Tony Danza Goes Back to School — Reality Show Style

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.

Reality Show

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.

Honest Portrayal

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.

Early Assessment

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.

Your Thoughts

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


Sherry C.
Sherry C.7 years ago

I applaud his attempt and his obvious caring. However, I would like to point out that he thinks this is really, really hard and he has ONE CLASS, not a regular teacher's schedule.

Winefred M.
Winefred M7 years ago

Good for you Tony Danza!

Bonnie F.
Bonnie F.7 years ago

Just watched the show, and was humbled by Tony Danza's obvious sincerity and humility. He realizes that teaching is not one big song and dance act, and this isn't the 60's when learning disabilities was unknown as a legitimate problem. His lack of understanding at first of the legal issues regarding the resource room is understandable, considering he hasn't taught before. I understood his good intentions, and think he deserves a lot of credit.

Kay L.
KayL NOFORWARDS7 years ago

Totally unrealistic situation. Kids are going to behave (and be motivated) totally differently with a celebrity teacher while under the light of cameras and in the constant presence of a camera crew -- and knowing that any misbehaving they do will be caught on film for their parents to see, with no way of denying it, the way most kids do (mama's little angels are rarely angels outside of mama's sight).

gerlinde p.
gerlinde p7 years ago

probably would not watch it even if i had a tv.

Norma V.
Norma Villarreal7 years ago

Don't care much for relaity shows, but I will tune in on this one and see how Tony Danza makes a difference in the classroom.

Lisa Nelson
Lisa Nelson7 years ago

I don't watch TV anymore but this looks like it would be interesting. Maybe I will catch it at someone elses house. I am all in favor, no matter what the motive, of a favorable outcome. May he impact lives for the better!

ruth a.
ruth a7 years ago

I normally avoid reality TV like the plague, but I think I will check this one out.

Dianne D.
Dianne D7 years ago

Glad someone with fame puts it to good use. Those in the class probably have no idea who he is though, but at least he is trying to make a difference. I'm not a fan of reality shows so I won't be watching.

Judith C.
Judith C.7 years ago

Good for him!