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Students, not Danza, shine in 'Teach'

By the Notebook on Nov 12, 2010 08:47 PM

by Margaret Ernst and Lauren Goldman

"Teach" comes to a close tonight with a final essay in Tony Danza’s class. By the end of the show, it’s Danza who ends up learning a lesson: that different students respond to discipline in totally different ways. And as the season ends, we’re given a chance to think about what "Teach" taught us too.

In episode seven, Danza gives Algernon, a kid who is bright but uninspired by Danza, multiple opportunities to hand in the essay instead of getting an F for the semester. But when a different student, Chloe, performs poorly and asks for a chance to revise hers, Danza says no. “This ship has sailed, Chloe,” he says firmly as she sinks into her desk, humiliated. “I’m disappointed in you.”

Chloe is so upset by the way Danza treats her that she wants to transfer out of his class. But his treatment of Algernon has precisely the opposite effect. After class Algernon tells the camera, “Getting so many chances doesn’t make me understand that what I’m doing is wrong.”

Danza’s experience with Algernon and Chloe demonstrates issues with inconsistent policies in the classroom, but also the range of student responses to positive and negative reinforcement. Motivating students is a careful dance that doesn’t just come with a teaching degree.

By this last episode of the season, Tony has a lot more together in his classroom. He’s more on top of lesson plans and is more confident in front of his class. But he definitely hasn’t worked out one of the trickiest parts about his job: intuiting effective ways to reach a diverse group of students with a variety of needs and personalities.

In the Winter 2009 edition of the Notebook, students discussed their perspectives on their relationships with teachers. Their responses, like Algernon’s and Chloe’s, reveal the fine line between the need for consistency of rules and the need for teachers to adapt to students’ different learning styles.

For those interested in an in-depth conversation about education in Philadelphia, "Teach" was often annoyingly Danza-centric. His emotions and reactions to teaching form the brunt of the narrative, but clearly don’t reflect what it would be like to be a first-year teacher without loads of extra support and celebrity status.

That said, "Teach" let us hear the voices of students like Algernon and Chloe:

  • It let us hear from Johnny, who wanders the hallways instead of going to class, but who wants to get back on track.
  • We heard from Monte, who wasn’t afraid to make demands about his education when he was worried that Danza was moving too slowly.
  • We saw Daniel, a football player, and Howard, who Tony coaches in boxing, struggle with the pressure of athletics, academics, and their friends.

The thoughts of these students and their classmates on school, life, and Mr. Danza weren’t edited to make Danza look good. In fact, their testimonies often showed their high expectations for teachers and the extent to which he wasn’t meeting those expectations.

It’s not every day that cable television highlights the inner workings of a large urban public high school. In that way, the spotlight on the semi-real world of Northeast High may have been valuable in promoting the importance of a commitment to education on a national level. Why? Because in many ways, Danza wasn’t the star. His students were.

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Comments (8)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 13, 2010 9:09 pm

Tony Danza was awesome.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 15, 2010 9:30 pm

Yeah - in Taxi...

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 15, 2010 9:46 pm

Yeah - Danza was great -in Taxi...

(Sorry if this is a repeat)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 15, 2010 10:10 pm

I think that Tony did great for a first year teacher. I have a 26 year old niece that has been teaching for four years now, and says she still gets frustrated. Often she has thought about going back to school to learn a different profession, but then remembers why she chose teaching. Tony went into this not knowing what to expect. And high school kids are so complicated and diverse with more of them having some kind of learning disability. He virtually had no training whatsoever in knowing what to do with these kids needing special education. He and I are from a different time where all kids were on the "same page", and either you got it, or you didn't. There was no such thing as resource rooms etc. I not only sympathisized with him and what he faced on a daily basis, but I am also so very proud of him. He went for what he had wanted to do when he was in college, and he stuck it out long after the A&E camera crew had stopped rolling. I will always be poud of what I consider to be Tony's shining moment!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 15, 2010 11:10 pm

Above is another perspective on Danza's performance. Inquirer TV Critic Jonathan Storm quoted Northeast Principal Linda Carroll saying, "If I could have 10 Tonys in my school, I'd take 'em all."

In the show, Linda Carroll is shown as very skeptical of Tony. Maybe that was emphasized for the cameras. Or maybe he improved as the year went on. Regardless, it's definitely tough to know how Tony did as a teacher from just 7 episodes of highly edited content.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 16, 2010 11:20 pm

Students, not Danza, shine in 'Teach'
Sorry, I disagree. I saw lazy kids who lied to Tony Danza, they lied to the camera and they lied to us. I have a teenage daughter who got on the honor roll this year in our suburban school district. But last year? A totally different story. She lied, lied, lied. Lazy. Didn't want to read the books or do the math. The result? She failed algebra and had to go to summer school. Her GPA suffered. Now, this year, her friends are getting their acceptances to college. Only now are we even considering applying because her maturity level is closer to where it should be. These kids aren't stupid. They may be high and bored, but they are more lazy and selfish. Just like my daughter could not blame her teachers for her grades, these kids have no right to blame Tony or any one else at that school for their not wanting to learn. You have to want to participate in class and do the work to get a good grade. There really are no free rides.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 6, 2011 6:44 pm

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 25, 2013 4:07 pm
It's true. If the kids don't care about their own education, there's no amount of great teacher who could teach them all that they need to learn. I helped out as a aide to the teacher to 4th graders, and see first hand how tough it can be.

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