I started seeing some random commercials for a show by Tony Danza titled "Teach" earlier this summer and decided to watch it to see what kind of show it was. Recent shows like NBC's "Education Nation" and "Waiting for Superman" have made me a little nervous about any media attention focused on education, but I wanted to actually see it before I made judgments. This is a little stream-of-consciousness, as I was taking notes while watching.
Tony starts out showing Northeast High School in Philadelphia where he is going to be teaching sophomore English. It is a large school, with 3700 students, and I know from personal experience that it is very difficult to teach in a large school, but that those are typical numbers for an urban school in a major city, especially on the east coast, so I guess it is a good start. Tony attends teacher orientation, where the presenter starts by saying there are three groups of people in the US who are forced to be somewhere they don't want to be - prisoners, people in mental health facilities, and high school students. The orientation leader seems very typical, a little burned out, talking to teachers who are only halfway paying attention (someone is knitting). Tony talks about how his dad was a garbageman (repeatedly), how he became a boxer, and an actor, but his actual college degree is in teaching, although he has never actually taught anywhere. Tony is pretty emotional that night, questions whether he would want his own daughter in his English class and has serious doubts about whether or not he can do this. First day of school he's up at 4:20, and at school on time, but forgets to sign in and is yelled at (pretty disrespectfully, I thought) by an assistant principal on a serious power trip. She is clearly not impressed by him, probably voted against allowing this project, and in no way wants to be seen as being supportive of him. The students wonder who he was, they don't remember him from anything and one student named Monte wonders if he will learn anything at all.
Tony says he will get them working right away on the first day and talks about setting a tone. David Cohn is introduced as Tony's mentor teacher and will apparently be observing very frequently, if not daily. Tony starts day one by having the kids use hand sanitizer as they walk into class. The kids think it is a little over the top, and I agree, but I can see why he did it, I don't think it's a bad idea, I have hand sanitizer in the classroom and when I run out the kids ask for it. I do NOT have it next to the door on wallmounted dispensers, however. The kids are a little weirded out by how 'old' he is and having a celebrity as a teacher. I'm sure the cameras are a little distracting too. Tony seems super nervous...Been there! I was utterly terrified on my first day of teaching. Tony has five rules, be here, be on time, be prepared, be kind, and believe in yourself. He is taken quickly off track with the question, "are you a millionaire?" and you can see the quick debate on how to answer, but does answer honestly, which is good and bad. Jokes with the kids a little bit, but completely soaked with sweat, which a kid tries to use to throw him off as well, and is partially successful. Apparently he will be teaching sophomores...BEEN THERE. Monte again mentions being concerned about getting an education, a theme which continues throughout the show. Kids ask why he is at Northeast? Tony says the show is designed to show what's going on in urban education. Kids ask why are you doing this? Tony says he wanted to be a teacher, wanted a challenge, and had good teachers himself. David Cohn is watching from the back the room. Kids introduce themselves, seems like a similar mix of kids to what I teach, but wearing more expensive clothes than my kids do and there are quite a few more white kids than at my school. The bell rings, and Tony is surprised. He assigns homework after the bell rang....you've lost them at that point and there was nothing written down, which makes me wonder what the return rate on that homework will be. The kids think the class will be easy because he used to be an actor and he doens't know what he's doing. They also think he is going to flip out and don't think he knows what he's doing, which takes them all of two seconds to pick up on and use to their advantage. Monte thinks he is not qualified to be an English teacher and doesn't think he will pass.
After school is football practice, Tony has volounteered to be an assistant coach. Coach tells him to talk to the players, he's still nervous, and kids think he talks a lot. Needs to talk less. Also never tell kids a game will be a "piece of cake," coaches don't like that (and later he is proved very very wrong). Compares football stretches to various dances, repeatedly, including ballet and chorus lines. That will not go over well. Kids say he doesn't know any of the football stuff like plays, reasons for stretches, etc. Coach tells him to talk less, listen to the kids more, Tony thinks the coach was telling him he made a bad speech. Tony hangs out at a bar with his friend and former teacher Bobby, talks about the day, Bobby says "you're a motivator." Tony definitely has ideals and a little bit of a rosy glow about what he wants to accomplish, but in that way he is just like every other first year teacher. Bobby tries to bring him down to earth a little and Tony says he doesn't know if he's up to this. Next day at school Tony teaches about "omniscient." He is talking a lot, not asking questions, and the kids don't seem that involved in what is going on. They are totally silent until he starts asking questions finally, but I am totally lost about what he is asking (although that could be because I am not an English teacher). Monte corrects him (about 3rd person omniscient!!!), Tony looks lost, then admits kid is right. David Cohn confirms after class that Tony was wrong, Tony seems confused about the concept he was supposed to be teaching and I have no idea if the kids got it at all.
