Actor Tony Danza decided several years ago to try something new after his ABC talk show was canceled — teaching. He has a teaching degree from before he became an actor, so during the 2009-2010 school year, he was Mr. Danza at Northeast High School in Philadelphia.
Now Danza has published a book, titled “I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had,” that chronicles his year in the classroom. He previewed an excerpt on “Today”:
ROOM 230. First day of school. I unlock the door and try to wrap my head around what’s about to happen here . . . in my classroom . . . where I’m Mr. Danza. That Mister alone takes some getting used to — a whole different kind of Boss. At Philadelphia’s Northeast High, only my fellow teachers get to call me Tony. School rules. This gig isn’t acting, it’s for real. Real kids, real lives, real educations at stake. And any minute now my students are going to walk through that door.
Engage the students. The mantra that was drilled into my head during teacher orientation starts playing like a bass drum in my chest. One of my instructors rolled her eyes when she said it, and then she added, “No one ever seems to question why the burden is all on the teacher to do the engaging, when we ask so little of the students, or for that matter, their parents.”
Her vehemence startled me. “I never thought of it that way,” I told her.
“No,” she said, not unkindly. “But I promise, you will.”
It’s stifling. I turn on the AC — a luxury I’m grateful for — and double-check my room. It looks as good as I could possibly make it in my week of prep. The institutional beige cinder-block walls and the desktops are scrubbed so clean even my mother would approve. I dusted the bookshelves, squeegeed the windows, and installed dispensers of hand sanitizer by each door — an attempt to defend my students against the swine flu epidemic that’s threatening the nation. This last touch, I hope, will show the kids that I sincerely care about their well-being and not that I’m a germ freak. I’ve also decorated the walls with fadeless blue paper and encouraging banners, which say things like THE ONLY PLACE SUCCESS COMES BEFORE WORK IS IN THE DICTIONARY and my favorite, NO MOANING, NO GROANING — if only I could follow that advice myself! Above the blackboard, I’ve glued big letters to spell out: TAKE PART IN YOUR OWN EDUCATION.
The experience was made in to a reality show by A&E called “Teach: Tony Danza,” but it wasn’t your typical “soft scripted” reality show. Danza insisted the students not be produced or exploited — he just wanted to let the cameras roll and maybe they could do some good. The show is available on DVD and “I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had” is on bookshelves now.