Having had it on my Kindle app for ages, I finally finished reading Tony Danza’s 2012 book, I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had: My Year as a Rookie Teacher at Northeast High. Now that I’ve finally read this book that’s been sitting on my Kindle since January 2014, I’m left with a couple of thoughts. First, I’m really glad I finally read the book. Second, Tony Danza would have been a fine teacher. The kids who had him at Northeast High were very lucky to have him, if even half of what he’s written in this book is true.
I grew up in the 70s and 80s. I remember Mr. Danza on Taxi, but I especially remember him as single dad, Tony Micelli, on Who’s the Boss. I don’t remember him being a particularly gifted actor, but I do think he’s entertaining. In the 80s, he was also really cute. I was so jealous of Alyssa Milano, who played his daughter. I was jealous of her for many reasons, though, not just because she got to be Tony Danza’s sitcom offspring. Danza explains in his book that his character on Who’s the Boss, Tony Micelli, eventually goes back to college to become a teacher. As it turns out, Danza had always wanted to be a teacher, but got sucked into the wonderful world of show business instead.
Back in September 2009, Danza jumped at the chance when he got the opportunity to make a reality show called Teach: Tony Danza for A&E. Although the production of Teach ended prematurely due to “lack of drama” and Danza’s refusal to allow producers to manufacture it, Danza decided to stick it out at the high school for the whole year. He taught 10th grade high school English at Northeast High School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The series premiered on A&E in October 2010, and according to Danza, aired at a time when it was guaranteed not to succeed. Filming was mostly done during the fall semester of the 2009-10 school year, with a few unaired episodes filmed during the spring semester.
This book is about the whole year Danza spent teaching. Although I’m not surprised that Danza has the ability to write, I was surprised by how personal and poignant this book is. Yes, he’s an actor, but as I mentioned earlier in this post, I’ve never thought of him as an Oscar contender. Consequently, his voice rings true as he writes about how challenging his year was and how much he came to care deeply about his students and the teachers he met. I’m sure it helps that he’s also a millionaire and only taught one class, but… in all honesty, his writing came across as sincere to me. I’m sure that if any of Danza’s teachers are still alive, they were touched by his title. I believe he really means it.
I can see by the reviews left on Amazon, many of which were written by veteran teachers with decades in the field, I’m not the only one who believes Mr. Danza’s passion for teaching young people. He struggles with the decision to stop teaching. At one point, he candidly explains to one of his students who is tempted to quit trying that he and his second wife of decades, Tracy Robinson, are having marital difficulties. I see by Wikipedia that Danza did divorce his wife, but at the time he was teaching the class, he was struggling with the decision to split from her.
I noticed at least one instance in which Danza exercises some bad judgment, of which he bravely admits. He had taken his students on a field trip that involved an overnight and decided to have a drink in the hotel bar. Another teacher gave him a stern talking to about that, reminding him that they could all lose their jobs by drinking while supervising the kids. Danza also improperly uses the word “jettison”, which appears to be a common error among those who are vocabulary challenged. Danza used the word to mean “rocketed” or “propelled”. “She jettisoned herself to the front of the classroom.” However, the word jettison is defined as casting something off or discarding something, particularly on a sailing vessel or an aircraft. I’m a little surprised an editor didn’t catch and correct that error.
I was glad that Danza didn’t spend the whole book writing about the reality show. Instead, his focus was almost entirely on the students he taught and the other teachers and administrators at the school. He really comes across as a caring and nurturing teacher, which every child– particularly every teenager– needs. Most of all, he drives home the fact that teaching isn’t an easy job, nor does it pay a lot, but the personal rewards can be tremendous for those who can do the job and love it. Danza obviously loved it for the time he did it, although not enough to quit show biz and permanently jump into the education trenches.
I appreciate that Tony Danza took the time and opportunity to get in on this project. Was his year really like an actual teacher’s year? I’m not sure it was. For the first half of the year, there were cameras in the room. But he did stick around for the second half of the year and, though he doesn’t have to get by on a teacher’s salary, nor did he teach as many classes as “real” teachers teach, he did get a taste of what the job is like. I give him kudos for trying it, especially since he says that was his original career goal before he became a television star. It seems crazy that he “missed the boat” on teaching and became a celebrity instead… it’s probably usually the other way around, particularly for teachers in the performing arts.
Anyway, if you want the link to purchase this book… here it is.