By Angela Barbuti
Tony Danza went back to being the boss—but this time it was in front of a classroom. In 2009, the then almost 60-year-old actor decided to pursue his dream of becoming a teacher, taking on a high school English class in Philadelphia, which was filmed as a series on A&E. In I’d like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had, available on Sept. 11, he describes the journey with his class, which included a lot of laughter, and many tears. The West Side resident is now back in New York City and reveals that he’s working on a new scripted sitcom for ABC, and is not, contrary to rumors, running for mayor.
After your talk show was canceled, you followed your original career path, which was to teach. Why didn’t you go into teaching after college?
I think when I got out of school, I was not in the place where I thought I could teach anybody anything. I was also—I hate to say this about myself—a little immature. That’s partially why the title is what it is.
Your first class was filled with 26 tenth-graders. Do you keep in touch with your former students?
Alex was here this weekend; he came to visit me. I’m on email with a lot of them. Right now, a couple of the kids are having girl problems [laughs]. One of the things that really bothered me about only being there one year was that I ingratiated myself into these kids’ lives and then I was gone. I always felt bad about that. So I can’t help but keep in touch with them. I was there in June for their graduation.
Have they started college?
Only two of all the kids I was involved with—because I had another bunch of kids who were an unofficial advisory—aren’t going on to college or serious vocational training. I’m working on those two.
So your students were too young to watch Who’s the Boss.
They were born two years after the show was off the air! Later in the year, the show was playing on the Hallmark Channel, so the kids started to see me. I’d get comments like, “Jeez, Mr. Danza, you didn’t used to walk like that! [Laughs]
What’s harder, acting or teaching?
Teaching. [Pauses] Did I say it fast enough? Acting is not easy, but the responsibility of teaching, you can’t discount that. You’re responsible for 150 kids, but not only that, you’re responsible for their futures. [Pauses] I just think that’s such an unbelievable weight. I try to impress upon the kids that you only get one life, and you have to make the most of it.
Is it true you woke up at 4:20 each morning that year?
I started giving up on the 20. I thought I’d just get up at 4 and stop the baloney. I had it worked out so that if I woke up then, I could do a certain amount of exercising and get to school on time. I’m a physical fitness guy. I had a stationary bike, so I rode every morning and did my pushups.
You took your students to see West Side Story.
Yes I did! They had some knowledge of Romeo and Juliet, so they had a reference point. We talked afterwards about how they could relate it to their lives. You should have seen how it morphed into something about civics and your place in the neighborhood.
This piece is being published on the first day of school for NYC public schools. What advice would you give to first year teachers?
Breathe, Thanksgiving’s coming. [Laughs] But I’d rather give the kids advice. Know that being a good student and having a good time in high school is not mutually exclusive. Which means you can do both. Number two, get off to a good start. Much like a baseball player who starts the season in a slump, it’s very hard to pull your grades up as the year goes on. Number three, make sure that you understand that it is your job to get an education and to make the most of what your teachers are trying to give you.
You said on Twitter, “For the record, I will not be running for mayor.” How did this rumor start?
I was at a red carpet for Joseph Levitt’s movie Premium Rush. I’m in a movie with him that’s coming out next year. A journalist asked me if I ever thought of running for mayor. I think I said, “I don’t think I can stand the scrutiny and nobody’s asking me, but sure, why not.” This is a horrible thing, but the shooting at the Empire State Building happened to knock it off the news cycle. They were doing it every hour on the hour on both Fox and CNN. They were having a panel discussion about me being mayor! [Laughs] I loved it! I love New York.
What are your future plans?
I’m working on a sitcom for ABC and a musical for Broadway, Honeymoon in Vegas. I have a couple of things I’m trying to write, cause now I’m a writer.
To see episodes of Teach: Tony Danza, visit www.aetv.com/teach-tony-danza
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