I’ve been known to watch a reality show here and there. Okay, honestly, I’ve worked hard to wean myself off of the hours worth I used to watch each week. I still can’t quit Top Chef, but there are some doozies I’ve worked hard to leave in my past. (Real World, Road Rules, Real Hous… okay, I’ll stop right there…) So I have to admit that I was drawn to Teach for many different reasons. Beyond the obvious fact that I’m a teacher, there’s that whole I tend to like reality television angle. And there’s the whole I’ve really liked Tony Danza ever since first seeing him on Taxi angle as well (c’mon, he’s not that bad!)
So let’s start with the obvious problems with the show. We are told from the onset that Danza always wanted to be a teacher and was sidetracked by his acting career. What we aren’t told, unless we take a deeper look, is that his degree was in History Education, not English, the subject which he is teaching in this show. Beyond this, I’m guessing that he’s working on an emergency certification, but there’s never been any talk of this beyond the fact that there is a “teaching coach” in the room with him at all times. It’s obvious that some on the staff have accepted Danza, while others, including an Assistant Principal and Principal seem to resent being saddled with this experiment.
One angle I continue to find laughable is just how tired Danza is through this process. He’s constantly discussing just how worn out and exhausted he is — and he should be, he’s helped with both the football team and marching band. He’s sung the National Anthem at a Phillies game and helped the Mayor keep his wife happy. So why shouldn’t he be tired, you ask? Well, here’s why: he’s teaching ONE CLASS. Yes, you read that right, but let me expound — he’s teaching one 45 minute class a day. Mr. Danza, if you want to see tired, try hanging with those who do this same exact thing day after day, week after week, well, you get the picture. I don’t think Danza would argue with that statement, but there are those out there who constantly put our profession down who need to get the message.
There are plenty of legitimate arguments as to why this never should have been permitted to happen; including the fact that there are many, many qualified teachers who I’m sure would have gladly appreciated the opportunity Danza was provided based upon his desire to get back to his original goal in life. Perhaps the most important argument is the fact that a group of students was being provided by an unqualified teacher for a year, and a few of these students had no issue lamenting this fact.
I found myself liking the show, however. While keeping the flaws mentioned above in the back of my mind, it’s hard not to like Danza. He’s humble. He’s a hard worker. He cares and is unafraid to admit his failures. He’s experienced the ups and downs that all of us have experienced and has let those watching see these struggles. He’s doing this in an urban school that is in a pretty tough area, not some posh, affluent school that some would expect to see for an experiment like this.
The cynic in me wonders if he’s simply putting on a show in order to re-launch a floundering career through what’s become a regular route. The optimist in me — for those who know me, yes, there is a little bit of an optimist in me, thank you very much — wants to take Danza at face value – after all, he isn’t that great of an actor.
It is obvious that Danza has grown to care for his students; he genuinely seems to want to help them in many different facets, the least of which is through his teaching of English. For their part, the students don’t seem as though they’ve been coached — positive and negative behaviors abound. They’re both critical and complimentary, harsh and kind when speaking of Danza — and he probably deserves all of it. (I’ve always said that you can fool a lot of people — but good luck fooling the students.)
I like that Danza is so open in this documentary style show and that he is willing to listen and learn on a daily basis. I like that Danza’s respect for teachers has grown exponentially through the process. And I like the fact that the viewer is able to see all of this about our profession as somebody who has succeeded in other forms of life has struggled in ours. Danza’s principal explained to him, on his first day, that teaching is an art. Danza has respected this art and brought light for many to said art. Perhaps some ignorant people — you know, the ones who think they can simply become a teacher should all else in life fail — might see just a little more about what makes our profession so difficult — and so rewarding.
I’ve got Teach on my DVR schedule and it makes for some good Saturday morning entertainment. More importantly, it is something that brings our light to many people in a positive way. Here’s hoping more people see it — and learn from it.