10/22/10

Classroom Notes - 'Teach: Tony Danza' - Season 1: Episode 4, "Homesick"

"Stop me if you've heard this one. . ."
     What does Tony need?  Four episodes in, and I'm starting to get bored.  I'm not sure if the producers of the show get where the drama of the classroom really lives, although they've had a number of characters say it to Tony Danza many times: Put the focus on the students.
     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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6 comments:

Anonymous said...

I agree with your take on the show. I've only watched it once and although I like the premise of the show, I was becoming bored because it was all about Tony. I wanted to know more about exactly what he was teaching and how the kids were responding to it. I'm not sure how I feel about getting deeper into the personal lives of the students. Any degree of fame from reality TV never seems to end well for anyone.

JaggedXJ said...

It seems your Danza posts may get a reprieve faster than expected. Last night ep5 "Solidarity" supposedly aired right after ep4. My DVR failed to catch it, but will be deleting the timer next week anyway. I have learned ep6 & 7 will be stacked on the 29th to end the series. Over before it had a chance to earn some respect?

lovesthegirls said...

Converesly to you both, I am finding myself more intrigued as the show goes on. I will be dissapointed when it's over.

Anonymous said...

The show isn't about the students, it is about becoming a teacher. And whether or not the teacher is a Hollywood star, the hardest lesson most teachers learn in the first years of teaching is that teaching isn't about the teacher.

Anonymous said...

I've done an hour or so reading others sites and many readers' comments, and I'm really disappointed. On a whim, I started watching the show, and I found it interesting every episode. I would find myself feeling sad, mad, flabbergasted, and other emotions with every show. Why? Because I tried to see beyond "the show". I read teachers' comments, and many seem to mostly come down on Danza, as if he could meet very little of their standards of teaching. I am glad that the vast majority of them did see some of the heart that he had. Yes, he's an actor, but if can act that well about caring about the education and well being of students in this screwed-up society, then he's fooled me. But I'll take that any day. "A" for effort. And is it not possible that doing it as an "entertainment" venture might have a positive effect, since more folks can see some of what goes on in schools? Just the simple fact of seeing kids having to be searched before entering blows my mind. And then security forces too? Geez...When I went to school, none of that would have ever been thought of, nor needed. What a wake-up call that one is! And about "picking" students for the camera--how many of them do you really think are natural actors? Here again, you get a glimpse--albeit a small one--of some of what goes on in our schools. Danza is able to show the viewer how difficult it is for ANYONE to reach some kids, let alone a professional teacher. And I think he represents a large amount of teachers that have that same ethic.
About the teaching aspect; I'm sure that any teacher might have different ideas on how to "teach" when compared with another.
So with that, I am dismayed that the series has not enjoyed huge rankings. But it is real life, and most things in real life don't make for good tv. Now put a bunch of troublemakers, partiers, addicts, cheaters (the list goes on and on) then you've got your ratings. Oh what a society we've become...

Mark E Hayes said...

In response to this last comment, I fully appreciate the challenges that Danza faced and, more to the point, the way in which 'Teach' does show just how hard the work in the classroom is. I think, from a professional viewpoint, longtime teachers are going to watch the show with the same skepticism that real-work police officers have when they watch 'CSI.' In the end, I don't think Danza's a phony, and I really respect what he did. I've seen others -- even longtime teachers -- do worse work. I really wish A&E had simply stuck with the show a little more.