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Interview: Tony Danza discusses his year as a teacher, appears in Atlanta Saturday

A still from Tony Danza's short-lived A&E reality show about his year in the classroom. The show lasted just six weeks but Danza stayed for the entire year.

A still from Tony Danza's short-lived A&E reality show about his year in the classroom. The show lasted just six weeks but Danza stayed for the entire year.

“Who’s the Boss?” was Tony Danza’s 1980s-’90s sitcom. It also could have been the title of his new memoir, about his year teaching English in a Philadelphia high school.

Instead called “I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had: My Year as a Rookie Teacher at Northeast High, ” it depicts Danza as alternately at the mercy of a humorless assistant principal or his students, none of whom is impressed by his celebrity and some of whom actually tell him to grow a backbone (actually, that’s not the anatomy they tell him he needs).

“It was a tremendous challenge, ” said Danza, who will discuss his book at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Book Festival of the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta. “It takes a certain amount of hubris to think you can be a teacher.”

Danza’s journey to the front of the classroom started after his daytime talk show was canceled after two seasons. He’d separated from his wife (and would later file for divorce), and he was approaching 60.

“It hit me that I could be running out of time, ” wrote Danza, whose father, a sanitation worker, died at 62.

Tony Danza discusses his book on Saturday at the Book Festival of the MJCCA

Tony Danza discusses his book on Saturday at the Book Festival of the MJCCA

The actor, who earned a history degree from the University of Dubuque and had once planned to be a teacher, decided it was time. He reached out to Teach for America, which places recent college graduates and professionals of varying backgrounds into rural and urban schools. He then discussed the idea with his former executive producer, who saw reality-show potential.

The production team approached numerous school systems, including Atlanta’s, without luck before Philadelphia signed on.

Danza sensed skepticism among other teachers.

“I’m not exactly known as a man of letters, ” he said. And a Philadelphia Daily News column said the show was merely a way “to pimp our kids’ education to an unemployed sitcom actor who wants to kick-start his stalled career.” Ouch.

“Teach” ran for just six weeks on A&E (not enough drama, the honchos decided), but Danza stayed the entire 2009-10 year, and even gave the commencement address at the end.

“My goal was to show them that I was serious, ” he said during an interview. “The greatest compliment I was paid was that the principal asked me to come back.”

He decided not to return. Not because he didn’t enjoy it; maybe because he enjoyed it too much. “I think at my age, I’m not sure I want to care this much, ” he said. “It’s an overwhelming commitment.”

Tony Danza was the boss, most of the time, in his classroom. But at times he found himself at the mercy of a humorless assistant principal or even the students themselves.

Tony Danza was the boss, most of the time, in his classroom. But at times he found himself at the mercy of a humorless assistant principal or even the students themselves.

His book changes the names of the teens to protect their privacy, but not their stories, and it’s clear he became attached to students like the 19-year-old sophomore still struggling to read, the budding poet who draws on his chaotic life in foster care to inform his verses, or the burly football player who absorbs the message in “Of Mice and Men.” In every other chapter, it seems, Danza’s been brought to tears by his students.

“I’m hooked up to that school. I can’t let it go, ” said Danza, who has stayed in touch and helped organize a fundraiser when the school faced budget cuts.

His takeaways aren’t surprising. Teachers must spend too much time teaching to tests. Too many parents aren’t involved. Our culture doesn’t sufficiently stress education.

“I’ve got no problem with the kids on ‘Jersey Shore.’ Hey if I was 22 and you told me, ‘Go down to the beach and I’ll film it and pay you, ‘ I’d be afraid to see that footage, ” Danza said. “We have to admit and say that it is a factor that is causing some of the problems. If the culture celebrated smarts and excellence in school as opposed to hanging out at the shore or being a basketball star, we’d have better schools.”

AUTHOR APPEARANCE

Tony Danza will discuss his memoir, “I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had: My Year as a Rookie Teacher at Northeast High, ” 8 p.m. Saturday at the Book Festival of the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta, 5342 Tilly Mill Road, Dunwoody. Tickets $18 for members, $24 for nonmembers and $50 for premier seating. www.atlantajcc.org/bookfestival or 678-812-4005.

13 comments Add your comment

apsteacher

November 16th, 2012
11:52 am

Typical of most Teach for America teachers…quit after first year with school paid for. We don’t need you….

teachgeorgia

November 16th, 2012
12:34 pm

apsteacher, that is why you teach where you do. You obviously don’t get it.

mad_russian

November 16th, 2012
1:47 pm

@teachgeorgia What exactly do you mean by your statement to apsteacher?

wow

November 16th, 2012
2:20 pm

I’d take Tony Danza over any of the first three posters. Their poor use of punctuation and vague pronouns-not to mention the accusatory and holier than thou tone of the posts on both sides-reveals more about their ability to communicate than the points they are trying to get across.

teachgeorgia

November 16th, 2012
4:55 pm

wow,
If posting on this sight is supposed to be a grammatical work of art then so be it. You have no right to label any written statements as having some kind of “tone”. Besides, the word “pronouns” is considered plural and the correct verb usage would be reveal. But I really don’t care. My point was that with the reputation of the Atlanta Schools I didn’t think a disparaging remark about Teach America was appropriate. I think Tony Danza did a great job in the situation he was in and with the tools he had available. Plus he stayed after the cameras had long gone.

teachgeorgia

November 16th, 2012
7:50 pm

wow You seem awfully petty. Besides the word “pronouns” is plural and the verb reveals is for singular nouns and pronouns. But again your 40 word sentence isn’t exactly written in English Grammar!

john C.C.

November 16th, 2012
11:25 pm

No capital G in Grammar.

teachgeorgia

November 17th, 2012
12:12 am

john C.C. – There is if you are emphasizing the word. Besides you just wrote it with a capital G. Of course your name is with a little j which must mean you have size issues..

niecey

November 17th, 2012
1:38 am

sure would be nice to have a comment about the actual article. i guess it’s up to me. i think it was brave of him to do what he did. so what if he stopped after a year. that what was right for him. i also thought what he said about the jersey shore cast was pretty funny and pretty true for most people. i may even get his book.

Out and proud LIBERAL

November 17th, 2012
7:30 am

Shut up! Which of you angels have volunteered a whole year of your life to any cause? You’re not fit to wipe his a….boots.

Georgia Dawg 1

November 17th, 2012
4:33 pm

I have to say teachgeorgia`s comments were right on target after my years of working with APS teachers and students.Tony Danza is an outstanding citizen, for teaching in the classroom, even if for one year at any age.

Elton John

November 17th, 2012
7:36 pm

Hold me closer, Tony Danza.

Scout

November 18th, 2012
9:04 am

Love it, Elton!