‘Abbott Elementary’: Teachers Can Relate to the Sad Reality of Teaching at Underfunded Schools

The ABC TV show Abbott Elementary is about an underfunded school. It draws upon the humor or relatable situations the way other workplace comedies like The Office do. As such, the show’s contents are as tragic as they are comedic. 

‘Abbott Elementary’ is a comedy filled with harsh truths

Abbott Elementary
(L-R): Tyler James Williams, Chris Perfetti, Quinta Brunson, Sheryl Lee Ralph, and Lisa Anna Walter in ‘Abbott Elementary’ | Prashant Gupta/ABC via Getty Images

Realism in working-class America has made its way into our entertainment. HBO’s South Side shows what life is like in Chicago, while Superstore tackled real issues, such as how retail employees dealt with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. In 2022, Abbott Elementary followed in their footsteps, making people think between bouts of laughter. 

The titular school showcases memorable characters who are funny enough to keep the audience laughing and realistic enough to garner empathy. This is not a mistake. The show wants to make the best out of a terrible situation without making the real-world issues the butt of the joke. In essence, the series doesn’t mock its subjects. And that’s why teachers took a liking to Abbott Elementary Season 1

The show puts a mirror to the system

Some of the most outrageous events from the show are not from the writer’s room but real-world situations the writers wanted to include. Sheryl Lee Ralph, who plays a veteran teacher on the series, spoke about this on a podcast.

“The book that’s missing the presidents? Oh, that’s real, that happened,” she said on The Takeaway. “You can go to that school right now and see that. The toilet not working, the water fountains with mold in them, shutting down parts of the school, that’s real. It happens. That’s why we want you to show it. That’s why we want you to see.”

A former teacher weighed in. Kenneth Avery, Jr. told NBC News that the show gives teachers something to grasp as an anchor point to real-world issues. 

“I think a lot of my teacher friends and I are talking about this show, it definitely gives us a common ground, a space to come together and talk about these issues,” he said. “And not in just negative ways, we also talk about solutions and what we can do to make education better.”

The grim reality of U.S. public education

The show takes everything to heart. It’s no mistake that the cast features non-white actors primarily in a school with an underrepresented student body. According to a recent study by The Century Foundation, U.S. schools are underfunded by nearly $150 billion every year. While the residents of their districts fund public schools, they often reflect societal issues beyond the school’s control. 

An affluent community can afford more funding with help from parents and boosters. Meanwhile, inner-city schools don’t have a safety net. This discrepancy is especially noticeable in Black and Latinx districts, where funding gaps lead to problems like the ones we see on screen. In a world where teachers often take the blame for the system’s shortcomings, this ignores the nearly $5,000-per-student deficit compared to affluent schools in thriving communities. 

The best comedies draw from real-world problems and comment on them intelligently. Abbott Elementary does this and makes sure that its laughs are not mean-spirited or empty. Instead, the sitcom takes findings like TCF’s and puts them in a medium that people are more likely to check out. For that alone, Abbott deserves its place inside the teacher’s lounge. 

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