Award-winning actor Tyler James Williams’ on-screen portrayal in Abbott Elementary of first-grade teacher Gregory Eddie highlights the importance of having Black male role models in the classroom. However, his mission to ignite change within the education system isn’t just an entertainment persona but a passionate mission that extends offscreen.
What is missing in today’s school system to ensure students are motivated to learn?
La June Montgomery Tabron: Several things are missing in today’s school system because the structures are not established to support young people. We need a reorientation of the education system focused on the entire child development cycle, and we’ll find many interventions need to be in place. It’s all focused on the human interaction a child needs, inspiration, motivation, and critical learning tools. It’s a system that’s been broken for a very long time. I love Abbott Elementary as a show because it gives you that reality. It shows you the inadequacy and what we’re asking our teachers to do to fill a gap far larger than they are prepared to fill. Unfortunately, that’s the inadequacy of the system.
Tyler James Williams: Part of what’s also missing is a spotlight on what can be done. We often have a lot of conversations about the system and how it is failing, but then the conversation stops there. I decided to partner with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation because they’re working to make that change. We can shift this pessimistic view of where it is once we hear the stories of what is being done, and hopefully, we can get more support in the system, which is also missing. What Abbott Elementary does is humanizes teachers’ experiences in a way that makes it less of a political conversation and more of a human conversation. Through this show, people can connect the dots between the teachers in their community, their lives, and the Barbara Howards of the world.
Speaking of Abbott Elementary, if you could change one thing about your on-screen character’s teaching style, what would it be and why?
TJP: I wouldn’t change anything about his teaching style. Part of what I love about Gregory and his teaching style is it’s continually evolving as he figures out what his kids need, and that’s how you address inequity. There is no one way to handle any one thing or one kid. You have to be flexible and ask first, ‘What does that child need?’ ‘What does the community need on an individual level?’
That’s part of the conversation that has been missing is this opportunity to ask what is needed before dictating how it should be done. Hopefully, we can continue to do that work, and people can begin to look at it that way, that there’s no one right way to do anything. There is no one thing that every child needs. Every child needs something different. Every community needs something different. So I love that his teaching style is forever evolving.
Photo Courtesy: W.K. Kellogg Foundation
TJP: Part of the reason that would be important is because it meets the kids right where they are. We saw this in one of the earlier episodes of Abbott [Elementary], where we have this conversation about vocabulary and getting kids involved with the vocabulary they’re used to. Hip-hop is a part of our everyday lives now. It’s important to meet kids where they are and make them understand how we got to where we are.
What would that hip-hop curriculum entail?
TJP: I’m from New York, the birthplace of hip-hop, so I would start with KRS-One, LL Cool J, the people who laid the foundation of this so we can understand what it always was. It was a way to speak about the things in our community that nobody was speaking about and remind people their voices can be heard and can affect change. We screamed so loudly over hot beats that people eventually started to listen to our issues. The most important thing that would be driven home is that your voice matters regardless of how you use it, so use it to actually effect some good change.
We often hear about teachers’ mental toll and lack of funding. For somebody like me who wants to invest in children’s future, how can I go about and spark that change on a day-to-day basis?
LMT: That’s an excellent question because you’re a community resident and part of your community’s fabric. Your community needs you to be very much engaged in what’s happening with all of the local elections, school board elections, local mayoral races, and all of the places where you can use your voice to advocate for young people and equity of educational systems in your community. People are stepping up, and millages are now being passed in communities where people understand that access to resources and putting pressure on our public officials is critical. It’s not just looking for someone else to do what they need to do, but it’s everyone stepping up and doing what they can to improve and create equitable systems for young people, particularly in education.
Source: Black Enterprise