Books: “I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had”

October 8, 2012


When I was teaching English grammar and composition at a New Jersey prison, one of my students told me about a visit he had received from his grandmother. “She told me she got the first letter from me that wasn’t all one sentence! That’s your fault, Mr. Paolino!” It was one of the nicest things anyone had ever said to me.

Tony Danza as Tony Banta in “Taxi

I have never been a full-time teacher, but I have taught many college classes over the past 40 years or so, and in some cases the students really weren’t prepared for college. In recent years, I taught a lot of remedial English courses; the number of kids who need remedial English after graduation from high school is quite a scandal.

My experiences gave me a little extra appreciation of this book — I Want to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had — written by the actor Tony Danza after he spent a year teaching an English class at Northeast High School in Philadelphia.

Danza, who first became a nationally known figure for his portrayal of cabbie and boxer Tony Banta in the TV series Taxi, writes that he had always harbored an ambition to be a teacher. When his most recent TV show was cancelled, he decided to fulfill that ambition. According to him, he loathes reality TV and did not intend for his experiment to become a television series, but it happened anyway.

TONY DANZA

The A&E network set out to create a series based on Danza’s stint in the classroom, but Danza writes that it was an uneasy relationship because the network wanted drama and was willing to stage it if it didn’t occur naturally, and Danza writes that he wanted the camera to record only what happened in the normal course of events.

Danza taught a double class … two 45-minute periods with the same students. But he had to show up in the morning at the same time as the other teachers and take on all the obligations they had outside the classroom: truancy duty, coaching sports, chaperoning dances, and attending planning meetings and in-service programs.

Not everyone in the school was happy to have him there, and there were several instances in which he got into trouble for violating procedures. For example, he took his students on a field trip to Washington, D.C., but he didn’t tell their other teachers that the kids would be absent from school that day.

Danza was feeling his way in teaching an English course for the first time, but it sounds as if he became a pretty creative instructor, particularly in the way he presented literature and prompted the students to see its relevance to everyday life. In that urban setting, Danza writes, he came face to face with the problems that   many kids lug around with them every day, kids with dysfunctional families, kids who live in an atmosphere of violence, kids with no self esteem. And, of course, he came face to face with the impact such problems have on teachers.

Danza, who writes that he was a problem student at a Long Island high school, rode an emotional roller coaster at Northeast, sometimes parenting troubled kids, sometimes losing his temper — not an unusual experience for him — and sometimes succumbing in tears.

Danza came away from Northeast with some strong feelings about public education being underfunded, and about teachers and administrators being under appreciated, under compensated, and stymied by bureaucratic interference.

Of course, I didn’t accompany Danza to Northeast High School, so I can’t vouch for everything he writes about his time there. What I especially like about this book, though, is that it seems to be written in his voice. Anyone who is familiar with Danza as an actor can hear him speaking these words, and that makes them seem all the more credible.

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4 Responses to “Books: “I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had””


  1. Thanks for sharing this meaningful blog, Chuck! How very, very nice that you received that heart-felt “thank you” from a former student who had learned so much from you in the prison class you taught that he was able to write correctly constructed sentences for the first time in letters home. He’ll never forget what you taught him, and you’ll always have those thanks to relish!

  2. charlespaolino Says:

    Thanks, Karen. As much fun as I had in the newspaper business, nothing was more satisfying than teaching. I might still teach a course or two before I hang up my gloves.

  3. shoreacres Says:

    It’s so ironic. When I was trying to decide, in 1965, what course to pursue in college, the one thing I was certain of was that I didn’t want to be a teacher – one of the few acceptable career paths for a girl at that time. With nursing off the table, social work won by default – I really wanted to be an English major, but was dissuaded because there was no way for me to earn a living without that teaching degree.

    When an instructor was needed for pastoral care classes at an interdenominational seminary in LIberia, I fell into it because I had some background in psychology and such. I loved it. I’ve done some other sorts of teaching since then – even teaching sailing – and found it deeply satisfying.

    If I could re-make that 1965 decision today, I’d probably choose teaching. On the other hand, I’ve had the experience minus the bureacracy and frustrations inherent in the public school system.

    I’m looking forward to reading this one.

    • Ava boyo Says:

      Tony Danza is mean, fresh and egomaniac. He looks like a wash up rag my grandmother use to was her windows. He is loud mouth who has no manners. I was so shock to meet and tell I was from Brooklyn and responded yeah that’s good. Then I said I to your picture he said just give me space. I was like foot away from this creep. I took a picture of him and said I know freak you so let me say for you.

      He should count his blessing that anyone even thinks an actor. I was never fan of him he has no talent, speaks like uneducated person and use just look good on taxi. The show was great, talent, funny but that because of him. He is rude person with a worn look similar to a junkie.

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