Abbott Elementary School has an abundance of great teachers – who, yes, have many flaws. There’s veteran Barbara (Sheryl Lee Ralph) and her pal Melissa (Lisa Ann Walter). Young Janine (Quinta Brunson) and Jacob (Chris Perfetti) try incredibly difficult to do their job, so they are also in the upper echelons of school teachers. When the Philadelphia Board of Education’s director of education (and local news!) stops by to present the Educator of the Year award to an Abbott teacher, it looks like the winner might be the one of those people, right?
Fake. Abbott Elementary School throws us a curve ball this week. Reader, I gasped when the real winner of Educator of the Year was announced. How on earth could this not be Barbara, thanks to her tenure and dedication to Abbott? No, the real winner is none other than Gregory Eddie (Tyler James Williams), a second-grade teacher who wants nothing more than to become a principal.
It is an appropriate choice for the Philadelphia Board of Education to make in the universe of Abbott Elementary School, because that sounds like an equally absurd decision a real school board could make. Gregory is uncertain about this title. Of course, it’s exciting; but then again, wouldn’t Melissa or Barbara be a better fit?
The reasoning behind Gregory’s victory, however, becomes apparent as soon as he enters the awards ceremony where the BoE is about to award him the title. With over-the-top slam poetry and camera crews pushing him to ask curious questions about teaching, Gregory now realizes he was rhetorically selected. A black male teacher is rare, and by choosing Gregory as the winner, the BoE is only congratulating itself for hiring him in the first place.
This blatant (and clumsy) push for more diversity/inclusion in education becomes more evident with the reappearance of Ashley (Keyla Monterroso Mejia). It’s a pleasure to see her again! But she’s here to accept Helper of the Year, a title she totally doesn’t deserve, given that she’s, as we’ve seen on the show, terrible at helping. When announced as the winner, the representative of the BoE (June Diane Raphael) is keen to point out that she is a Latinx aid. How weird.
Gregory asks Melissa for advice – an odd choice, yes, because we’ve never really seen these two characters interact so much. But Melissa is chosen to deliver Gregory’s speech because the district likes to have a “diverse and kaleidoscopic perspective to bridge the gap between culture and education.”
Ava (Janelle James) clears the air on this vague statement: “This white lady wants a white lady to do it because you all took action this year.”
It’s a humorous situation, but it’s also a bit dark – similar to the charter school issue earlier this season – because it’s something that could (and probably did) happen in a real life. school. Gregory tells Melissa that he doesn’t feel like he deserves the award (yet, at least) and that by not giving it to a more tenured teacher, the district is making a mistake.
“Yeah, you sure aren’t the best teacher in Philadelphia.” Or this school. Or this rank. Or this classroom,” admits Melissa. “But I’ve seen you hold on and improve week after week. You work very hard to improve yourself and you care about it. So maybe one day you will deserve this award. But you know what? They’re not going to give it to you then, because you can’t choose when people recognize you.
So, with Melissa’s guidance, Gregory accepts the award – for his future self. This episode of Abbott Elementary School is a wonderful and delicate tribute to the struggles of teaching beyond the daily squabbles with children. What happens when senior management cannot recognize the true strength of their enduring employees?
And, of course, thanks to Ashley’s big return and the introduction of June Diane Raphael’s staid character, the episode was a hoot, too. Although it’s hard to believe, there are only two episodes left of Abbott Elementary School Season 2 – we savor every last moment!
Keep obsessing! Sign up for the Daily Beast’s Obsessed newsletter and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, instagram And ICT Tac.