I don’t know what kind of rock I’ve been living under for the past few years (oh yeah, a big, Australia-shaped rock), but I completely missed that in the fall of 2010, A&E aired a short reality/documentary series called Teach: Tony Danza, which followed Tony Danza as he taught grade 10 English in inner-city Philadelphia for a school year. It’s the kind of thing that’s just random enough, and just awesome enough, that I would have absolutely loved to watch it when it was on.
So when I discovered at work a few months ago that Danza had written a book on his experiences in the classroom, I added it to my mental list of things to read when I got a spare second. And then I promptly forgot about it until Sunday.
I was perusing through the audiobooks when I found a copy of I’d Like To Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had at a markdown price. With my employee discount, it rang in at under $12 – the perfect gamble to take on six hours of entertainment to see me through my road trip to and from Edmonton to visit Matt, who is doing some work there this week.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not always sold on audiobooks. Usually, I can read a lot faster than I can listen – and in the case of Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, which was my road trip pick back in November, I sometimes feel my attention begin to wander. But Tony Danza is different. I actually think this story works better as an audiobook than a real book because you can feel his passion and emotion come through more clearly. I’d wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone who is a teacher, is (like me) studying to become a teacher or who has ever wondered what teachers get up to all day. There’s a great review from the New York Daily News and you can also read an excerpt here if pages, rather than audiobooks, are your preference.
The basic premise is this: In 2009, with a cancelled talk show, a marriage on the rocks and pushing 60, Tony Danza (who has a degree in history, which I didn’t know) decides to become a qualified teacher. Through Teach For America (which I don’t entirely understand but appears to be some sort of summer camp-style program where skilled and qualified professionals do their teacher training), Danza gets the credentials you need to teach in Philadelphia, and then makes his way to Northeast High – one of the city’s largest and most diverse inner-city schools.
I have to give Danza a lot of credit. He is very clear from the outset that even though a reality show is being made about his experience, he is taking his year of teaching very seriously. He’s up at the crack of dawn, coaching football, organizing talent shows, taking his kids on field trips, planning Shakespeare lessons and grading papers. He starts a lunchtime mentorship group, the Half-Sandwich Club, and helps kids with everything from homework to planning birthday parties. And when the reality show is deemed to be ‘not interesting’ enough, Danza refuses to compromise by scripting scenes or manufacturing drama. While the show is cancelled and the camera crew is gone before Christmas, he remains with his class all year, showing staff and students that he’s committed to the experience – and to them.
I spent six hours in the car with this audiobook over the past couple of days and I think it was exactly what I needed. Sometimes, the prospect of becoming a first-year teacher (which, next year, will be reality for me) is really exciting, and other times, it’s scary – especially when, as Danza describes it, it’s a ‘second-act’ career. I’m going into a ‘second-act’ career too and even though I’m pretty young, it’s daunting to start fresh from the beginning again.
I found him really reassuring for a number of reasons, not least of which because he cries a LOT in his year of teaching. I anticipate some tears of my own as I spend more time in classrooms. It’s nice to know that’s sort of normal and that even Tony Danza cries sometimes. It’s also nice to see him use experiences from his first-act careers (as a boxer and an actor) as lessons for his students. I know I’m not pushing 60, but I’m not fresh out of university either and it’s really good to know that the years I spent working really hard, travelling the world, and figuring out which careers worked and didn’t work for me might contain lessons that benefit someone else as much as they have benefitted me. I know that this inspiring and moving book will now start slowly making the rounds – first to Matt and my mom, who are both teachers, and then to my Bachelor of Education friends.
This book also really made me want to go track down the seven episodes of Teach: Tony Danza. Check out the preview below. Doesn’t this look awesome?!