Tony Danza’s I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had
Book Review: I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had, by Tony Danza
“Never smile before Christmas…They will eat you alive.” This advice, given to countless new teachers for decades, is given to Tony Danza as he starts his next adventure as an educator. Danza’s warm banter makes me feel I have a front row seat in his classroom and to his dramatic moments—crying over classroom poor performance (his), enthusiasm for team sports (staying in Philly instead of returning to Los Angeles for Thanksgiving), encouraging other teachers in a talent show, and field trips to Washington DC and New York City. Extravadanza, the student run show, raises money for the crisis in Haiti—at every step you can hear Danza engaging students in their own learning.
Photo Credit: Thinkfactory Media/Barbara Johnston
His obvious extras -- products of filming a reality television show in the classroom -- like air conditioning, wifi, windows, and unlimited Xeroxing, are not to be taken lightly when considering public school teaching. Having and sharing YouTube and even the movie version “Of Mice and Men” do make a difference. Resources are a huge issue in teaching, and Danza does discuss how teaching 150 students well requires a superhuman effort on the part of educators. I loved learning about his rap songs, poetry contests, and ways to connect modern day kids to Shakespeare. Having daily feedback from a competent mentor is something that would help any teacher improve. He was lucky to be in a school with Small Learning Communities (SLC); like Danza, I got much assistance from this group when I taught 8th grade. Not every school has them, but you can see from his examples that SLC can be a lifeline for a drowning first year teacher.
Danza speaks to a friend, Bobby, a great teacher who retired at fifty-five because continuing to teach would reduce his benefits. Bobby tells him that it is hard to know if you are doing well or reaching students but not to give up! “The first year or two is hard for every teacher. You just keep trying. If you’re motivated, you do. The kids eventually see your passion and that’s what makes them buy in.” But Danza only has the one-year (actually one semester with the reality show), and wants to make an impact during his weeks in the classroom.
Students try to get closer to Danza, whether the camera crews are there or not. I loved the Half Sandwich Club and his willingness to share his low moments -- from being yelled at on the second day of school for not signing in, to his incredible times of connecting to students who really needed assistance. Danza’s ability to highlight the Olympian challenges and rewards of teaching shows that teachers get to make a difference in the lives of children. After finding someone on his team to coach Courtney on physics, Danza says, “The lesson is not lost. She overcame her doubts and triumphed. Hard work paid off.”
Personally, I think the story of Alex, the Poet Laureate of Northeast, who lost his family but is buoyed up by Danza's time commitment and personal interest in his story, shows how the direct attention of adults is all that most students need. Danza listens to Alex’s poetry and assists him in reaching out to the entire school; “Alex’s poetry lifts him like a life preserver.” Danza does confirm again and again how teachers need fewer students so they can focus the care that each one deserves, “...one kid at a time.”
Sadly, so much of teaching time is spent worrying about AYP scores and testing. Our politicians say they want to help. “Education is all we talk about in this country…but the problems keep getting worse. Why aren’t our kids learning?” Teachers, students, and our entire education system all need assistance and I am glad that Danza’s time in the classroom is being publicized, in order to highlight both the good and bad elements of daily life in the teaching trenches.
We certainly can't dispute Danza's articulate and dead-to-rights conclusion:
“The sheer logistics of teaching, counseling, comforting, coaching and inspiring 150 students each and every day are beyond the capability of most mortal human beings…All for less than the average plumber, real estate agent, or sales manager makes. Shouldn’t we value the job of expanding our children’s minds more than we value the job of Roto-Rooting our pipes? We say we do, but we never seem to put our money where our mouths are. [Teachers and students] need to be a national priority.”
Photo Credit: Deborah Wald
Lisa Niver Rajna, M.A. Ed., is our Geography Awareness Editor. She is
an accomplished travel agent, blogger, speaker, science teacher and
member of the Traveler’s Century Club, a unique travel club limited to
travelers who have visited one hundred or more countries. She traveled
across six continents with Club Med, Princess Cruises, Renaissance
Cruises and Royal Caribbean International. Look for her underwater as a
PADI divemaster,in the science lab at the Brawerman Elementary School,
or traveling in an exotic location, or at her sites, http://www.wesaidgotravel.com and http://www.scienceisntscary.net/
All photos courtesy and copyright Crown Publishing. We received a digital review copy of this book from Crown Publishing.