HomeTelevisionA Teacher Reflects on Abbott Elementary Season 3

A Teacher Reflects on Abbott Elementary Season 3

Abbott Elementary
(Photo Credit: ABC/Gilles Mingasson)

Abbott Elementary is more than just a great show; it is one of the only pieces of mass media eager to explore the realities of public education in a thoughtful manner. Most properties about education are only interested in hacking away at the institution or oversimplifying it down to a patronizing savior narrative. As a result, this incredible sitcom means the world to a lot of teachers. In fact, this reviewer (who is also a public school teacher) needed some time to sit with the latest season before offering a final review – and why not? Abbott certainly deserves the same care and attention that it offers public education. 

Overall, Abbott Elementary Season 3 was a success. Once again, the season centered the work and sacrifice of teachers in its storytelling and invited fans (along with quite a few celebrities eager to find a place in Quinta Brunson’s orbit) to join the celebration. This season took on the momentous topic of administrative bureaucracy in public education, and if nothing else, confirmed that the heart of public education beats much louder in the classroom than the cubicle. 

On top of that, the season seemed to pay off the on-again, off-again romance between Janine (Quinta Brunson) and Gregory (Tyler James Williams). This is both exciting and worrisome, because even an implied confirmation of a television relationship runs the risk of taking the wind out of the sails of the show; fortunately, in this case, the show has already set up some hurdles for this upcoming romance. Exploring the question of how our two consummate professionals will maintain appearances in front of their students and coworkers offers a well of rich material for the new season. Plus, there is a full, talented ensemble looking for room to shine.

It wasn’t just Janine and Gregory moving forward this season. Hardened Philly second-grade teacher Melissa Schemmenti (Lisa Ann Walter) got to project her personal strength when she broke it off with her serious boyfriend; he decided to go for a grand gesture instead of honoring her needs. Janine’s mentor and hero, kindergarten teacher Barbara Walter (Sheryl Lee Ralph) had to face some of her personal foibles when she was taken to task for forcing her life view on others and refusing to adjust her methods to accommodate a valuable new library program; it was particularly rewarding to watch her take these notes to heart and grow. Even mentors aren’t perfect. Additionally, well-intentioned history teacher Jacob Hill got to enjoy a more two-sided bromance with his pal Gregory; it’s always nice to see Jacob as more than the butt of a joke (of course, that’s fun, too). 

Of course, It almost goes without saying that Janelle James and William Stanford Davis continued to feast on every second of screen time they got as Ava Coleman and Mr. Johnson. Ava’s slow roll toward a more professional demeanor took a few baby steps forward, and the mythos surrounding Mr. Johnson achieved exponential growth. We learned all about his political career and world travels. It was exciting to watch him carve out a bit more space for himself as a core cast member. 

In fact, the only real flaw in the season stemmed from a limited timetable in the wake of the writer’s strike. This didn’t leave enough time to execute Janine’s administrative arc with the same depth, love, and attention to detail that often defines the show; but there was a ton of potential. The Abbott Elementary’s Season 3 premiere established a very compelling character in Manny (Josh Seguera); he was a somewhat naive administrative type who was a bit more wrapped up in big ideas than execution. Nevertheless, he stood out from the rest of the administrative pack by showcasing a genuine willingness to learn and sharing genuine respect for the teachers in the trenches. Unfortunately, he didn’t get a chance to offer much more than a handsome smile to shake Gregory’s confidence about his chances with Janine (in fact, the extent of Gregory’s jealousy crossed a pretty toxic line). A fuller version of Manny could have shown him move on from the position, use his charm to start advocating in earnest for the schools, or even choose to pursue a teaching career himself. 

Of course, Abbott is an excellent show, so they didn’t completely miss the bus on their administrative arc. For instance, Manny and some of the yes men seemed genuinely confused when Janine was reluctant to take credit for her career day and library program. On the one hand, this was a positive message for Janine as a professional who is too hard on herself and would benefit from taking pride in more of her hard work. On the other hand, the scene effectively communicated that “credit” is the real currency in the central office. We didn’t spend a lot of time with the district crew, but we spent enough time to see Manny’s lackeys bemoan their own failed attempts at acquiring “credit” for their work. Similarly, the ruthless efficiency with which the otherwise stagnant district office was able to throw together a party for pending new hire Janine reinforced the notion that self-promotion and personal rewards rule the day in the halls of power.

…and if none of that worked on you, good ol’ Keegan-Michael Key tagged in as the Superintendent for a few episodes to do his thing and make it clear that his interest in the school system stopped and started with finances. He only ever had one question: is it free? Not once did we hear a creative solution or compromise from up on high. 

So where does Abbott go from here? This reviewer would love to see the show unlock some of that potential energy that Manny brought to the table. We certainly need to continue to explore the administrative influence on education. While the teachers at Abbott Elementary have become a found family and they’ve created a welcoming space for their students, they will need something to aspire to in the coming seasons. Janine wasn’t quite able to throw a perfectly-controlled party, but perhaps she and the team can utilize those skills to affect change on a larger level and inspire educators in all corners of the system to chase creative solutions. 

It’s easy for education to become reactionary, let’s hope this show can help us celebrate the power of proactive education. In any case, Abbott Elementary remains an elite show, and the creative team absolutely deserves all of the praise and positive attention it has generated in the press. This teacher will certainly be ready and waiting to tune in when the next season drops. 

Abbott Elementary Season 3 is currently streaming on Hulu.

Randy Allain
Randy Allainhttps://randyallain.weebly.com/
Randy Allain is a high school English teacher and freelance writer & podcaster. He has a passion for entertainment media and is always ready for thoughtful discourse about your favorite content. You will most likely find him covering Doctor Who or chatting about music on "Every Pod You Cast," a deep dive into the discography of The Police, available monthly in the Pop Break Today feed.

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