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I'd Like to Apologize to Every Teacher…

I'd Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had: My Year as a…

by Tony Danza

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Danza's account of teaching in an inner-city h.s. was entertaining and it rang true. Initially, he made the same mistakes that many new teachers make, e.g., talking too much, particularly talking too much about himself and the lessons he had learned in life. Also, he seemed to have trouble setting boundaries around his appropriate role in kids' lives, e.g., worrying about what would happen to them if he wasn't there for a Thanksgiving Day football party. However, he more than made up for those initial failings with sincere caring and very hard work. His ideas for engaging the kids were fairly unconventional at times, but they worked. A regular teacher could not have afforded some of them, but a regular teacher wouldn't have subjected the kids to tv filming either, so it balances out. The last chapter of his book was a little preachy, but many teachers will undoubtedly like it.

I wasn't sure how this book would turn out. Danza somehow had to present his own foibles honestly without spoiling his reputation too much, he had to allude to his own family problems (where they relate to his teaching) without dragging his wife and kids into the spotlight, and he had to relate the daily dramas of his students while also protecting their privacy. All of that must have been challenging, but I think he pulled it off. ( )
  iBeth | Dec 28, 2014 |
Elton John is stuck in my head while I am reading this - "hold me close Tony Danza". ( )
  kwbridge | Sep 6, 2014 |
This is a great book. I did not "enjoy" it as I had thought I would - it is too true. Given Tony's reputation as a comedian, I thought it might be funny; it isn't funny - just realistic. Tony is really telling it like it is! As a retired teacher, I especially appreciate his Epilogue. ( )
  peggy.s | Sep 2, 2014 |
This was the March book club book and I read it for that. I liked it anyway. Ton Danza is a celebrity,and he did turn this into a reality television series, and he wrote about the experience for the general public. His admitted purpose was twofold; he wanted to try a profession he had thought to take up when he was much younger, and he wanted to present to the general public what it was like to teach in a city center school these days. We have several books written by teachers about teaching that are much better at showing that, but most of us barely remember our education days, and we hold those memories closely against the reality of today. Mr. Danza's celebrity and advantages prevented him from getting and presenting a true picture of real life in inner city schools. Maybe if he had done it for three or four years, he might have given us a better book. ( )
  susanbeamon | Apr 12, 2014 |
I really enjoyed this book. While I don't think he had a completed authentic experience, it was probably as close as a celebrity could get. I think his views and how he reacts to different situations was interesting. I also thought how he felt about public education was thoughtful and he honestly cared about the kids he taught. it would be interesting to see if he continues to support and fight for American schools. I think it is a good read to understand some of what is happening in schools. Every school is different, but the different snapshots help parents and community members see there is more going on then they believe. ( )
  poetryfreak38 | Mar 21, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0307887863, Hardcover)

A Conversation Between Authors Erin Gruwell and Tony Danza
Erin Gruwell, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller The Freedom Writers Diary (basis of the Hillary Swank film “Freedom Writers”), talks to Tony Danza about his new book I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had…

Erin: Your book about teaching high school English for a year is so endearing. It’s really a love letter to teaching.

Tony: For me, teaching was the road not taken. If you look at my acting work, so many of the roles involve being a teacher. Tony in “Who’s the Boss?” becomes a teacher. I studied history education in college. I wanted to be a teacher. Teaching always appealed to me. Arthur Miller once said, “The best thing you can hope for is that you end up with the right regrets.” I didn’t want to regret not trying this.

Erin: It seems like you were on quest for meaning.

Tony: It was kind of existential, I guess. Why am I here? – that was the question. Everyone wonders, What does my life add up to? My closest cousin died at an early age of a heart attack. I remember my mom dying and the day after…it was weird, everything was the same. She was gone, but everything continued as it had been. It causes you to reflect on what you’re meant to do. We all want to know the role we’re meant to play.

Erin: There’s a part of the book that seems like it’s almost a homage to your parents, to the emphasis they placed on education.

Tony: They were immigrants, never went to college, didn’t finish high school, but they knew school made a difference. My father died died at 62 when I was 32, just as I was beginning to feel, “Hey, maybe he knows something.” I thought about that when I got in the classroom. A lot of kids don’t have fathers around, and I felt a certain responsibility. I myself exerted little effort back when I was in school. I just got lucky, I very easily could have been lost. I felt, “These kids need to hear the message: pay attention, school is important, this is something you must do.”

