Schools and teachers are a hot topic in Idaho right now, as the November ballot includes Propositions 1, 2, and 3, which deal with a variety of education related issues. As a registered Idaho voter, former teacher (although hopefully I’ll be back in the game at Thad’s next posting) and concerned constituent, I’ve been watching the battle between the sides rage this entire fall. (You would think being in China would put me out of that loop a bit, but at least the Pro-Props 1,2 and 3 side seem to have found me. In the last three weeks, I’ve gotten nine of the exact same flyer from their group. Nine! The same flyer! My goodness. Whether I agree with the position or not, sending me nine of the exact same piece of literature is going to do little to change my mind folks.) With schools being on the forefront in many states this season, I thought it would only be appropriate that I jump back on the book review bandwagon with an education-related review. (It has been a while since I’ve added to my Book Musings category, not because I haven’t been reading, but it has just fallen to the wayside between the move to the other side of the world, a new job, and finding my place in a new community. But, I hereby declare that book reviews, shell-rated and all, are back!)
Tony Danza is not someone I would expect to turn to for insightful thoughts on education reform and the realities of classroom life for teachers, and yet, like with so many things in life, I was pleasantly surprised. In his new book, I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had, he takes on the role of a teacher in a tough, urban school in downtown Philadelphia. After being fired from his latest Hollywood role, that of a daytime talk show host, he was looking for a way to give back to his community and seriously considered the Teach for America program. But, I think the limelight is just bred in to some, and he found a way to mesh his California-career with his Philadelphia upbringing, in the form of a documentary that is filmed over the course of a year teaching high school English.
Skeptical yet? I was at this point! I imagined him going in for a few weeks, doing bit parts and then moving on to the production and selling of his latest film-creation. But, while I do take issue with parts of the gig, after reading the book, I can see how genuinely dedicated he was to his role as a teacher and how touched he was by his students. (He taught a single English class, granted, it was a double period, for a year. He also did some other duties around the school, but the strain that shows from his single class of students needs to be multiplied, as teachers don’t get to plan for, teach and review work for a single class a day.)
Danza faces the realities of many teachers in America today. He must find a way to get his students to embrace great literature when they prefer the crass rhymes of less-than-stellar role models they hear on the radio. He must teach his high school students to communicate effectively, through written and spoken word, when they constantly revert to the LOLs and OMGs of modern-text-talk. On top of this, he learns that teaching a subject area is only half of the battle educators face each day. He soon sees that his kids are lacking in positive role models at home, that they are coming to school hungry and tired and that they don’t dare dream, as they’ve seen too many dreams crash to the ground and die.
I am probably partial to Danza’s newest work because he spends his year in an English classroom, something I am missing right now. But, his book is full of touching moments, but also very real, tough moments. I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had should be on the top of Christmas lists for all the teachers in your life (they will understand and appreciate his perspective), as well as all of those folks who think a few laptops and online classes are the solution to crowded classrooms and not hiring enough trained, certified and experienced teachers. I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had by Tony Danza earns a solid: