Eighties sitcom star Tony Danza goes back to school in a new reality show on A&E called Teach this fall. The 59 year-old actor returned to his hometown of Philadelphia last year to teach 10th grade English at Northeast High. The documentary aired its first episode this week.
Unlike his first year teacher peers, Danza opened his learning experience to the scrutiny of not just students, staff and administrators, but to the cameras as well. The last being a selfless act that, as a former teacher, I applaud. Teaching is not a profession that anyone can do, nor is it something one just wakes up one morning and declares him or herself a master of. Teaching is hard. Danza shows his audience just how hard, and yet equally rewarding, it can be.
Danza the Actor
I giggled a bit at the premise of this new show. Danza the actor is a staple of my childhood, having watched him on Taxi and Who’s The Boss. But I also know that he went to college to become a teacher, studying at the University of Dubuque, which is located in my hometown in Iowa. And I know something about life’s opportunities side-tracking a person and how sometimes life brings us back around to long forgotten dreams.
The first episode of Teach: Tony Danza brought me back sharply to my own first years as an English teacher. I taught in five different schools over the course of my 20-year career, and each new assignment required me to start over in some ways. The nervousness, dropped balls and the need to connect daily with the students show clearly, and the transparency and honesty of all involved in Teach is as admirable as it is — hopefully — enlightening.
Not as Easy as It Looks
Two scenes resonated with me. The first was the opening day of school as Danza rambled through his opening remarks, revealing probably too much and maybe being a bit overly self-deprecating, but so real and genuine that it was hard for his students to be too critical of him in their later assessments for the confessional style camera that is standard reality show fare. The second scene involved him teaching a lesson where he misplaced a handout and then went on to essentially do all the work for the kids while they watched in bemusement.
They struck a chord because I have been him — more than once — in front of a room full of kids. The school’s principal tells him at one point that “everyone thinks they can teach”, but the reality is that everyone cannot. Very few people will ever be stars, and even the best teachers will admit that it’s a profession that challenges them every day.
Teaching is About People
One of the most touching things I saw watching Danza struggle through his first week was the way he reached out to kids, parents, and other staff. He talked a lot, but he listened too. Teaching is a people intensive job. It is more than subject matter, even on it’s easiest day.
Danza’s confessional assessments of himself were generally right on. I thought he was a bit hard on himself, but that’s where good teachers go more often than not in their quest to be what students need.
It’s refreshing to see a television show dedicated to portraying teachers and teaching in real and positive light. So much of the current conversation on education and its reform is lead by people with no real background, and less actual experience, standing in front of a room full of children expecting to be taught.
Danza talks about the pressure — from kids, parents, peers, society and himself. It remains to be seen if he pulls it off, but judging from his first week, I think he will do his students, and himself, justice.
Have you seen Danza’s Teach? What did you think? Is the premise helpful to education or does it exploit the school and students? Share your opinions.
photo credit: thanks to netmonkey via flickr