By Frank Barron
Last year, actor Tony Danza went back to school — as the teacher.
The likable star of Taxi and Who’s the Boss, Danza said he always wanted to be a teacher. And thanks to the A&E network he got his chance, starring in the reality series Teach: Tony Danza, premiering Oct. 1 on A&E.
“I’ve had crowds cheering and jeering during my early years as a boxer, and then as a struggling actor. Then I was lucky to get some good shows, but always had to face the critics. But now you’ll see what happened when I got to face my toughest audience — high school students,” Danza said with a weary but satisfying smile on his face.
The show chronicles his journey as an English teacher for a class of sophomore students at Northeast High School in Philadelphia. He credits the support from the principal, Linda Carroll, for making it happen, plus the other teachers who inspired him.
“It was a learning experience for me too,” he reported. “There were times I was overwhelmed and thought I had really bitten off more than I could chew, that I made a big mistake, that I was going to make a big jerk of myself, and, worst of all, let the kids down.”
Danza did not let the kids down. In fact, even when the cameras stopped rolling, and the series was in the can, he kept teaching because he genuinely cared about his students. He arrived at the school July of 2009 for teacher’s orientation, and stayed until the end of the school year. He said he only gave out one detention during that time, and, much to his chagrin, discovered he had to be there to monitor.
“One of the reasons I wanted to do this was because I wasn’t a good student. Back then, I knew about detentions,” he admitted. “And now I feel this need to tell these kids about what this short time in school will mean to the rest of their lives. I don’t want them to be looking back and saying, ‘Jeez, I wish I would have done better.’ That’s what I was trying to teach them.”
Another reason for the show was to put the spotlight on what’s going on in school from a different point of view — what it’s like to be a first-year teacher.
“Maybe even I can inspire some people to think about doing this as a career.”
His gig as a teacher comes after more than 30 years in entertainment as an actor, talk show host, Broadway star, cookbook author, pro boxer, and song and dance man. And after the experience, Danza at 59 is actually thinking about doing it again.
“I’m really wrestling with going back. I have my own family that I think needs me, but I also fell crazy in love with the school, and getting involved.”
He also joked that he’s thinking about writing a book called I Would Like to Apologize for Every Teacher I Ever Had. That sounds like a bestseller.