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TV Review: A Teacher Rates Teach: Tony Danza

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Teach: Tony Danza is a reality show on A&E currently running on Friday nights. It recently completed its first season and is not slated for a second. In the series, Tony Danza, actor made famous by shows Taxi and Who’s the Boss, actually teaches one class a day at a Philadelphia high school. The cameras were right there in the classroom and it makes for some interesting content, even though it isn’t a realistic portrayal of teaching. It raises awareness of demands on teachers as well as the needs of this country’s students. Below is a sort of “reality check” I offer viewers from the perspective of a public school teacher with 12 years experience.

Many people wrongly assume that teachers simply ask kids about concepts and then talk about them. This is false. Teachers must teach kids new material daily and then check for understanding. Tony Danza asks kids what they know about things which is not teaching. Teachers teach first, then ask. When they fail to teach, this is known as “forward questioning.” It is a big no no because it just doesn’t work. Danza loses a point for using forward questioning throughout the episodes.

Danza does not stay focused and on topic. This is a nightmarish trait for a high school teacher, or teacher of any grade for that matter. Students need to be guided carefully and clearly through new concepts for them to take hold. Danza is an actor/entertainer and this is not what works with kids to teach them a year’s worth of standards. His values are hand sanitizer and raps about mythology. These things have nothing to do with creating growth on a standardized test which most public school teachers are expected to do every year. This takes more skill than acting or tap dancing. I think this series shows that without preaching.

One thing to note is that Danza appears overwhelmed throughout the episodes. The viewer should note these facts:

He taught 28 kids 45 minutes a day.

I teach 104 kids for 6 hours a day.

When he is overwhelmed by his heartless principal and assistant principals, we as viewers need to remember he is not even doing a quarter of the work an ordinary teacher must do. There are many scenes where he is helping coach the football team, which are useless and off topic from the show’s premise. There are also too many chunks of time devoted to Danza’s daughter and to fights breaking out, which also really have nothing to do with understanding teaching. You would think that in one year they’d have gathered more footage of Danza becoming a proficient teacher.

In closing, while it may seem I am not a fan of this series, I do recommend it. It shows inadvertently what we teachers have to deal with on the job. Danza probably went into this thinking that because he is an entertainer he could succeed. Teaching is far more than that. You must engage the learner with creative methods. If you fail to do so, your life and career can become unbearable. I think watching this show will cause viewers to have more respect for teachers, despite Tony Danza’s foolhardy shortcomings. I would hope the phrase “anyone can be a teacher” would be ameliorated by this show into something like “it takes a special person to teach.”

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About Damien Riley

  • http://heloise8.wordpress.com/ Heloise

    I haven’t seen this one. But teachers live lives of quiet housekeeping in their rooms. What we really do you never see on TV or in movies LOL.

  • Brendan

    I am a teacher. You ask questions before you teach to activate prior knowledge. This way kids can make connections. You are inaccurate and not on point in your criticism. Thank you, goodbye.

  • http://www.dynamitelessonplan.com Damien Riley

    @Brendan: “Activate Prior Knowledge” can indeed include questions but not about the concept or vocabulary that has not been developed. Prior knowledge is then used to develop a new concept. In the example I gave he was asking kids to tell him about something that was not prior knowledge. In my opinion, I am neither inaccurate nor off point in my criticism of Tony Danzas teaching.

  • http://www.dynamitelessonplan.com Damien Riley

    @Heloise: That is so very true. Thanks for saying it!

  • Greg

    I’m also a teacher and I strongly disagree with the writer’s conclusions.
    Asking questions at the start of a lesson is fine as long as it’s done in proportion. As noted, it activates prior learning (concatenation) and/or stimulates interest in the topic.

    I also find it very wrong for the writer to asses Danza’s classes from a technical perspective when we see probably less than ten percent of the actual class. The activity such as the “rap” was clearly meant to be a light-hearted exercise to allow students to engage in teamwork and demonstrate learning. It’s not fair to criticise him for that.

    Finally, the writer mentions workload but clearly Danza had a lot of other work going on. Activities such as the football team coaching were clearly pushed as a sideline story for the benefit of viewers and once again, it’s hardly a legitimate criticism of Tony as a teacher to slate him for being on a reality show. I disagree that dealing with fights cannot demonstrate teaching, in some cases, it can. I felt Danza’s mediation meeting was impressive.

    In short, the only area where I agree with the writer is that Tony did seem to talk too much and run off topic too often, but based on the very small amount of class time we saw, I’d say he still had the chance to become a decent teacher. However, I understand he’s now stopped teaching anyway.

  • http://www.dynamitelessonplan.com Damien Riley

    I thought I was defending all we do as teachers. Not even 1% of my job descriptrion is represented by that show.

    Having said that, I liked the show and Tony Danza did a good job at a difficult role. My aim with this piece was to defend teachers from mis-conceptions the show might potentially create.

    Asking questions during activate prior knowledge should be about simple stuff the kids already know. I apologize I have made 2 teachers frustrated for saying that but it is the textbook fact. Furthermore, I’m a certified trainer by DataWorks in Explicit Direct Instruction and have been coached to not “forward question” as Danza does in the show.

    Anyway … sorry if I turned any other teachers off. This is a fun show and you should watch it. -The “author” as I am diplomatically referred to as in the above comment. :)

  • http://www.dynamitelessonplan.com Damien Riley

    [Edited]

    Danza’s questions are fine but they show a teacher who has not learned the futility of forward questioning. It is true sometimes questions are good but I felt his were too abstract right away.

  • http://www.dynamitelessonplan.com Damien

    I’m the author of this piece. Thank you for sharing your opinions.

    Questioning at the APK stage of a lesson is indeed a great idea when the kids know the prior knowledge.

    I stand by my review but I will add that I respect Tony Danza for taking on a small aspect of being a teacher in front of the camera. It must have been really difficult.

  • http://www.dynamitelessonplan.com Damien Riley

    @Heloise: Thanks for your truthful input!

    @Brendan and Greg: Thanks for your defense of Tony Danza’s questioning to activate prior knowledge. I feel his questions were not effective because the concepts had not been explained yet. I do however believe in the value of asking questions when they are actually “prior knowledge.”

    It seems you both got rather flustered by my article which bothers me a bit. Any more advice on how I could improve in my TV reviewing skills would be much appreciated. Thanks.

  • http://www.dynamitelessonplan.com Damien Riley

    A footnote as to why there are so many of my replies …

    Blogcritics had set my posts to moderation so I daily wrote a new reply hoping it would go through. Blogcritics chose to post most of my replies and that was generous of them. I just wanted to explain that I only meant one to actually be posted. Sorry for any redundancy. Thanks to Blogcritics for fixing the situation.

  • Greg

    @Damien,
    Not flustered at all, just glad to have the chance to share my thoughts. It’s always stimulating to read a different opinion. Thanks for the opportunity.
    Greg

  • http://www.dynamitelessonplan.com Damien Riley

    Thanks Greg. I like the fact that Tony Danza got this feat accomplished. I’m not sure how well I would do teaching daily in front of the camera.

    Regardless how one rates his teaching, I think the show raises consciousness about what teachers deal with every day and that is a good thing. Thanks again for your comments.