Teach: Tony Danza… good and bad

October 11, 2010 at 12:48 pm (Uncategorized)

Lately, I’ve been catching some of the new show called Teach: Tony Danza, which follows him and the progress of one tenth grade class in Philadelphia as he attempts to teach them English.

I am appalled at some of what Tony is doing. His lack of concern for the legal rights of students with special needs, his automatic dismissal of constructive criticism from his teaching assistant and the principal, and his overall attitude toward the kids is just ridiculous. Clearly, that school must have benefited from the show in some small way besides getting one of their billets filled.  Aside from the mandatory teacher orientation, he didn’t have to do any preparation for the art of teaching (or if he did, he slept or joked his way through it without learning anything).

On the other hand, I can see that shows like this are probably one of the only ways to really publicize the profession of teaching as a viable and intelligent career path. There are clearly misconceptions about teaching– the expression “those who can’t do, teach” is common and itself a misrepresentation of the profession. Everyone from public schools can probably recall an example of bad teachers in their lives. Myself, I can think of more than one social studies teacher whose primary goals each day involved watching replays of last week’s football game while letting the smart kid (aka, me) summarize last night’s reading on the overhead projector for the rest of the class.

There is one kid in particular who is not being challenged and his attitude is being highlighted in the show because he’s honest enough to admit his fears about Tony’s ability to teach him anything. At some points in my life, I was that kid. It should not matter that Monte is above the rest– Tony’s job is to find ways to challenge Monte within the context of the larger lessons. If this requires differentiation, then Tony needs to spend the time to do that to his lessons. I’m willing to bet if he spent half as much time planning as he does making fun of the kids, he might actually accomplish something.

The other kids mostly fall into the category of kids who require additional scaffolding to truly learn anything.  It made me pretty mad to see Tony making fun of the kid who’s on the gifted list, when he actually came after class to talk about his difficulties with the material. “Gifted” is not code word for “SMART KID WHO NEEDS NO HELP AND IS CONNING YOU INTO HELPING HIM.” Gifted has a multitude of subcategories and many times, the fact that a kid requests extra help is an indicator that he DOES care, that he DOES want to succeed.

Restricting kids from using the resource room is another thing that Tony did. He seems to view the practice as too accomodating. I’d like to see Tony sit down and be pushed through reading a novel he does not understand, then forced to take a test next to the smart kid who was done in like, five minutes, and actually pass a test. It’s not easy. He has access to the teacher’s resources; if his goal is truly to allow these kids to learn and think for themselves, then he needs to allow the accomodations to occur that are already in place. The resource room, the teacher assistant that has been provided– these are helping aids, not tools designed to alllow kids to slack off.

So perhaps this show will serve a dual purpose– to teach Tony Danza about the realities and complexities of teaching students effectively. And to teach America those same things. If we’re lucky, by the end of the year those poor kids might have learned something too.

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