‘Everything is at stake’: ‘Abbott Elementary’ star calls for higher teacher wages at Md. town hall

Abbott Elementary star and Emmy Award-winning actress Sheryl Lee Ralph (center) moderates an education town hall at Walt Whitman High School to kick off Teacher Appreciation Week. (WTOP/Luke Garrett)

The hit TV show “Abbott Elementary” chronicles the lives of teachers at an underfunded and mismanaged public school in Philadelphia. The show is a mockumentary, where the actors are filmed as if they’re subjects in an actual documentary.

While the show itself is fiction, “Abbott Elementary” star Sheryl Lee Ralph, who plays veteran teacher Barbara Howard, said the show accurately depicts how little teachers get paid for doing so much. For Ralph, that’s a problem.

“How do you expect people to make an actual living?” she said. “How do you expect people to do their best with our greatest natural resource, our children? They truly deserve more. They truly deserve better.”

On Sunday, the Emmy Award-winning actress hosted a town hall at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, Maryland, kicking off National Teacher Appreciation Week, which runs from May 8 to May 12.

Ralph said the week should be about one thing: more money for teachers.

“If you don’t want to pay teachers, what you are actually saying, out loud, is ‘I don’t want to educate our children,'” she said. “Everything is at stake when we cannot wrap our brains around a base level pay for all educators. Especially the ones who are carrying debt for their education to educate our children.”

It’s personal for Ralph as she comes from a family of educators. She said society’s emphasis on the value of education is not being reflected on the paychecks of those doing the teaching.

In her role as Barbara, Ralph said her goal is to highlight the teaching profession and help elevate the level of respect people have for it.

“I’m so thankful that we can raise up all educators in ‘Abbott Elementary’ for the good work that they do … Where what they do is not the butt of the joke, but the heart of the whole show.”

Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Monifa McKnight, who helped host the event, said the support from Ralph means a lot.

“Many look at the show and they see it as entertainment,” McKnight said. “But she actually brought … reality to what the show should highlight for America: we need to do more for our educators, we need to do more for our students. And that means funding.”

Luke Garrett

Luke Garrett is a D.C. native dedicated to journalism. He is a reporter and the creator, host and producer of the original WTOP podcast, “DMV Download.” The podcast debuted in 2022. On the show, Garrett takes a weekly look at the biggest stories and ideas in the D.C. region.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up