Best known for creating and starring in the hit television show “Abbott Elementary,” Brunson plays optimistic second-grade teacher Janine, whose goal is to meet her students’ needs and make a positive change in their lives. The mockumentary-styled sitcom uses humor to tackle the challenging issues facing teachers: lack of funding for public education, devasting educator shortages plaguing schools, the divisive politicization of education, and the chronic failure to pay educators what they’re worth.
“We are honored to present this year’s Friend of Education Award to Quinta, who has brought the everyday challenges and the everyday joys educators face to the forefront of the public,” said NEA President Becky Pringle. “She gets it. She sees our joy and challenges. ‘Abbott Elementary’ and Quinta’s character Janine have shown an authentic look at how educators can and do change students’ lives.”
Brunson grew up watching her mother — an elementary school teacher who worked in Philadelphia public schools — and cited her experience as inspiration for the show. Since its premiere in 2021, the award-winning and critically acclaimed show has become wildly popular among educators and non-educators. To ensure the show resonated with teachers, Brunson drew on her mother’s experience and ensured to hire writers who had experience with educators.
“I do know that we have heart in our show. And I know that we do show some very real things going on in the school district,” Brunson said in an interview with Education Week. “I want people to be moved to support schools and teachers in any way they can.”
On-screen isn’t the only place Brunson strives to make a difference. Last year, she partnered with Box Tops for Education to launch a campaign called #TeachersMakeUsBetter to make educators feel more valued and supported. Brunson and Box Tops also donated $20,000 to the middle school she attended in Philadelphia.
In the now-viral clip of her monologue when hosting “Saturday Night Live,” Brunson called for professional pay for educators.
“Teachers are people — not appliances,” joked Brunson. “So please remember how important teachers are, acknowledge the work they do every day, and for the love of God, pay them the money they deserve.”
The NEA Friend of Education Award is presented during NEA’s annual convention. It recognizes a person or organization whose leadership, acts or support have significantly contributed to improving American public education. Past recipients include entertainer Dolly Parton; disability rights activist Judith Heumann; leaders of the Public Broadcasting Service and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and several elected officials.
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The National Education Association is the nation’s largest professional employee organization, representing more than 3 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators, students preparing to become teachers, healthcare workers, and public employees. Learn more at .