Houston Chronicle Sunday
Tony Danza talks about teaching stint at education luncheon
Many people know of Tony
Danza as the actor who starred in “Taxi” and “Who’s the Boss?” on the small screen. But did you know that the TV star also spent a year co-instructing a 10th-grade English class at Northeast High School in Philadelphia from 200910?
Breakthrough Houston’s 400 “Envision a Bright Future” luncheongoers do.
After two years of tapping heavy-hitting locals such as Renu Khator, president of the University of Houston, and Scott McClelland, president of H-E-B, to deliver the event’s keynote address, 2020’s luncheon co-chairs Kelli Kickerillo and Todd Forester, Sarah and Richard Punches, and Vicky and Gordon Wight went the Hollywood route. And what audience members at St. John’s School got was an entertaining, Hollywoodtype performance.
Danza began his speech by explaining the motivation behind his teaching stint.
“Arthur Miller said, ‘Maybe all one can do is hope to end up with the right regrets,’ ” he said, quoting the late playwright. “I was closing in on my 60th birthday and had just lost what I thought was my dream job.”
So Danza told his friends of his intentions to try his hand at education in hopes that they would hold him accountable. Then he reached out to Teach for America for help getting placed with a school. Lastly, he mentioned his plans to a reality-TV producer — and 20 minutes later, the A&E Network expressed interest in creating a show around his experience.
Which is how camera crews wound up following Danza around the halls of Northeast High School during his first semester.
“Once, I caught students cheating by reviewing the film,” he told the crowd with a wink. “Teach: Tony Danza” lasted one season. “After the show got canceled, I spent the rest of the year becoming the teacher my students deserved — because they only get to take 10th-grade English once.”
In 2012, Danza published the book, “I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had,” based on his year of teaching. “Those 180 days in the classroom gave me a different perspective.”
Breakthrough Houston has a two-step approach to tackle the city’s educational challenges: increase academic opportunities for high-performing, under-served students and train the next generation of educators. The nonprofit organization serves 700 students annually and trains more than 150 teaching fellows and volunteers. Last summer, Breakthrough opened its third location at Gregory-Lincoln Education Center; programs offered are tuition-free.
And that’s partially thanks to support from luncheongoers, who raised $200,000 toward educational equity in Houston.
“Just because they qualify for free lunch doesn’t mean they aren’t gifted and talented students,” Breakthrough Houston executive director Kathy Heinzerling said before introducing Rice University senior and teaching fellow Daniel Koh.
Koh, in turn, stressed the importance of person-to-person contact and mentioned that the organization is looking for area families to host teaching fellows during the summer’s six-week intensive session.
“I taught my students to make the best of a bad situation,” Danza said in closing. “They face poverty and inequality issues every day, and education is the only way to solve either of those problems.”