators can be anything from friendly to contentious, but it's clear Ava's blatant disregard for the school's needs is over-exaggerated.

Ava's relationships with the teachers do improve as the show goes on, but it's unrealistic that she would be allowed to remain in her position very long.

Mural Arts Ava presenting - Abbott Elementary Season 2 Episode 17

We'd never want an actual principal like Ava, but we can't imagine Abbott Elementary without her, and we're glad we don't have to.

Overall, Abbott Elementary gives us a mostly realistic look into the lives of school teachers in an underfunded school district.

When the show bends reality, it does so for comedic effect and to keep us hooked.

This former teacher finds a lot of validation in the halls of Abbott Elementary.

Teacher District Gift - Abbott Elementary Season 2 Episode 18

New episodes of Abbott Elementary air on ABC and all episodes can be streamed on Hulu.

Let us know how you think Abbott Elementary portrays the realities of teaching.

Hit the comments below with your thoughts!

Shela Ward is a senior staff writer for TV Fanatic. You can follow her on X.

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Abbott Elementary Quotes

He fine. Can I have your fake brother's real number? I'd like to climb that family tree.


Student: Mr. Eddie, I accidentally brought my seed to my mouth and accidentally ate it.
Gregory: Well, let's think about it. Did you also swallow a wet paper towel?
Student: Yes
Gregory: Ok, let's go to the nurse.