"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was and never will be...nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe." – Thomas Jefferson

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Anyone Can Teach...Even Old Actors

What would you say about a reality show in which an actor, who "always wanted to be a teacher" walked into a real classroom and started teaching?

Tony Danza of Taxi and Who's the Boss fame, for which he received an Emmy nomination and several Golden Globe nominations, co-taught a 10th grade English class at Northeastern High School in Philadelphia during the 2009-2010 school year.

A & E is broadcasting the series. It began on October first.

I watched the first episode via Hulu and what struck me about the show at first glance was the assumption that anyone can teach...even an old actor (Danza will turn 60 in April of 2011). I mean...if an old actor could become president, why not a teacher?

This is just what Teach for America and the Broad/Gates Reformers are saying. Our schools are full of bad teachers...so let's get some new, energetic, but unqualified people to replace them.

Jim Horn said it well at Schools Matter:
In a prime example of Orwellian logic, Arne Duncan's corporate bosses have declared that the best way to getting test results in the poor schools that need the most highly qualified teachers is to lower the standards for teacher education by offering more "alternative certification" programs.
I'm not sure what I expected when I began watching the show, Teach: Tony Danza, but I certainly didn't expect what I saw. Danza is entertaining, has a good sense of humor, accepts the comments the students throw at him and responds honestly, and generally comes across as a typical first year teacher. Part way through the episode he said what so many first year teachers tell themselves, "You know you think you know so much, and then you find out you don't know nothing!"

Like most first year teachers, he talked to much...monopolizing the classroom. One of the most difficult lessons for new teachers to learn is that learning comes from the students, not from the teacher. A teacher can present material, but it's interaction with the students that leads to learning. So...he discovered quickly that he had to talk less.

On his first day, he screwed up, got called to the office and was reprimanded by the assistant principal for not signing in (Of all the scenes in the show, this one seemed to be the most staged). He then went into the principal's office and was told that "if this doesn't work, you're outa here." To his credit (or perhaps because he knew he was being filmed) he accepted the reprimand and the warning graciously.

Throughout the film he's mentored by an "instructional coach" who gives him tips, help and support. The coach, David Cohn, observes in the class, and is, I presume the co-teacher of the class.

The most gratifying thing about the first episode is that he has the same trouble that all first year teachers have. He is desperately trying to keep up with the students. He's nervous..."terrified" he said. He worries that he will have that "deer in the headlights" look...and his worry is justified. More than once you could see the pressure on his face...the fear, the loss of confidence, the panic when you just don't know what to do next. Teaching can be overwhelming and for beginners it often is. At one point he says what every experienced teacher knows, "This is the hardest work I've ever done." Like many first year teachers he worries, while wiping away the tears of frustration, that he may have "bitten off more than [he] could chew."

We'll see.

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