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COLLEGEVILLE — Before he was a cab driver on “Taxi,” and a housekeeper on “Who’s the Boss?” Tony Danza dreamed of becoming a teacher.
He attended a small liberal arts college in the midwest and studied education. But after graduation, when all of his friends were headed off to teaching jobs, Danza ended up in Hollywood.
Ironic, then, that Saturday night the accomplished actor found himself on the campus of Ursinus College talking to an audience of mostly teachers about a book he wrote about teaching.
Although it wasn’t his life’s work, Danza did put in a solid year of teaching at Northeast High School in Philadelphia in 2009, and that experience led him to pen “I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had: My Year as a Rookie Teacher at Northeast High.”
But how did Tony Danza the actor become Mr. Danza the teacher in an inner-city classroom? Blame Arthur Miller.
Danza was headed straight toward his 60s when he realized he wanted to do something that his children could be proud of.
“Maybe all one can do is hope to end up with the right regrets,” he said to the crowd gathered at Ursinus, quoting Arthur Miller.
That idea got Danza thinking about the life he would have lived had he not become an actor. The desire to experience teaching in a classroom was still there. Being an actor, he found himself talking to some “muckity-muck television producer” about his ambition to teach, and the producer thought Danza in a classroom would make good TV, more specifically good reality TV. It did, but only for a few episodes on A&E before it was canceled.
The show, “Teach,” wasn’t scripted, which may have been the reason it didn’t win in the ratings, but it managed to capture the hearts of many teachers who tuned in, and many of those teachers spoke out Saturday night, telling Danza that the program also captured the reality of being a teacher.
Even though the television show only lasted a few episodes, Danza had signed on to teach for a year. “The urge to teach predated the show,” Danza said.
During that year, he said, he found out just how difficult being a teacher is. Danza found himself crying in his classroom — the first time came after a lesson plan that he was sure would soar flopped; feeling vulnerable in front of a classroom of “teenagers,” some of whom, he recalled, mocked him by saying things like “my mother’s a fan”; and constantly challenged to find ways to make education matter to his students.
“I only did one year, so it’s kinda weird to be up here talking to teachers about it,” Danza conceded. “But,” he said, standing up taller before the crowd, “one year is no small feat.”
Danza said he had hoped the television program would give people insight into the world of teaching and allow viewers to see all those terrifying moments when he forgot lesson plans or had to manage problems in his classroom. But after the show was over, and his year teaching was complete, he found himself wanting to continue the discussion, so he wrote the book.
“I really think it’s a noble profession, maybe the highest calling,” Danza said of teaching.
Teachers are challenged in more ways than non-teachers can imagine. Teachers tell their students, “Hard work and good behavior will pay off,” he said. “And then (the students) go home and watch Jersey Shore,” Danza said to a loud round of applause.
But “as hard as it was” being a teacher, Danza said, “I found it terrific” when things worked and the students could be reached.
Even when things don’t work, “the one thing you get as a teacher is, you get the next day,” he said.
Although many of those in the audience at Urisnus were teachers, everyone there was a fan of Danza.
Paulette Rapp, of Perkiomenville, made her way to the event with her daughter-in-law. Rapp said she wasn’t a teacher, just a longtime fan. She waited to get Danza’s autograph on her new copy of his book, which was included in the cost of the ticket to the event.
“We always watched his show,” Rapp said, referencing “Who’s the Boss.”
“He’s great. I’m so glad we’re here.”
Joe Hojnacki, of West Norriton, said he was finishing his teaching career at Northeast High School the year that Danza taught there.
“He’s such a great guy,” Hojnacki said. “I haven’t seen him in a couple years, and I had to get here to see him. He gave 150 percent every day” at Northeast.
Hojnacki said that the attention Danza is bringing to the profession is great.
“We need all the support we can get,” Hojnacki said. “We need to work together, parents, teachers, and then we can make a difference.”
(This story originally appeared on www.pottsmerc.com.)