Erin: In urban areas, there often aren’t a lot of strong father figures. How did it feel when you were teaching that lesson on “To Kill a Mockingbird” and the kids called you “our Atticus?”

Tony: Midway through the year, one girl, Nikiya, actually started calling me “dad.” The character Atticus, maybe our greatest hero (whom Gregory Peck played in the film), represented someone who cared, who listened, who wouldn’t yell at them. I got worried that I wouldn’t be able to live up to the image my students had of me. These kids have such huge needs. It’s scary.

Erin: You had this dual reality – you had both your classroom family and your family back in L.A. What was it like balancing both?

Tony: I hoped the teaching thing was something my wife and kids would be proud of. Especially my kids. That was a secret motivation, I guess. But there was also something else I hoped my kids would get out of it. They’re privileged, having been brought up in L.A. with access to a lot of nice things. So, though they’d go to the mission to help out, get involved in various charities, they didn’t have much sense of the type of lives my classroom kids were living. So that was one of my hopes for the project, too -- to give them a reality check, show them what life could be like.

Erin: Anyone who reads this book will feel that you’re really committed to teaching as a craft – that you think of it as a noble profession.

Tony: It certainly is. It’s maybe the most important job there is. There came a point where I thought, Wow, this is really tough – can I even stick out the year? But then you see the commitment of the people around you, the long days some people are putting in, that responsibility they have of dealing with 150 kids each (my load wasn’t at that level) and so much need. From that perspective, one year doesn’t seem like that big a deal. It’s funny, though, at night I’d be totally stressed, thinking about the day I’d had, what I’d failed to get right. But somehow in the morning, I was all pumped up, I had this newfound verve. And then the first kid I’d see at school, the very first kid, I would smile at him and say, “Good morning” and he would scowl at me, and when that happens you just have to re-commit.

Erin: What was toughest part of the job?

Tony: Well, kids walk in and right away they’re broadcasting this message: engage me. They tend to not take responsibility for their own education, though eventually most of the kids in my class did, which was wonderful. I think the toughest part was that there’s a certain Catch-22. Kids will not work for you unless you show that you like them. But once you show them that, they open up to you in a big way. They tell you secrets – sometimes heartbreaking secrets – and then what do you do?

Erin: Did you actually cry in class?

Tony: Oh yeah. At first it was a crisis of confidence. I was scared out of my mind that I would fail the kids in the only tenth-grade English class they would ever have. But then it morphed and I began crying about the kids themselves – the problems some of them had to deal with, the way they could make me feel. One minute they’d break my heart with a demonstrative yawn, and the next they’d show me such love that I felt weak.

Erin: Your emotion is very endearing, actually. You don’t try to shield it. What about your colleagues? I noticed in the book that many kept asking you how long you were staying. What was that all about?

Tony: When I got there some of my fellow teachers were skeptical. Who could blame them? They wanted to know this was no stunt. The way things are for teachers right now that would be the last thing they needed. It wasn’t only my students who wanted to know I cared. But little by little I had to win them over. Toward the end, I … well, I’m not patting myself on the back for this, but some of the same teachers who were the most skeptical were asking me to stay. I remember thinking, jeez, at my age do I really want to care this much about anything other than my own kids? Anyway, I formed great relationships with many of the teachers. I put on the first ever Teacher Talent Show at the school where the teachers performed, and the next day some of these teachers walked into classrooms and their kids gave them standing ovations. That raised my standing.

Erin: So what’s the solution for getting more kids on the right track? What is the big lesson you learned from your year in the classroom and the process of writing this book?

Tony: There are some very big problems out there. The unmotivated student is no longer the exception, and there are many parents who, for whatever reason, are missing from what goes on. Worst of all is a culture that undermines everything you’re trying to do in the classroom. But I think trying to find the solution in something that is external to the students may be wrong, or at least not the most important thing. The most important thing is that kids must take part in their own education. We have to convince them. We can’t want it more for them than they want it for themselves. That’s not going to work. We have to say to kids, “You have one life – this is your chance.” They live in a world that is different from the one you and I grew up in. Back then, if a kid dropped out, there were jobs – construction jobs and so forth. You could still have a good life. Not today. School is necessary. It’s important. You can still have your dreams, but most adults know that sometimes you have to put your dreams in your pocket and make a life. Taking part in your own education is step number one.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:13 -0400)

Television, screen and stage star Tony Danza's absorbing account of a year spent teaching tenth-grade English at Northeast High -- Philadelphia's largest high school with 3600 students.

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