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Saturday, June 20, 2015

I'D LIKE to APOLOGIZE to EVERY TEACHER I EVER HAD: MY YEAR as a ROOKIE TEACHER at NORTHEAST HIGH by Tony Danza



Published in 2012 by Random House LLC

Before we go any further, I must tell you that I am a public school teacher that is pretty similar to the one featured in I'd Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Have Ever Had. I have been teaching for 25 years.

What looks like a publicity stunt by an out-of-work actor trying to jump start a career is really a sincere attempt to get a taste of what being a real teacher is all about. Danza starts the book explaining that he was at a low point in his career, having just had his TV talk show cancelled, but he had seriously considered being a teacher when he was younger and had used his platform on his TV talk show to promote teachers and provide "School Room Makeovers" and that had re-kindled his interest.

So, he was talking about this idea he had of becoming a teacher and someone told him that it would be a good idea for a reality show. Personally, I never heard of the show until I had heard of the book. I still have not watched the show, although I plan on it. I wanted to get Danza's unfiltered perspective first.

After a little haggling, they finally find a school willing to let Danza teach one class every day under the supervision of a seasoned teacher. I assume that the kids were similarly vetted but the way it plays out it seems like he's got a pretty average group of kids in his class.

Danza is only permitted to teach one class a day. To his credit, he arrives on time and stays throughout the day just like every other teacher. He helps coach, he helps with a talent show, he helps with crowd control in the morning and to catch the stragglers who wander into school at all sorts of times.

Danza is very sincere at his efforts to be a good teacher. As a teacher, I can tell you that having just one class would be great (less papers to grade, more time to lesson plan, you won't be as tired at the end of the day), but it is a disadvantage as well. I once heard another teacher describe teaching as "performance art" and I think that he is right. When you only teach one class it is liking having to film a scene with just one take and no practice and no warm-up. Last year, I taught 4 sections of Spanish 3. The first one was always the worst, by far. He had no chance to revise what he did, even if it is revision "on the fly".

Sometimes, Danza's celebrity status opens doors for him, like when he takes the class on a field trip to New York City, but, in the end, if Danza only used his celebrity to get him somewhere in class he would not get far - the kids are too young to have seen his movies and TV shows and after a while he just stops being a celebrity and has to be a teacher. His celebrity-sized wallet is a help from time-to-time (I hate to be crass, but sometimes lack of money for the classroom is an issue).


When the show suddenly quits filming halfway through the school year Danza has a decision to make - does he finish the year or does he just go on to the next gig? He finishes the year and it sounds like that second semester is the one that turns him from a true rookie to a teacher.

If you have never been inside a large public school as an adult this book gives you some flavor of what it is like. Danza also intelligently discusses issues like charter schools, teachers unions and the like in the book - not from the perspective of a politician or a commentator but from the perspective of someone who has been in the classroom and knows that there is no silver bullet. Being a teacher is different than you think, even if you think you know what it is since you sat in the classroom and watched a lot of teachers teach. 

Danza does hit on the parent angle a lot and, as a parent and a teacher, I cannot disagree. On page 175 he notes: "One reason it's hard for both teachers and students is that there's so little parental backup. Which is not to say that the parents are always missing in action. Sometimes they're present to a fault." Absentee parents and helicopter parents are equally the bane to a successful student. 

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon here: 
I'd Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had: My Year as a Rookie Teacher at Northeast High

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