Teaching Profession

Teaching Is Hard. Take a Break, ‘Abbott Elementary’ Stars Urge Teachers

By Madeline Will — July 03, 2022 3 min read
161097 0093
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Teachers do vital work under difficult conditions—and they must take better care of themselves, two of the stars on ABC’s hit workplace comedy “Abbott Elementary” told thousands of teacher leaders and educators on Sunday.

On the first day of the National Education Association’s representative assembly, union delegates heard from Tyler James Williams, who plays substitute teacher Gregory Eddie, and Sheryl Lee Ralph, who plays the no-nonsense kindergarten teacher, Barbara Howard. “Abbott Elementary,” which follows a group of teachers and their principal at a Philadelphia public school, has connected with educators across the country, who say the sitcom is funny, relatable, and encouraging.

“When given impossible situations with limited resources and time, in every walk of life, educators get the job done,” Williams said. “Teachers are the most versatile and heroic workforce on the planet. Every functioning member of society owes a debt to you.”

See also

ABC's "Abbott Elementary" stars Quinta Brunson as Janine.
Quinta Brunson plays a 2nd grade teacher in a Philadelphia public school on the ABC comedy hit "Abbott Elementary." Brunson, who created the show, is the daughter of a teacher and has writers on her team who've been teachers.
Pamela Littky/ABC

He asked the crowd: “Were you a perfect student? Of course not. You were a gross, walking petri dish with the attention span of a goldfish. But against all odds, an educator taught you.”

Williams and Ralph both thanked teachers for their work. Playing educators on TV, they said, has been an honor.

“I don’t need to tell you how strong you’ve got to be to lift your students spiritually, mentally, and physically on your shoulders,” Ralph said. “I don’t need to tell you how outstanding you must be to worry about other people’s children more than you worry about your own at times. I don’t need to tell you about the miracles that you have made happen in your classrooms under sometimes some very stressful situations.”

But educators need to take better care of themselves, too, Ralph said. (She has some personal experience with teaching beyond the show: Many of her family members are educators, including her father, who was the first Black male music teacher in Connecticut.)

“Even Superwoman needs to send her cape to the dry cleaner,” Ralph said. “Some of you need to take a moment to literally breathe. ... Too many of you are waiting to exhale. You need to take a vacation sometimes. Some of you need to take a break, and get out of the classroom.”

Teacher stress has risen over the past few years and job satisfaction has declined, survey results show. Nearly three-fourths of teachers are experiencing frequent job-related stress and 59 percent say they’re burned out, according to a recent national survey from the RAND Corporation.

“Remember that none of this really happens the way it should if you don’t feel good about you,” Ralph told teachers at the union conference.

“Be good to you,” she continued. “The better you are to yourself, the better you can be to everybody else.”

Abbott Elementary on ABC.

“Abbott Elementary” creator Quinta Brunson (who also stars in the show as 2nd grade teacher Janine Teagues) told Education Week in January that her inspiration for the show came from her mother, a longtime Philadelphia kindergarten teacher. She said she wanted to honor teachers while also finding the humor in their experiences.

“Schools really represent a moral compass for so many kids. ... These people are like second parents to them, and without good teachers who lead many children to healthier lives and give them someone to look up to, I think that a lot of kids would struggle,” Brunson told EdWeek. "[T]hat’s the significance of schools like Abbott, where you have teachers, like a Barbara and a Janine, even though she’s annoying to watch on screen. Teachers like Janine mean everything to kids. They change their worlds and change what they think the world can be and what life can be for them.”

The second season of “Abbott Elementary” will premiere Sept. 21.

The actors’ speech was a moment of levity before the delegates began their business, which takes place July 3-6 in Chicago. Delegates will debate measures on gun violence, the role of school police, and the union’s response to the wave of anti-LGBTQ bills across the country, among other topics of discussion. On Tuesday, Vice President Kamala Harris will address the educators.


Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Science of Reading: Emphasis on Language Comprehension
Dive into language comprehension through a breakdown of the Science of Reading with an interactive demonstration.
Content provided by Be GLAD
English-Language Learners Webinar English Learners and the Science of Reading: What Works in the Classroom
ELs & emergent bilinguals deserve the best reading instruction! The Reading League & NCEL join forces on best practices. Learn more in our webinar with both organizations.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teaching Profession Opinion Why Is the Nation Invested in Tearing Down Public Education?
Education professor Deborah Loewenberg Ball argues that panic over test scores keeps us from building on the strengths of our children.
Deborah Loewenberg Ball
5 min read
Illustration of school text books and wrecking ball.
F. Sheehan for Education Week / Getty
Teaching Profession Teachers Censor Themselves on Socio-Political Issues, Even Without Restrictive State Laws
A new survey from the RAND Corporation found that two-thirds of teachers limit their instruction on political and social issues in class.
4 min read
Civics teacher Aedrin Albright stands before her class at Chatham Central High School in Bear Creek, N.C., on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. The class is debating whether President Trump should be impeached. The House impeachment inquiry into Trump’s dealings with Ukraine has become a teachable moment in classrooms around the country as educators incorporate the events in Washington into their lesson plans.
Civics teacher Aedrin Albright stands before her class at Chatham Central High School in Bear Creek, N.C., on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. The class was debating whether President Trump should be impeached. A new national survey found that a majority of teachers are now limiting instruction on political and social issues in class.
Allen G. Breed/AP
Teaching Profession 10 Major Challenges for Substitute Teachers
Substitute teachers want more support to do their jobs well. One state has identified their top concerns.
4 min read
Illustration of people climbing stacks of books. There are 3 stacks of books at different heights with people helping people climb up.
Teaching Profession What the Research Says How to Refresh a Dwindling Pipeline of STEM Teachers? Researchers Share Strategies
The pool of science teachers is getting younger and less prepared than it once was.
5 min read
A female teacher bends over an elementary school boy's desk to help him with the slide on his microscope.