Cheyney University alum Joyce Abbott is passionate about teaching. Perhaps that explains why Quinta Brunson, creator, and star of the hit sitcom series Abbott Elementary chose to name the fictional school in the program after her. Abbott, who has been an educator since September 1996, believes the profession of teaching is far more than just a job. It’s a calling that comes from deep within the heart.
“I believe you have to be prepared to go above and beyond in order to be an effective teacher,” she said. “You have to give up your own time and understand you must build relationships with the parents, and that’s not always easy. I’ve visited homes in my efforts to understand my students.”
There have been times when Abbott has bought groceries for the family of a student or paid to have their lights turned back on. She’s had students come back to her later in life and tell her what these efforts meant to them.
“That means a lot, and it’s confirmation that I was successful in what I do.”
Abbott has an impressive list of credentials, accolades, and experiences that lend credence to her successful approach to education. She is currently the climate manager at Andrew Hamilton School, a K-8 school in West Philadelphia, where she is responsible for ensuring the school’s environment is safe and conducive to learning. Her inspiration has been her mother, who she said will celebrate her 100th birthday in March.
She served in the United States Army for 10 years, which included a ten-month tour in The Persian Gulf War. She earned the rank of staff sergeant. Abbott has a Bachelor of Science in business and economics from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore and a Master of Education from Cheyney University. In 2004, 2005, and 2007 she was listed in the Who’s Who Among America’s Finest Teachers. She will be retiring from the Philadelphia School District at the end of the year.
“When I first started at Cheyney University I was studying business administration because I wanted to go into business. However, I then decided to pursue my teacher’s certification because teaching was in my heart,” she said. “It was the best decision I made. I started with the School District of Philadelphia at the Shaw Middle School before I went to Andrew Hamilton Elementary.”
Abbott has been interviewed several times by the news media because of her perspectives on education, but most recently she has been in the news because of her connection to the hit television series Abbott Elementary. Brunson, the series creator, and star, was a student of Joyce Abbott when she was in the sixth grade.
“I actually learned about it watching 6ABC one night and I felt honored that Quinta named the series after me,” said Abbott. “Quinta was a shy student at first and gradually she came out of her shell. She was driven to excel, always striving for A’s. She wouldn’t accept a B and if she got a B she always said, ‘Next time I’ll get an A,’ and she would.”
In Abbott Elementary Brunson plays the role of Janine Teagues, an energetic and socially optimistic second-grade teacher. The show reflects the realities of modern urban public education, where teachers and school administrators are often challenged by a lack of funding. According to news coverage, the series is loosely based on the experiences of Brunson’s mother, who taught for 40 years in Philadelphia.
“She was working at an Apple store in Philadelphia and then transferred to an Apple store in Los Angeles,” Abbott said. “She was determined to be successful, and she was like that as a student. She refused to quit or give up. I’m so proud of her and honored to have played a role in the woman she has become.”