27 July, 2012

Review: I'd Like To Apologize To Every Teacher I Ever Had By Tony Danza

First, the title. This thing is Fiona Apple long. I'd Like To Apologize To Every Teacher I Ever Had: My Year As A Rookie Teacher At Northeast High. That's like, 19 words. Let's just call it My Bad and move on. You know, the way one of Danza's students tells him her name and he thinks "Oh, I'll just call her Nick." (But Black Nick cause we already have White Nick.) My Bad is kind of awesome. It sidesteps most of the Rich Man Teaching pitfalls to deliver a straightforward look at what standardized testing has done to American's teachers and students. Of course Danza's students need more resources, better home lives and a more supportive system. But Danza doesn't condescend. When he encourages his kids to grab the opportunities they do have he never comes off as above them. Danza speaks to the students and the reader directly, as an imperfect man in an imperfect world.

In doing so he does the teaching memoir a great service. People who would never read a book about schools (unless it had recently been made into an uplifting Oscar film) will read My Bad because Tony Danza wrote it. His celebrity will illustrate that the grades given your child's school are not an indication of the passion or performances within it. His writing style is open and engaging. While nothing in the book is particularly surprising, the journey is pleasant. Danza admits that he struggled greatly with 20% of the average teacher workload and far more resources. He illustrates how the tasks we are asking our teachers to perform are impossible. As well, he doesn't fall for the One Teacher Who Cares myth that many teaching memoirs do. He recognizes that the teachers care. It is our society that does not.

My Bad is imperfect, like the subject it covers. Danza is a product of his times. While he works to keep race out of the book there are times he slips. Faced with a racist parent he blames "the culture" of the other children. A student on a downward slide demonstrates her unhappiness through the "extreme hairstyles" of an afro or cornrows. His good old days are of a certain tiny slice of American life. These things appear to be based more in ignorance than bias, as Danza otherwise presents himself as an open and rational man. Danza admits his imperfections to the reader, often harsher on himself than we would be. As a result he comes across as sincere and charismatic. Working in the story of a failed reality series (the excuse for his year at Northeast) Danza is desperate not to fail his students. He certainly doesn't fail the reader. My Bad is well worth checking out.

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