Friday, January 11, 2013

Someone Brave Enough to Try Teaching Before Judging Teachers: Teach Tony Danza

First observation: the students are not in
groups: what a rookie!
I couldn't help myself.  I was in the library and I saw a "New Arrival" by Tony Danza, a book where he documents his year as a new teacher in an inner city school.  The title alone, I'd Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had, sucked me in despite myself.  I was aware that Mr. Danza had a television show about this experience, and I even caught a few scenes.  I'm not sure how realistic any classroom documentary can ever be, in view of the fact that no one acts naturally for cameras.  But, I find Mr. Danza a likeable guy and I am always looking for confirmation that teaching is not the cake walk that pundits and non-teachers would have you believe.  I still am waiting for a real life teacher to corroborate how easy a job it is.  I checked the book out of the library.

This is a part of teaching

And his verdict?  That the only thing that will change American education is the students wanting an education.  Hear, hear, Tony!  I've been saying that for years.  Teachers can try to engage, motivate, threaten, cajole, tailor the lessons, relate, joke, sing, dance, bring in ponies; none of it matters if the children aren't invested.  And Mr. Danza had a plethora of advantages that other first year teachers don't have, such as a full-time co-teacher, access to resources like a copy machine, pre-selected students, and one fifth of a typical class load.  And yet, even though he did not have the full grueling experience of teaching, he says it's one of the toughest jobs out there.  It's actually almost impossible.

I've always wanted a reality show to film anti-teacher authorities placed in inner-city classrooms.  That's a program that I would watch.  I figured that the security and privacy concerns would prohibit such a show from ever coming to fruition.  But, boy, would those people ever have a change of heart after having to walk the walk!

And this is also a part of teaching!
I really think that children will only take their studies seriously when their parents are involved.  Sure, there are always outliers who will work hard despite parental neglect (I've seen it), but by and large, kids are motivated only if their parents show interest and continually keep tabs on their child.  Check their homework.  Check their homework notebook.  If they say they don't have any homework, have them sit down for an hour and study something else of their choosing: Greek mythology, the history of anesthesia, how to sculpt a superhero, indoor gardening, felting, or, heaven forbid, math, English, social studies or science.  Just don't take the path of least resistance.  Do it the hard way.  You'll be glad you did.

I'd like to print an excerpt from the book here, because it's my blog, and I like it:
Whether or not the educators who are trying to raise up America's students can actually set and meet higher academic standards, our cultural values make their job next to impossible.  It's so much easier for pundits and politicians to point fingers and blame the people who are in the trenches every day than it is to get in there with them, or even to find out what actually goes on in those trenches.  It's so much easier for parents to blame teachers when their kids get in trouble than to do the heavy lifting required at home to keep those kids on track.  And it's so much easier for us a nation to cross our fingers and hope that we'll "get lucky" with the innovative "solutions" being tested on America's schools today than it is for us to roll up our sleeves and invest our own time, talent, and money in schools that are even now - with or without us - shaping our nation's future.
If I learned anything during my year at Northeast, it's that the blame game serves no purpose in our educational system.  Sure, there are some bad teachers, and some bad administrators, just as there are failing corporate CEOs and lousy actors, but the vast majority of educators I met at Northeast were not bad so much as they were discouraged and overwhelmed.  The rising numbers of low-income and immigrant children, the underwhelming involvement of parents, and the impact of a culture that sneers at knowledge instead of treasuring it all make the classroom a very tough place to work.  Beyond that, the sheer logistics of teaching, counseling, comforting, coaching, and inspiring 150 students each and every day are beyond the capability of most normal human beings.  Yet public school teachers are expected to perform these tasks calmly and brilliantly while simultaneously documenting and evaluating every move they and their students make.  Oh, and don't forget staying up-to-the-minute and responsive to those constantly changing district mandates and national policy shifts.  All for less money than the average plumber, real estate agent or sales manager makes.
 So, I guess Tony Danza can count on one more fan.  What he did was brave and a little foolhardy, and resulted in insight and wisdom, which is right up my alley.


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