Authors: Tony Danza
Copyright © 2012 by Marc Anthony Productions, Inc.
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Crown Archetype, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
with colophon is a trademark of Random House, Inc.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
I’d like to apologize to every teacher I ever had/by Tony Danza.—1st ed.
1. Danza, Tony. 2. High school teachers—United States.
3. Actors—United States. 4. Teaching—Anecdotes. I. Title.
Jacket design by Nupoor Gordon
Jacket photograph © ThinkFactory Media/Barbara Johnston
To my parents
Matty and Anne Iadanza
This is the story of my year as a tenth-grade English teacher at Northeast High, an inner-city public high school in Philadelphia. The events and conversations are as true and accurate as I can write them, using my daily diary entries, lesson plans, emails, videotape, YouTube postings, and memory as my guides. A few of the incidents in this book were recorded in the 2010 A&E television series
, which was shot in my classroom during the year I taught at Northeast, but please remember that television—even “reality” TV—has a way of altering actual events. I hope in this book I’ve drawn a truer picture of Northeast, my students, and my experience.
That said, some of my students and fellow teachers have requested that I use pseudonyms to protect their privacy. In a couple of cases I’ve changed identifying details for the same reason. All the poems, stories, letters, lyrics, and emails, however, are genuine and are published here in their original forms by permission of their authors.
230. First day of school. I unlock the door and try to wrap my head around what’s about to happen here … in
classroom … where I’m
. Danza. That
alone takes some getting used to—a whole different kind of Boss. At Philadelphia’s Northeast High, only my fellow teachers get to call me Tony. School rules. This gig isn’t acting, it’s for real. Real kids, real lives, real educations at stake. And any minute now
students are going to walk through that door.
Engage the students
. The mantra that was drilled into my head during teacher orientation starts playing like a bass drum in my chest. One of my instructors rolled her eyes when she said it, and then she added, “No one ever seems to question why the burden is all on the teacher to do the engaging, when we ask so little of the students, or for that matter, their parents.”
Her vehemence startled me. “I never thought of it that way,” I told her.
“No,” she said, not unkindly. “But I promise, you will.”
It’s stifling. I turn on the AC—a luxury I’m grateful for—and double-check my room. It looks as good as I could possibly make it in my week of prep. The institutional beige cinder-block walls and
the desktops are scrubbed so clean even my mother would approve. I dusted the bookshelves, squeegeed the windows, and installed dispensers of hand sanitizer by each door—an attempt to defend my students against the swine flu epidemic that’s threatening the nation. This last touch, I hope, will show the kids that I sincerely care about their well-being and not that I’m a germ freak. I’ve also decorated the walls with fadeless blue paper and encouraging banners, which say things like
THE ONLY PLACE SUCCESS COMES BEFORE WORK IS IN THE DICTIONARY
and my favorite,
NO MOANING, NO GROANING
—if only I could follow that advice myself! Above the blackboard, I’ve glued big letters to spell out:
TAKE PART IN YOUR OWN EDUCATION
. And on the wall are listed my class rules:
1. BE here, on time and prepared
2. BE kind
I try to shrug off the advice of a veteran teacher I met last week at Becker’s, the local school supply warehouse where I bought all this signage. He was a sweet-faced guy, moonlighting as a checkout clerk to make ends meet—so much for those “outrageous” public school salaries—and he immediately marked me as a novice. His tip-off was the huge pile of educational decorations I was charging to my own credit card. Philadelphia teachers receive only a hundred dollars each for classroom supplies for the whole year; obviously I was way over budget in more ways than one. So this veteran offered a tactic to save my skin. “Never smile before Christmas,” he warned. “Smiling puts you at their mercy, they’ll eat you alive.”