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I Can’t Stop Thinking About How Good Abbott Elementary Is, Especially the ”Student Transfer” Episode

A thumbs up all around.

Abbott Elementary

Spoilers for Abbott Elementary episode five: “Student Transfer”

I recently decided to check out Quinta Brunson’s Abbott Elementary and found myself out of episodes to watch far too quickly. The mockumentary sitcom centers on a group of elementary school teachers in Philadelphia who are doing their best to work with limited resources. Those resources are, occasionally, squandered by their “shouldn’t be hilarious but I can’t stop laughing” principal, Ava Coleman, played flawlessly by Janelle James.

The series airs on ABC on Tuesdays (or, if you’re like me, Hulu on Wednesdays) and has been a true delight to watch. The chemistry and comedic timing with the cast is phenomenal, and as a 90s kid who grew up with best stepmom Sheryl Lee Ralph (Moesha’s Dee Mitchell), I’m delighted to see her playing the part of Barbara Howard, the older, wiser teacher that Brunson’s Janine Teagues looks up to.

Rounding out the cast is Tyler James Williams, who fans will recognize as the titular character in Everybody Hates Chris. He plays substitute teacher, Gregory Eddie, who is caught between a budding attraction to Janine, a desire to be a principal someday, and trying to subtly avoid try-hard teacher Jacob Hill, played by Chris Perfetti. Last, but not least, is Lisa Ann Walter’s Melissa Schemmenti, the firecracker teacher who truly has no time to spare anyone’s feelings.

I cannot recommend this series enough, but something about this latest episode, “Student Transfer,” really made me see just how special this show is.

Abbott Elementary episode five: “Student Transfer”

Janine and Jacob are put to the test as they deal with difficult situations in their classrooms. Janine, feeling some kind of way about getting a teaching review that said that praises Melissa over her, brags about one of Melissa’s students transferring to her class, assuming it’s because Melissa’s student likes her better.

I should note that Janine’s boost of confidence was fueled by Melissa poking fun at her about the review in an attempt to get her to not take it so seriously.

Janine ends up finding out that the student that transfers to her class, Courtney, is one of the toughest kids in the school, able to influence the entire class and derail whatever it is that Janine’s trying to do. Melissa had tried to warn Janine, but Janine brushed her aside.

On the flip side, Jacob’s class has taken to roasting him every day, which begins to affect his ability to teach.

The way these teachers adjust to their children’s needs is remarkable

There are plenty of examples from the last five episodes that show how these teachers navigate their classrooms, but this episode has my favorite (so far). Once Janine and Melissa finally decide to work out together they realize that Courtney is acting out because she isn’t being challenged enough.

What I like about the plotline with Courtney is that she isn’t belittled or demonized and, instead, her teachers pay attention to what she’s doing and work together to figure out the why instead of calling her a problem and ending it there. Melissa says something about how hard it is to deal with Courtney because, despite her actions and flippant attitude, she is excelling in her classes.

They recognize that she’s smart, she’s just bored, and I really like that they acknowledge her intelligence and use it as a way to realize the actual problem.

Abbott Elementary is a series where the teachers adjust to their children’s needs. Instead of labeling these kids as being wild and unruly, they work with them in a way that reveals that they are very much open to learning, you just have to go about it in a way they can get with. The teachers don’t walk around with an attitude of being right by default because they’re the adult in the situation, they actually analyze what’s going on and plan accordingly.

This is brilliantly showcased in Jacob’s plotline as he deals with the kids roasting him. He tries to respond on their level but he is terrible at coming up with insults, so his kids make him look like an absolute clown. In the end, with some unintentional help from Gregory, he takes the fact that his kids wanna talk shit about someone and incorporates it into his lesson plan.

His kids aren’t looked down on for wanting to crack jokes, Jacob just uses their desire to crack jokes to get them to learn.

The fact that it’s Black students getting this kind of encouragement, to the point that a white teacher chooses to sit in his discomfort in order to help the kids learn, is wonderful.

You have a lot more support than you think you do

During Janine’s attempts at understanding Courtney, Barbara and Ava bet on whether or not she’ll succeed. Even the school’s custodian, Mr. Johnson (played by William Stanford) gets in on the action. The assumption, of course, is that no one believes in Janine, as she is forever an optimist even if all the odds are stacked against her.

It doesn’t always work out for her, but the more seasoned teachers have been warming up to her, gaining something from her hopeful outlook while she comes to understand that there are benefits to looking at things realistically. This steady build-up of a lesson has been refreshing to see as both “optimism” and “realism” tend to be valued simultaneously in the show.

Again, the previous episodes have had good examples of that, but I feel like this episode really solidified the fact that Janine has more support than she thinks. She often ends up being humbled by the more experienced teachers (Barabara and Melissa) as she realizes that the “better” they all deserve isn’t always gonna be there for them, but not only does Melissa work with her in regards to Courtney, but it turns out Barbara didn’t bet against her.

Barbara believed in her.

So did Mr. Johnson.

Do the older teachers think that Janine is a bit much? Sure. But this episode really shows that they respect her and her outlook on things. At the end of the day, they aren’t betting against her and are willing to work with her.

Honestly, the moment it was revealed that Barbara bet on Janine’s success made me smile more than Janine did. Sometimes it feels like you’re the only one willing to take a chance on yourself then you realize, wow, it’s not just me.

Filed under moments I needed to see play out on television for my own self-esteem.

(Image: ABC/Gilles Mingasson)

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Briana (she/her - bisexual) is trying her best to cosplay as a responsible adult. Her writing tends to focus on the importance of representation, whether it’s through her multiple book series or the pieces she writes. After de-transforming from her magical girl state, she indulges in an ever-growing pile of manga, marathons too much anime, and dedicates an embarrassing amount of time to her Animal Crossing pumpkin patch (it's Halloween forever, deal with it Nook)