Throughout our education journey we have numerous teachers and they all leave a different impact. When you really think about it, we sometimes spend years with teachers in classrooms and these experiences can shape who we become.
Comedian, actress and producer Quinta Brunson knows this all too well, which is one of the many reasons she created Abbott Elementary. The sitcom focuses on the day-to-day life of a second grade teacher in an under-sourced public elementary school in Philadelphia. Her mother was part of the inspiration for the show as she taught in similar conditions for 40 years while maintaining a genuine love for the job.
Like her mother, Brunson also has a love for education. That’s likely why one of her latest ventures is a partnership with Box Tops for Education for Teacher Appreciation Week (for many, May is also Teacher Appreciation Month). They’re launching a campaign called #TeachersMakeUsBetter, which aims to make teachers feel more valued, appreciated and supported. In addition to that, Box Tops for Education will make give a $20,000 donation to Andrew Hamilton Middle School in Philadelphia, which Brunson is an alumna of.
ESSENCE had a talk with the Abbott Elementary star and creator about her love for education, why she chose this partnership, and what’s in store for Season 2 of the hit sitcom.
ESSENCE: Can you tell us about the #TeachersmakeUsBetter campaign and why you think it’s important?
Quinta Brunson: Well, I’m so excited to partner with General Mills and Box Tops for this effort. I think it’s important because Box Tops was just such a vital part of my education. Like I remember the efforts to bring the Box Tops in and give them to your teacher. It just was a fond memory of bringing teachers and students together to better the classroom. And that’s why I think it’s important.
It continues to be that today–this way of supporting teachers in their classrooms that gets students involved [and] can get the community involved. One of the great things about this is anyone who [buys] General Mills products can download the Box Tops for Education app and enter the referral code, which is TeachersMakeUsBetter during the registration, and they can earn $5 for a school of their choice. And, you know, that can go a really long way. It may not seem like a lot but when you have a bunch of people bringing $5 that can really change a classroom. I myself will be donating $20,000 in box tops to my middle school, which is called Andrew Hamilton middle school.
What do you think are good ways to honor teachers beyond this campaign for both parents and schools?
It’s nice to let people know that anyone can show up to public town hall meetings about schools in cities [and] local meetings about public schools. It doesn’t just have to be someone who has a child in the schools or someone who’s related to a teacher per se, or is a teacher. It’s actually a matter of the public. So it’s important for the public to be involved in the public school issues and efforts in their communities.
I think another very easy way to help is giving a listening ear or a lending hand to teachers who are already in our lives. I think that matters too. I mean, for me, I have a lot of friends who are teachers and had been going through a rough time during the pandemic. And a lot of times just giving them an unbiased listening ear was very helpful for them and that’s something that anybody can do.
What role do you think teachers play in the everyday student’s life?
A lot of my beliefs are kind of echoed in the show, that teachers can be a plethora of things without knowing even. They can be moral compasses, they can act as mentors, sometimes parental figures to students who may be lacking one, role models. These are just some of the many things a teacher can do.
When you think about it. Many kids spend more time with their teachers than they do with their parents at home during the week. So, they’re a vital part of students’ lives. I think they’re impactful in ways that we don’t even realize in the moment. I’m now in my thirties constantly thinking about the impact that different teachers had in my life. There was no way for me to appreciate it then, but I appreciate it now. And I think that’s why their job is so big. You know, it’s life-changing.
What can we look forward to in Abbott Elementary Season 2?
In Season 2 of Abbott, I think more of the same amount of laughs if not more, but also we’re going to be telling even more nuanced stories. It was very important for us to, in the first season, kind of tell the unexpected stories.
We thought there were the stories people expect to see from a school show and there were the stories that people don’t know happen in a school setting. And those areas were more interesting to us. I think we want to continue to do that. It’s like telling the unexpected stories about school. Those are the things that I think helped educators relate to the show so much. Yeah, sure, picture day happens and school plays, but these are the real day-to-day matters that we’re trying to show. So I think that matters and I think that we’re going to do more of that. I’m already excited by some of what we’re coming up with and just excited to show these different behind-the-scenes looks into their lives.
If you had to be a teacher in real life, what subject would you want to teach and why?
I think English and that’s because I just love it. You know, some people really hate being corrected on their English. I actually love it. I really just appreciate English [and] my English classes and I think I would like to teach it to students. Not that they have to use proper English, but I think it’s good to know.
Which teacher left the greatest impact on you and why?
I would be doing a disservice to name one. So many teachers have been impactful in my life. I was a fortunate enough person to have many, good teachers—many great teachers. And I love that I had so many wonderful examples of teachers in my life. It’s hard to choose one.
What legacy do you hope this sitcom leaves?
I don’t know. I don’t think about that much. Just a funny show. I know there’s a lot of affinity for the show in the way that it portrays educators and it bringing to light important matters for educators, but you know, my ultimate goal and the goal of my staff was to just make a funny show for people to enjoy together. And I hope that that is what remains at the end of the day.