Surprisingly thoughtful and passionate account of an actor’s turn at the helm of an urban high school classroom.
After his talk show was cancelled in 2007, Danza (co-author: Don’t Fill Up on the Antipasto, 2008) faced a late-career crisis. Weighing his options and feeling personally dissatisfied, he considered becoming a teacher, which led to his show’s producer pitching this as a reality TV concept. To his credit, the self-depreciating actor owns up to the obvious doubts readers may harbor about this book or the underwatched show behind it (A&E’s Teach). Initially nervous in the classroom, the affable yet hapless Danza understandably reverted to his chatty, ingratiating stage persona, which failed to impress students in Philadelphia’s largest high school. Fortunately, he remained open to advice from his more experienced peers and tried different approaches in the classroom. For many readers, his classroom may seem initially composed of various urban adolescent “types,” but they develop into fully realized characters due to Danza’s verve and care in discussing them. Danza is generous in praising the full-time teachers who, with some reservation, mentored him. The writing is slick and occasionally mawkish (in Danza’s telling, some dramatic classroom moments were punctuated by him bursting into tears), but the author has produced a real discussion of the challenges faced by American high school teachers, rather than merely a celebrity self-reflection. He approaches this project with heart, though his conclusions are grim: “many of those who went through orientation with me have already left the profession because of cutbacks, frustration, and/or their own economic necessity.”
Teachers will appreciate Danza’s advocacy, and perhaps readers who know him from TV will be moved to consider the urgent questions he raises.