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.”