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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Reality Education: The Teach Tony Danza Show, Episode 1

Tony Danza, TV personality whose most memorable shows were probably Taxi and Who's the Boss, is only a couple years away from qualifying to draw his Social Security benefits. He says he always wanted to be a teacher, but boxing and acting derailed him. Quoting Robert Frost, Tony Danza is finally returning to the road not taken. He has become a 10th grade English teacher in an urban magnet school in Philadelphia. His road is a little different from most first year teachers. His first year is the subject of a reality TV show. He says he is terrified and he looks it.

We all know good and well that most reality shows are not really undirected slices of life. Real life is generally pretty uneventful, and in fact, we are shown less than twenty minutes of one week's class time. Although we abhor stress in our own lives, we love it other people's lives, even if the producers must create the conflict. Thus we have the scene starring the pointlessly nasty assistant principal. None of us knows what is going on “backstage” or what “stage directions” the students who volunteered to be in “Mr. Danza's” class have received.

Most viewers have never experienced the so-called reality of most reality TV. How many viewers have ever attended chef school, much less been stranded on an island? However, everybody has been to school. Everybody possesses a lens of personal experience, a frame of reference when it comes to education. Everybody's an expert. Funny thing is, we all have a different lens, and that makes the comments (on Hulu) about Tony Danza's show as interesting as the show itself. Furthermore, most people have a rather limited frame of reference, but that does not stop people from overgeneralizing, like the commenters who claim he should have picked a school more like their school if he really wanted to show what education in America is like. Nevertheless, as the show progresses, the comments should provide an interesting cross-section of society's attitudes toward education gathered together in one place. One thing I have already learned from the comments is that the general public does not know the difference between certification and an education degree.

When it comes to sheer numbers of frames of reference, I have more than most. I have taught in urban schools, suburban schools and rural schools, American schools overseas and in the good ole USA, Japanese schools, public and charter schools, religious schools and boarding schools, elementary, secondary, and post secondary schools. The show and Tony Danza have taken a lot of undeserved heat. I mean students do not usually sit around a cafeteria table and complain that they have not seen their teachers' resumes (as they did in this show). Every teacher has a first day, so whining about a teacher's lack of experience sounds specious. Students and Tony's colleagues complain about Tony talking too much, as if most classrooms are not dominated by teacher talk. When Tony is entertaining, students complain that it is not a teacher's job to entertain them, as if they have never complained about being bored to death by un-entertaining teachers.

Then there are those who resent the fact he is teaching without a state credential. A certified teacher sits in the back of the class every day, so it is more like an extended student-teaching placement . Did you know Tony is paying the school $3500/per class for the privilege? Mr. Danza's first day was no worse and no better than the first day of many, if not most, first year teachers. Many people seem invested in Tony's failure—but spoiler alert, the reviews are out, and his principal has gone on record saying she would hire him for real in a heartbeat because he proved to be a caring, gifted teacher. Apparently his on-the-job training was at least as effective as the course work for a state credential, maybe because the schools of education focus on the theoretical and neglect the practical aspects of teacher training. I am not willing to write off Mr. Danza. I am curious to see how he develops. He has the potential to do more for education in this country than all the PhDs put together.

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