There are several uses of the verb “teach,” the following are relative:  to accustom to some action or attitude; to impart the knowledge of; to instruct by precept, example, or experience; and to make known and accepted.

These are the actions of Joyce Abbott (’83), a graduate of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES), a retired educator and United States Army combat veteran.

Joyce Abbott, Retired Educator

“Teaching was always in the bottom of my heart,” said Abbott, the daughter of a former teacher’s aide. Abbott’s mother reached the milestone of her 101st birthday earlier this month. “I came from a very caring household. I did everything I had to do in school so there isn’t one who sticks out in my early years,” said Abbott regarding influential educators.

There are two individuals at UMES who “stick out” to Abbott, business and economics professor Dr. Abdalla and associate professor of music and director of the Soul Explosion Marching Band Rev. Kenneth A. Martin Sr.

“He went above and beyond to explain things. He believed that you could do this. He was very encouraging,” she said about Abdalla.

“He used to get on us continually about doing the right thing. He taught us life lessons. He made sure we were on the right path and if he heard something was wrong, he got on you just like he was a parent,” she said about Martin.

The Philadelphia native researched in the library about HBCUs before deciding that UMES was the place for her. “I really liked some things that I saw about Maryland Eastern Shore and I went down to visit and I really liked it,“ Abbott said. She earned her bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1983. During her time at UMES, she was a majorette in the Soul Explosion Marching Band.

Joyce Abbott at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore in 1983 (J.T. Williams Hall in background).

After serving in the U.S. Army for a decade, 10 months of that period in combat during the Persian-Gulf War, Abbott entered one of the early cohorts of the ”Troops to Teachers” program earning her master’s degree in education.

“Being the youngest  of eight and most of my siblings went to college, I didn’t even know if college was for me. As a result of going to UMES, it made you believe in yourself, the staff encouraged the student body and really wanted to see you succeed. It was a good foundation for the beginning of my professional career because if I had not been successful there, I would not have been successful anywhere else,” Abbott said on the “very influential“ role of UMES in her life.

Abbott’s career in classrooms in inner-city Philadelphia had great reach as her students have matriculated and moved on to careers including award-winning television production.

”Your hard work, sacrifice, and passion is not going unnoticed,” Abbott said about teaching and what she hopes people take away from her story. “It’s not going to go unnoticed. To be impactful in the life of one child, you’ve made a difference in this world.”

Quinta Brunson and Abbott when
she was a student in Abbott’s sixth-grade class.

Abbott’s work in the classroom also reached outside the classroom as she and her students worked hard to organize a specific experience where her students traveled by limousine to an upscale restaurant in Philadelphia for a fine dining experience.

Abbott’s work was noted by her sixth-grade student Quinta Brunson, daughter of an educator who went on to earn a following on social media for her comedy and content creation and is now the creator and star of the award-winning television series “Abbott Elementary” on ABC Network. Brunson named the fictional public school in the tv series in honor of Abbott. Included among the multiple awards earned by “Abbott Elementary” (ABC Network) is the Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series (2022), the Golden Globe Award for Best Television Series- Musical or Comedy (2022), and the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Comedy Series (2023).

“I was shocked. I was humbly honored. It’s beginning to really sink in. I don’t think any teacher could imagine something like this because they pour in so much of their time and their life into their student population. To have something like this is really an honor,” Abbott said.

Abbott surprised her former student, Quinta Brunson, during Brunson’s appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live last year.

Providing advice to those who may be considering a career in education, Abbott says “You really have to have a passion for it. It’s not about summers off with pay. It requires a lot of work and when you are truly passionate, it’s really not looked at as work because it’s your passion and you’re determined to make a difference.” 

In recognition of Women’s History Month, Abbott says her mother and a young Black first-year principal named Fatima Smith are among the ladies whom she holds in high regard and appreciates their influence.

Abbott retired last year after a career spanning nearly 30 years in education both in the classroom and in administration within Philadelphia schools.

Photos: Joyce Abbott and Jimmy Kimmel Live/ABC Network

This content is published in recognition and celebration of Women’s History Month.

By Tahja Cropper

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