What I Learned About Education Today from Abbott Elementary

December 13, 2022 by Mark Tweedy, Data Storyteller at OneScreen

Abbott E

In case you missed all the buzz about Abbott Elementary, it’s a mockumentary series about a fresh-faced teacher in her second year at a tough inner city school in Philadelphia. 

Teachers and staff face real-world worries like the lack of classroom essentials, students with behavior problems, teacher burnout and all sorts of personality conflicts in the wider educational community. 

Series writer/creator Quinta Brunson stars as the optimistic but naive 2nd grade teacher Janine Teagues. Through her eyes, the audience is introduced to some of the toughest challenges in education today. 

In the words of the jaded, tech-wary kindergarten teacher Barbara Howard (played by Sheryl Lee Ralph), “Teachers at a school like Abbott, we have to be able to do it all. We are admin. We are social workers. We are therapists. We are second parents - hell, sometimes even first. Why do we do it? It sure ain't the money.”

Why do they do it, then? Not just teachers, but all of the superintendents, office staff, IT specialists, security and everyone else who gives their all for public education.

That’s a very good question. Abbott Elementary may hold the answer but we’re only in season 2 so we’ll have to wait and see. 

In the meantime, here are just a few of the pearls of wisdom I’ve learned from this thoughtful show:

  • Acquiring funding for resources takes a different set of skills than teaching does. 

This sounds like a no-brainer but if it is, why are teachers still expected to do it? The series doesn’t shy away from difficult topics like how hard it can be for teachers to get just the basic tools they need to do their jobs. Research shows that almost a third of educators spend more than $1000 every year on essentials. In the show, Janine has to make a video to ask for supplies and hope it goes viral. It’s funny but that’s no way to run a public service.

  • Technology can solve all kinds of problems, but many teachers have good reasons for being skeptical. 

Janine looks up to Barbara as the voice of wisdom and experience and someone who seems to have all the answers. Barbara has seemingly seen it all in her 30 years (!) of teaching. Barbara’s wary side-eye of EdTech carries a huge amount of weight for those in her sphere of influence.  "I prefer the tried and true methods over what the latest doohickey is," Barbara stated flatly. To win over the Barbara’s of the world, classroom tech has to be simple, familiar and capable of delivering tangible results right away. Training must be more warm and personal than a video or an online knowledge base. Before Barbara will endure the vulnerability of learning something new in front of everyone, she has to feel like the new tool is as comfortable as a chalkboard. 

  • The responsibilities that weigh on a superintendent are often at odds with the criteria used to evaluate them.

At the start of the show, Principal Ava Coleman (played by Janelle James) was simply a selfish, vain caricature of an administrator. As the show developed, though, so did Ava, who has blossomed into a fan favorite, loved for her drive, charm and heart. While Ava’s flaws are played for laughs, the show makes it clear that she is pulled in different directions by the school board, parents and community leaders – all of whom are looking for specific outcomes. Every day she wakes up to the fact none of her efforts will matter if she can’t keep her job, so answering those who evaluate her must be her prime directive. Holding that precarious position indefinitely takes all of the skills of a rare individual. It also means that when Ava succeeds, her rising tide lifts all the boats at Abbott. 

Meeting in the Teacher’s Lounge

After two school years with these amazing individuals, I wish I could take them all to lunch and ask a million questions. My mind knows they are just fictional characters, but their struggles are so real it’s hard to remember that. If I could, I’d show them all the ways that the Touchscreen TL7 could solve so many of their issues.

We built the TL7 with suggestions from teachers, IT staff, superintendents and others across the spectrum of educators. 

They asked for more time to follow what they love, so we built time-saving tools like QuizWiz and EShare. They wanted a more personalized experience so we made it easier to set up your Touchscreen to match your flow. They asked for more flexibility so we built a range of options so everyone can choose their comfort level - from tech-wary Barbaras to tech-savvy Janines.  

Best of all, only OneScreen offers free, unlimited help and training from real experts, not just people to answer the phone. You can reach a Screen Skills Guru by video call, phone or chat when you need them most. 

Learn more about what the all new Touchscreen TL7 does for educators everywhere. More flow, less friction. That’s the one thing that everyone at Abbott Elementary could really use right now.

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