|"Stop me if you've heard this one. . ."|
Act One: Bobby G, Tony Danza's best friend and a longtime teacher comes to visit. "Teaching has always been a sacrifice," says Bobby G. "You're working with a lot of people and it's very complicated." Origami-folding Eric is bored in class, tired of Hollywood Tony's digressions and gee-whiz exhortations. "I do it only in his class," Eric says about his paper-folding. "You're not supposed to have time to do it in class. We're supposed to be learning. . . I get kind of bored when Mr. Danza gets off topic. Topics, so many topics." David Cohen, Danza's patient mentor, makes it very plain. "Change from thinking, What am I going to do? to What are the kids going to do?"
Acts Two and Three: Danza has some success with helping the marching band, but fails in teaching a lesson on myths, as the class gets unfocused and out of control. Teachers are supposed to control the students, Eric points out. Yawn. Danza has a bit more of a positive experience again with the marching band -- his theatre training helps with the choreography. And a light starts to dawn for Danza during their early morning rehearsals, "The man's commitment is unbelievable," he says, "It makes you think about your own comittment." Danza goes bowling with a bunch of teachers, and his buddy Joe says over beers, "When I'm working, everything else goes away but family," his young friend Joe says. Danza misses his family. Maybe he will fly out and visit them. The next day, after doing poorly on a test, Eric breaks down, and Danza keeps saying, "Focus! Try harder!"
Acts Four and Five: In a meeting with Eric's parents, Danza keeps saying, "Focus! Try harder!" Finally (Finally!), young Joe of the Beers gives Hollywood Tony a lightbulb moment: "If I can design something for the students to do, I'm the man if I can just walk around." The next day, Mr. Danza admits to his students, ""If I'm talking, we're not doing it right." Rather than visit his family, Mr. Danza goes to the band competition. His daughter comes to visit instead, and she arrives on the day when Mr. Danza's students get to "take the stage" in his classroom for once.
The flatness of this episode results from the shift that needs to happen for viewers to learn about how schools really work: when the educators are really doing their jobs, the focus is usually not on them, it's on the students. If the purpose of the first four episodes of 'Teach' is to introduce the half dozen students who are assume greater importance in narrative, then I'll keep watching. But if the show is going to focus so much on Hollywood Tony's learning to teach, then the drama is going to fall flat. What does Tony need? is not a dramatic question that will carry the series/ The really interesting stuff that happens in classroom goes on with the students -- you've got a score of life stories to unpack at least a little bit, and then you've got to get the kids to work as hard for you as will work for them. And that means working in a smart and, most importantly, selfless way.
As I've said before, Danza's got a great heart, but he's been wrapped up so long in the narcissistic world of Hollywood that he can't set aside his ego enough to shift the attention away from himself. He's going to have to -- or the producers are going to have to -- very soon, because I'm starting to feel that I'm watching the same episode over and over again. Let's get into the stories of Monte, Paige, Eric C, Katerina, Algernon, Stephanie, Howard, Tammy, and Daniel. What do they need? As a teacher, I've been thinking about those kids from Friday to Friday -- just like most of us do in our real teaching jobs.
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