Tuesday, February 19, 2013

BOOK: I'd Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had by Tony Danza

I'd Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had by Tony Danza, 262 pages

First of all: the title. How perfect! I've actually had several former students who returned to teach at my school apologize to me for their behavior while in high school. Luckily, as frustrating as high school students can be, I know not to judge them on their time as teenagers in my class.

Reality Television: Did anyone else watch the A&E series, Teach based on Tony Danza's time in a Philadelphia high school? It was only six episodes long and aired in 2010, and the book covers the same material. Both the series and the book ooze with Danza's sincerity, and since I don't think he is a better actor than I imagine, I believe him. Danza took a lot of criticism for working as a teacher - it was only for the show, he just wanted to be on television, I actually buy his sincerity. (He originally thought he would become a teacher, but boxing and acting too over. At fifty-nine and out of work, he decided to try teaching for a year.) He continued to teach after the show gave up on him and his class for lack of drama, and finished his year.

Sidenote: Both Tony Danza and Jeff Conaway were on the 1970s television show, Taxi. Both reappeared on television in the late 2000s. Danza gave up his acting life to teach inner city students, and worked his butt off. Conaway appeared on Celebrity Rehab several times and sadly died in 2010. The ways their lives turned out could not be more different, and it increased my respect for Danza.

Danza as a teacher: Again, he truly wanted to do well. His respect for education and teachers is evident. He is however, an actor, with a 'look at me' mentality. All teachers need to have this to some extent if they are going to get up in front of a class of students everyday. He also acknowledged how much he talked and that his students kidded him about his big mouth. I think my biggest criticism of him as a teacher, is that he was more interested in teaching them lessons to learn from his mistakes, as opposed to creating a learner and teaching them how to learn. Again though, you can't argue that he wanted the best for his students, and really struggled with how invested he got in their lives, and realizing how little control he had over so much of their learning situations.

Criticisms: Many of the amazing things he was able to do (trips to Washington DC, New York and Broadway, video camera prizes for a poetry contest, elaborate scavenger hunts) were not realistic. He had the support of the production company, plus his money, to pull off some of these events. Hard for other teachers to compete with that. Also, his understanding of bureaucracy was terrible, and he was forever getting in trouble with the vice-principal for not following procedures, from simple things like signing in each day, to larger things, like not getting permission for students to take a field trip or having a drink at a bar while on the field trip.

The book: The book just flows along, and I really liked it. Danza isn't afraid to show the mistakes he made, and he made lots, or to talk about his sweat stains and how he completely forget he had a lesson plan on the first day! Each chapter has two sections: one about classroom and students, and the other about the staff and teachers. His respect for teachers and understanding about their frustrations never wavers. Knowing that there are people out there who do recognize the difficult position teachers are in, makes it easier to go in every day.