Tony Danza is most famous for his role as Tony Micelli on the TV show Who's the Boss? Tony has also starred in films and been in plays on Broadway. Tony has accomplished many things in his great career. Recently he added a new profession to his resume. He became a teacher at Northeast High School in Philadelphia. During that time a film crew taped the first semester of Tony's classroom for a documentary on the A&E Network. A book also came along to share his wonderful and trying experience as a teacher. I was able to talk to Tony about his new book, I'd Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had, acting, teaching, and parenting. It was a pleasure to speak with him and I love the passion he has for education.
Art Eddy: Can you tell me a bit about the book and how you came up with the idea to write the book?
Tony Danza: Two years ago I was closing in on 60 thinking about what I wanted to do. You are very reflective at 60; it is over the speed limit. You can't help it. You start thinking about your life. I always wanted to go to school to be a teacher. I have this very romantic notion about teachers and it being about a noble calling. Like most Americans I am worried about the education system. You can't drop out a million kids a year and sustain a great country.
I wanted to see what was going on. Somehow I get myself in the Philadelphia school district teaching 10th graders English Lit, ironically. I got a look. First of all the title comes from two things. One I saw how hard it was to be a teacher. Not only physically grinding, but emotionally grinding. You got to be more than just a teacher. You have to be a mother, father, sister, or brother. The other thing was like a lot of people I know that look back at their school years and thought why didn't I try harder? Why didn't I learn more? So with that came the title of the book.
AE: Have you gotten any feedback from teachers after reading your book?
TD: Yea! I am walking down the street and teachers come up to me and say 'I accept your apology.' (Both laugh)
AE: How tough was your role as a teacher at Northeast High School in Philadelphia with not only teaching kids, but having your classroom taped for your show "Teach Tony Danza"?
TD: Well it (the show) only lasted for the first semester. By the way it was my way to get there. I told one of my friends who is a TV producer about wanting to be a teacher. He told me that we could make a show out of it. There was the argument that we could make a bigger impact. We could show the world what it is like to be a teacher. We could show the world what is going on in an inner-city school.
I didn't play to the cameras. The more I didn't play to the cameras, the more the kids didn't play to the cameras. The kids forgot that they were there. I am not kidding you we caught kids cheating on the camera. They forget that the cameras where there. It was much better when they (cameras) were gone. Being a first year teacher is hard enough without having it filmed. I think there were seven hour episodes that A&E ran. They ran for six weeks. I was really proud of the show.
AE: You say that you saw a lot of the burden put on teachers to mold a child's future and that parents need to step up. What did you see that is the most glaring example of how parents need to be more focused in a child's life?
TD: Here is the problem. This is where we get into the complexity again. Don't get me wrong a lot of parents are busy. They have jobs and it is not easy to be involved in their kids' schooling. My parents were involved to the point where if I got in trouble in school, I would be in trouble at home. One of things is that nobody comes to parent teacher conferences. There are anecdotal stories of teachers making gift baskets to entice parents to come to the parent teacher conferences.
But let's talk about the realities of it. There is an out of wedlock birthrate in this country of 44% overall. 50% of every child born to a woman under 30 years old is out of wedlock. One of the best indicators of student achievement is the academic success of the mother at home. These kids having kids are not a model for education. So you see how the parents are not sort of parents. They are kids themselves. You don't have a model for the kids to see.
AE: If you could go back in time and say something to the Tony Danza that was in high school what advice would you give to teenage Tony in regards to the title of your book?
TD: I gave one detention to a kid. All year I gave one detention. The good kids were mad at me. They were like you gotta pull the trigger. I was afraid that if I came down hard on the bad kids I would lose them completely. You have to walk this fine line. I had a couple girls come up to me and say 'You gotta grow some balls Mr. Danza'. (Both laugh)
So one day towards the end of the second semester this girl, Charmaine, who I warned not to be late to class, comes in late and disrupts the class. I said that is it Charmaine you are getting a detention. By the way I didn't know that when I gave a detention I had to be there. So 7:15 in the morning I meet her at school and we start to have a conversation. I say to her and this is what I would say (to my younger self) how long do you think you will be in school? She replies 'Forever!' I said no sweetheart. I spread my hands out and I said this is your life. Then I put my hands close together and said this is how long you are in school. You don't want to be looking back and thinking I wish I would have done better like someone else I know.
Given today's situation if you don't take advantage of this part of your life, it's not like it was when I was a kid. You gotta make sure that you are ready to go out and take on the world. You have to be a critical thinker. Even if you get a job you got to be ready to adapt because your job might just go away. That is what I would tell him. (High school Tony)
AE: I want to get your take on parenting. What is the main thing you strive to teach your children?
TD: Well I think that you have to have empathy for people. I think you have to have self respect, self reliance, and self control. I think it is the normal stuff that you teach from the moment they are born. You have to be relentless about manners and right and wrong. I would teach empathy. Take a walk in the guys shoes like they say in (How to Kill) Mockingbird. You got to walk around in the guy's skin for a while before you can judge him.
AE: Which was tougher acting or teaching?
TD: Teaching! Did I say it fast enough? (Laughs) Acting is really hard. Acting is hard. Just the work you got to do before you act is really tough. But trust me teaching is 181 days. Let me put it this way. (laughs) Each teacher is responsible for 150 students. Let me put it another way so that you really get the idea. Each teacher is responsible for 150 teenagers. For those of us who have teenagers we know what I just said. It is incredible. Just thinking about it is nuts. The daily grind of being there for these kids and dealing with lives, I had 26 kids in my class and they all have lives. It is just incredible.
AE: Out of all the shows and movies you have been in which show or film has been your favorite?
TD: Taxi changed my life in such a big way, but then Who's the Boss? was the one that really changed my life. It was a chance to apply what I learned in Taxi. It is been a long career with a lot of different things. I saw Angels in the Outfield the other day, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I just finished a movie with him. He wrote, directed, and starred in a movie called Don Jon's Addiction with Scarlett Johansson. I'm in the movie. I play his father. So it is hard to choose just one.
To listen to the entire interview click here to check out the podcast on the Life of Dad show.
Published by Art Eddy, III
Art is a writer, podcast producer, and a stay at home dad. He is always looking to share funny stories, product reviews, and interviews he has with athletes, actors, and musicians. Art started his career... View profile
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