As the heartbeat of the hit ABC sitcom Abbott Elementary, Janine Teagues is a newbie second-grade teacher whose good intentions often land her in embarrassing circumstances. However, in the season finale of the first season, Janine finally wins the respect of her students – and fellow teachers – when, at the end of a field trip, she demands the children sit down on the bus ride back to Abbott Elementary. The moment felt earned. Series creator Quinta Brunson, who also stars as the clumsy but well-meaning Janine, has received widespread acclaim for the show’s authenticity and how she show cases young educators coming into their own.
“I think about it a lot, about how Janine may be the most child-like teacher to the audience or annoying, but that kind of teacher is the best teacher in the world to a kid,” Brunson told Okayplayer. “I think we have a lot of fun in her class, I think her energy is probably great for a second-grader – it keeps them coming back for more.”
Although Abbott Elementary was first pitched as an animated series before landing on being live-action and mockumentary-style, Brunson always looked to her enthusiasm of school and being taught by her mother, Norma Jean Brunson, in kindergarten. The Norma Jean in Abbott Elementary is kindergarten teacher Barbara Howard (Sheryl Lee Ralph) who Janine, accidentally, calls “Mrs. Mom” in the series’ pilot.
“I got to see up-close just how big the job was. I watched my mom work early in the morning and way after school was over, doing the parts of the job that you don’t see as a student at school,” Brunson said. “I think that gave me a better respect for teachers and ultimately made me a better student, because I look at all my [Abbott] students as full-fledged, well-rounded people. That definitely improved my attitude towards teachers.”
Abbott Elementary is a satirical look at public education which slyly notes how schools with a large presence of Black students are often under-privileged. Despite the show’s fictionalized school district being unable to provide much-needed resources – prominently seen in episode 12, “Ava vs. Superintendent” – Brunson says that what Philadelphia educators may have lacked in funding, they made up for in being accessible.
“There’s a good sense of community amongst the public schools in Philadelphia and I think that’s a huge effort of the teachers,” Brunson said. “[They’re] involved in their students’ lives, no one asked them to do that, they don’t have to do that, but a lot of them are way more involved with the students in the neighborhoods that go to the public schools. I think that’s really unique to public schools, understanding the environment and where the kids are coming from.”
Just in time for Teacher Appreciation Month, Box Tops for Education is partnering with Brunson, who’s also led Abbott Elementary marketing programs where the series has donated school supplies and even 150,000 meals to non-profit Feeding America. Now, the writer and actress seeks to pay it forward by donating $20,000 in Box Tops to her alumni grade school, Andrew Hamilton School in Philadelphia.
“Box Tops has been such a big part of my education. So when the opportunity came about to partner with them… I kind of jumped at it,” Brunson said. “It was something for me also to do outside of Abbott initiatives – which are fantastic and I love them – [but] I thought this was an opportunity for me as an individual to get involved with this 25 year-old legendary initiative with Box Tops. They’ve always been about children’s education being the foundation to achieving their fullest potential and we all know how teacher’s play such a vital role in that development.”
In episode three, “Wishlist,” the show captured how far educators could go for students to receive adequate supplies, even attempting Internet virality. Brunson views her Box Tops partnership as a privilege, further contributing to schools in Philadelphia and educators nationwide.
“I always felt like Box Tops brought teachers and students together in the classroom to unite common goals,” Brunson said. “I just love that because five dollars may not seem like a lot but for a bunch of different people it’s a good amount of money for a school.”
Inching towards the second season of Abbott Elementary, Janine remains in her teaching position while on a “break” from her longtime beau Tariq (Zack Fox), who moves to New York City. Brunson ensures that education will be upheld throughout the series, promising more laughs in future episodes.
“The main goal of Abbott is just [being] a comedy. I really hope we give people a place to come and enjoy a TV show, ultimately,” she said. “It’s wonderful that while doing that, it’s able to make educators feel seen and make them feel validated in their experiences. [There’s] been an overwhelming response of positivity about the show.”
While details about the second season are under wraps, Brunson says that character development is the main priority of Abbott Elementary, and that surprises will arrive in its own time.
“We’re in the writer’s room now and we really focus on building strong characters and stories first, then people audition. We don’t even really think about guest stars and it was kind of like that with the first season, too,” she said. “We had no idea we would even get some of the stars that we had because it wasn’t planned. We were fortunate that the people auditioned for those roles, but our goal is to write really strong characters and we believe the right actors will come.”
Along with using the Box Tops for Education app promotion, Brunson’s Instagram followers can comment or share a post a teacher who has made a difference in their life using the hashtag #TeachersMakeUsBetter.
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