You may think of him as Tony the boxer on Taxi or Tony the housekeeper on Who’s the Boss?, but after reading this book you’ll always think of him as Mr. Danza, Grade 10 English teacher. The college-educated Danza signed on to teach at Northeast High School in Philadelphia in 2009; A&E filmed the experience for a reality show called Teach. The book is Danza’s diary-like account of his experience. The reality show lasted only six episodes, but Danza finished the academic year. Readable and raw, the book confirms two things: Danza’s enduring likability and his commitment to the kids long after the cameras stopped rolling.
When the reality show is first floated past the school’s formidable principal, she has one concern. Will Danza merely play a teacher, or will he be effective? She isn’t going to jeopardize her students’ education by allowing a dilettante into her school. Danza proves the skeptics wrong. He turns out to be a big softie who cries a lot and refuses to give up on the most unreachable kids.
The book charts Danza’s journey from classroom entertainer to true teacher—someone who engages the kids with creative assignments. But the gold in this book comes via Danza’s accounts of the dismal teaching conditions. Without sounding strident, he takes to task a government that underfunds education, and a school board obsessed with standardized tests. Yes, we’ve heard it all before, but not from such a heartfelt advocate with the ear of the American public. Anyone quick to sneer at Danza’s efforts without reading the book is, as he’d say, “a schmo.”