When Quinta Brunson was twenty-six, she was well-known in her role as a content creator for Buzzfeed. During Brunson’s time there, Buzzfeed garnered around 7 billion views a month, and she proved to be an important factor in the company’s success as she produced and starred in videos such as “What It’s Like Being Short” and “Things Siblings Do to Annoy Each Other,” amassing 12 million and 8.2 million views respectfully. In this sense, Quinta’s contribution to the company cannot be seen as anything less than extraordinary.
In just six years, Brunson has proved herself to be an unstoppable force as she has grown from her first television role in New Girl to her current role as the creator, executive producer, and lead actor of Abbott Elementary, the multi-award-winning television show.
Quinta Brunson’s Abbott Elementary succeeds not only because it is genuinely hilarious but also due to the majority Black cast it highlights, and how it illuminates the very real issues many educators face while working in underfunded public schools.
Quinta Brunson plays Janine Teagues, a second-grade teacher at Abbott Elementary who is portrayed as naive, ill-dressed, and overly optimistic, despite teaching at one of the worst schools in the district under an administration that lacks a strong commitment to the betterment of its students. However, Ms. Teagues’ unwavering commitment to her students is demonstrated by her enthusiasm, positivity, and willingness to push for change, often against administrative forces. While Janine’s colleagues understand the struggle that educators face from the school district and thus utilize alternative routes in resolving administrative issues, Janine’s positive and inexperienced mindset often causes her to go above and beyond in an attempt to repair issues above her purview. In one episode, we see Janine’s desperate attempts to fix the school’s faulty lighting; she skips multiple meals and ends up fainting due to exhaustion. Later in the episode, Janine’s colleague Ms. Schemmenti beautifully articulates the contrast between the strain Janine places on herself and the lack of interest from the more established teacher: “We care so much, we refuse to burn out. If we burn out, who’s here for those kids? That’s why you gotta take care of yourself.” The mockumentary style of the show calls attention to the reality novice teachers face in school systems who neglect self-care.
The strain caused by a lack of school resources is perhaps best shown through the character of Melissa Schemmenti, the beloved Italian-American second-and third-grade teacher who is known for her big personality and who jokingly seems to have “a guy” for every situation. In the Season 2 premiere, titled “Development Day,” Ms. Schemmenti is responsible for a combined class of second and third graders as a result of the teacher shortage affecting Abbott Elementary and many of the other local schools. Schemmenti is known for being resourceful and independent, giving her the ability to consistently provide the supplies needed for her students to thrive. One example of her resourcefulness occurs in the pilot episode, in which Schemmenti’s connection with the Philadelphia Eagles enables the teachers to get new rugs when the school’s funding is allocated inappropriately. Schemmenti’s plethora of connections might seem lighthearted and funny, but a deeper look into the inequality faced by underfunded school districts can illuminate this reality to the broader Abbott Elementary audience.
Many teachers who go into the field of education do so because of their passion for teaching and educating young minds. These young teachers want to make a difference in the lives of students; however, their eager motivation sometimes isn’t enough to combat the stress, burnout, and feelings of helplessness that arise when they are faced with a high list of demands coupled with insufficient resources. While many teachers work diligently to make the best of the limited supplies that they are given, it can quickly become frustrating to teach in an environment that is constantly taking more than it gives.
While the sitcom does shed light on the negative reality that teachers face, it also works to illustrate what makes a career in education so thrilling. From the close and family-like relationship that the colleagues have with one another to the effective support system provided, Abbott Elementary shows the authentic lives of teachers and manages to deal with heavy issues of economic and educational inequality in a comedic light.
Although sitcom viewers prefer shows that allow them to let their guard down, laugh, and escape their real-world problems, Abbott Elementary effectively manages to address real-world problems in a light manner that keeps its audience entertained and laughing. The sitcom is refreshing, as it has a commitment to speaking the truth and never fails to be funny in such a refined manner.