Created by Quinta Brunson for ABC, the mockumentary sitcom ‘Abbott Elementary’ focuses on the teachers of Willard R. Abbott Public School in Philadelphia. In particular, the comedy-drama focuses on the misadventures of Janine Teagues (Brunson), a wildly optimistic second-grade teacher whose cheerful attitude often contrasts with her coworkers’ jaded demeanor.
Revolving around the trials and tribulations of a severely underfunded school, the show tackles the challenges faced by overworked but dedicated teachers who brave all odds simply to ensure that their students receive the education and care that they deserve. We thus see the entertainingly chaotic environment of the elementary school and observe how the teachers hilariously try to deal with situations as wild as fires in wastepaper bins to malfunctioning toilets. Understandably, many fans are curious to know how much of the show is fiction and how much of it is based on truth. Without further ado, let’s find out if ‘Abbott Elementary’ is based on a true story.
Is Abbott Elementary a True Story?
‘Abbott Elementary’ is partially based on a true story. “‘Abbott Elementary’ takes place in Philadelphia and it is loosely based on my mom’s experience as a public school teacher in Philadelphia and she just had countless stories over her 40 years serving the Philadelphia school district,” revealed Brunson. Additionally, Brunson herself is familiar with the Philadelphia public education system and thus used her own observations to formulate the plot of the show.
“I was in her [Norma, her mother] kindergarten class, and after school, I would go to her classroom because she taught at the same elementary school I went to,” stated Brunson. “I was with her so much, and I would see what it really took to be a teacher.” In fact, the character of Barbara Howard (Sheryl Lee Ralph), a kindergarten teacher, is inspired by Brunson’s mother.
Moreover, Ralph, who lives in Philadelphia, too is aware of the condition of teachers and the country’s education system. “I come from a family of teachers,” confessed Ralph. “Do you know what kind of a heart it takes to be a teacher to mold little minds? It’s an amazing thing.” The show, filmed through the perspective of a single-camera documentary crew, uses humor in order to highlight the oft wacky but also deeply concerning problems faced by public school teachers across the country.
Being a workplace comedy, it also relies heavily on the quirky interactions between the fictional but multifaceted characters in order to score laughs from fans. “What I love about the format [comedy] is that it gives an opportunity for the audience to build a different relationship with the characters. I think teachers deserve that,” opined Brunson, talking about the show at ABC’s Winter Television Critics Association (TCA) press conference in 2021. “I had seen other teacher shows and it’s a lens on them that often can make them seem one-dimensional and they are the least one-dimensional people there are, it’s the least one-dimensional job.”
The sitcom also stays true to the culture of the City of Brotherly Love, incorporating relevant slang terms into its dialogues and referencing common local activities (such as eating cheesesteaks for lunch). Most importantly, the problems the school faces in the show, such as a lack of funding and a high turnover rate for early-career teachers, are based on the real-life conditions of public schools in Philadelphia and across the country.
The school and the characters might be fictional, but bits and pieces of their backstories certainly ring true. Plus, the name of the school too is a reference to Brunson’s childhood and hometown. “My 6th-grade teacher was Miss Abbott, and she was a fantastic teacher in my life,” said Brunson. “I made the first name of the school Willard because that’s Will Smith’s real name, and I just thought it would be funny to name it ‘Willard Abbott Elementary.’ A little nod to West Philadelphia.” Thus, ‘Abbott Elementary’ adds a generous amount of fiction and comedy to the real-life condition of the public education system in order to present a heartwarming show about hardworking teachers.
Read More: Where Is Abbott Elementary Filmed?