I believe this is the only class he is teaching, so he has about 35 students, and only one 48 minute class a day. His desk is disorganized, he can't find the papers he wanted them to use during class. The kids are a little frustrated with this. Asks for volunteers to read their story, no one volunteers. Asks specific kid to do it, he won't but allows Tony to read it instead. Kids say that he likes to hear himself talk. David Cohn talks to him about why he shsould let them read it. During class, Tony looks up a word Chloe misused and takes way too long to do it, and while using a dictionary is admirable, as an English teacher, you should know the definition (which he doesn't seem to), or make the kid look it up themselves to sharpen their dictionary skills. Tony does like to hear himself talk a lot. You HAVE to let the kids talk. Tony asks Brandi if she understands the concept he is explaining, and Brandi admits later that she didn't really understand what he was talking about but nodded and smiled hoping he would go away. Kids don't think they have learned anything...although I don't know how long of a time period the class is covering (later details indicate it was one week total for the first show). Tony agrees that he talks too much.
First football game. Tony watches coach talk but doesn't say anything. Pouring down rain, cameras are soaked, kids and coaches are soaked, Tony meets some parents in the stands, but talks too much and parents complain a little. One parent asks specific questions about what educational tools he is using, other parents asking questions that I get asked all the time; can you stay after school to give him extra help, can you email me if he doesn't turn in an assignment, my kid can't read 30 minutes a day because he has to take two buses to get home, and they give a lot of possibly unwanted advice like "the most important thing is to build relationships." At first Tony tries to defend himself, but by the end, mostly has a deer-in-the-headlights look. Welcome to my world. It seems that most of the parents were at the game, he talked to 7-8 parents from his class on camera, which is another sign that I think this school has more wealth than the one I am currently teaching at. As far as the parent comments go, he only has one class, imagine if you have 140 students instead of 35. Tony talks with the Principal after the game, she says give the kids a chance, stop performing, and don't talk so much. Tony reflects on finishing his first week of teaching with a Friday night football game in a serious rainstorm, seems symbolic. He wonders if he has made a mistake doing this, wonders if he can make it. He really likes his class, but doesn't want to let them down.
My opinions: Tony went into this with equal parts nervousness and bravura. He is finding it hard to stop performing and so far has yet to deal (on camera at least) with any even minor discipline issues. The school is big and there seems to be some resentment and some obvious reluctance to allow cameras into the school....makes sense considering the current political climate and teacher-bashing that has been going on. The district (or at least the school) seems to have a fairly active mentor teacher program as David Cohn has observed numerous classes with Tony. Tony seems to be like most other new teachers as far as what he expects, but perhaps less prepared for modern school issues. I wonder about "teachery" things like how far out he has lesson planned, when the last time he took a teacher education class was, and what it would be like to observe an actual class, since the show was 45 minutes (without commercials) and showed five 48 minute classes, football practice, a football game, teacher training, principal meetings, self-reflections, kid interviews, etc. So far, I am still neutral. The focus so far has been squarely on Tony and not so much on any of the major issues in a school, which makes sense, given the focus of the show, but it makes me think it is less about education and more about Tony Danza. If you go to the website, the tagline is "Find out what it's like to be in a classroom taught by Tony Danza," so that's another indicator right there.
Favorite quote was actually from the ads for the rest of the season. Tony is meeting with the Principal and she is talking about how some people think they can just decide to be an teacher but that not everyone can do it. She says, "You are multitalented and I would never think that I could get up there next to you and tap dance. I want that same respect for my profession." Preach it sister!
Next show...Friday, October 8, 10 pm (9 central) on A&E.