I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had by Tony Danza is my winner for the most surprisingly good book that I’ve read this year. I had no intention of reading this when I found it on the rack in the on-base thrift store. I remember hearing something about Tony Danza from Taxi and Who’s the Boss? making a reality show about teaching. It sounded pandering and hokey, so I didn’t think more about it until I saw this book. I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had is the account of the year he spent in Northeast High School in Philadelphia. I read a few pages, and then a chapter, and then I couldn’t seem to stop.
There are two main points that I learned from reading this book. The first is that Danza is a sincere and humble man who tried so hard to do a good job teaching this class of 10th grade English. There was no sense of doing it only for the cameras, or to show off his acting chops (the kids hardly knew who he really was). This is a man who took the job of teaching seriously, and worked tirelessly to provide an education for his class of teenagers. Some of his co-workers were so unfriendly and, at times, cruel to him, but he is the eternal optimist. That speaks highly of him.
The second point I learned from this book is the more important one. While Tony has a lot to learn about delivering English instruction, he has a deep concern for the instruction of the whole child. He really cares about these students. Whether it is checking in with a student about a difficult time, going to sporting games, or even teaching a kid to box, Danza wants to be a positive influence in the lives of these kids. It’s not that I don’t do this, but sometimes I need those reminders that I don’t teach English, I teach kids. I know this is a tired old saying in the education world, but reading this book helped to remind me of this. Often times, I’m overwrought with essays to grade, lessons to prepare, administration work to complete, meetings to attend, parents to email, and cross-country to coach that I forget that that boy or girl may need a bit of grace today. This book reminded me that it’s good to think about these things to be a more effective teacher.
The book is a quick read and quite engaging even for the non-teaching types. It’s amusing to see how little street cred Tony receives as a teacher. If you aren’t a good teacher, kids don’t care who you are. I especially enjoyed reading how Danza taught Of Mice and Men and To Kill a Mockingbird. He was creative and engaging.
After the book, I bought the Teach television series, and we are watching through the episodes. The co-workers are meaner on-screen, and Tony’s humility and sincerity show even clearer. Tony Danza is a good man, and his work on the book and the series reminded me why I love teaching English to teenagers.
(I wanted to say that the book I bought has Danza’s signature on the front page. I don’t have many signed books, and I never thought Tony Danza’s would ever be one in my collection!)
Here’s a brief interview Tony recorded addressed to teachers.