The ‘Abbott Elementary’ Teacher of the Year Is a Shocking, Politically Charged Choice

The ‘Abbott Elementary’ Teacher of the Year Is a Shocking, Politically Charged Choice

Abbott Elementary has a bounty of great teachers—who, yes, have plenty of flaws. There’s veteran Barbara (Sheryl Lee Ralph) and her pal Melissa (Lisa Ann Walter). Youngsters Janine (Quinta Brunson) and Jacob (Chris Perfetti) try incredibly hard to do their jobs, so they’re also in the upper echelons of the teachers at the school. When the Chief Education Officer for the Philadelphia Board of Education (and the local news!) stops by to award the Educator of the Year award to a teacher at Abbott, it seems like the winner could be any of these folks—right?

Wrong. Abbott Elementary throws us a curveball this week. Reader, I gasped when the real winner of the Educator of the Year was announced. How in the world could it 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-year teacher who wants nothing more than to become a principal.

It’s a fitting choice for the Philadelphia Board of Education to make in the universe of Abbott Elementary, because it feels like a similarly nonsensical decision that a real Board of Education might make. Gregory is uncertain about this title. Sure, it’s exciting; but again, wouldn’t Melissa or Barbara be a better fit?

The reasoning behind Gregory’s win becomes apparent, though, as soon as he steps into the awards ceremony where the BoE is set to bestow the title upon him. With over-the-top slam poetry and film crews prodding him with nosy questions about teaching, Gregory now understands that he’s been selected out of tokenism. A Black man teaching is rare, and by choosing Gregory as the winner, the BoE is only patting themselves on the back for hiring him in the first place.

This blatant (and clumsy) strive for more diversity/inclusion in teaching becomes more evident with the reappearance of Ashley (Keyla Monterroso Mejia). It’s a delight to see her again! But she’s there to accept Aide of the Year, a title that she’s completely undeserving of, considering she is, as we watched on the show, terrible at assisting. When she’s announced as the winner, the BoE representative (June Diane Raphael) makes a special point to stress that she’s a Latinx aide. How weird.

Gregory seeks counsel in Melissa—a weird choice, yes, as we’ve never really seen these two characters interact all that much. But Melissa is selected to give the speech for Gregory because the district likes to have a “diverse, kaleidoscopic POV to bridge the gap between culture and education.”

Ava (Janelle James) clears the air on that vague statement: “This white lady wants a white lady to do it because y’all been acting up this year.”

It’s a humorous situation, but it’s also a little dark—akin to the charter school issue earlier this season—because this is something that could (and probably did) happen at a real school. Gregory tells Melissa 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’re definitely not the best teacher in Philadelphia. Or this school. Or this grade. Or this classroom,” Melissa admits. “But I’ve seen you stick it out and improve week after week. You work really hard to get better, and you care. So maybe someday you’ll grow into deserving this award. But you know what? They’re not going to give it to you then, because you can’t choose when people acknowledge you.”

So, with Melissa’s advice, Gregory accepts the award—for his future self. This episode of Abbott Elementary is a wonderful, tricky tribute to the struggles of teaching beyond just the day-to-day squabbles with kids. What happens when upper management can’t recognize the true strength of its lasting workers?

And, of course, thanks to the big return of Ashley and the introduction of June Diane Raphael’s stilted character, the episode was a hoot, too. Though it’s hard to believe, there are just two more episodes left of Abbott Elementary Season 2—we’re savoring every last moment!

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