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Tony Danza's Latest Role

A year teaching high school taught the actor the harsh realities of the education system.

If you think the new kid in school has it tough, try being an actor-turned-first-year-teacher in Philadelphia’s largest high school. The role reduced Tony Danza to tears — literally.

Tony Danza Teaches High School

For his new reality show "Teach," Tony Danza taught for a year at Philadelphia's Northeast High School. — Courtesy A&E

Danza was just days into the 2009–10 school year at Northeast High School when a particularly difficult class session cracked his fragile confidence. He met with David Cohen, his mentor and the head of first-year teachers, to talk through his concerns.     

“He said, ‘Are you all right?’’’ Danza remembers. “I said, ‘Yeah, yeah, I’m all right. I can fix this.’ As I’m gathering up my stuff he says, `Did you cry yet?’ Well, it was like somebody turned on a switch. I swear to God I couldn’t stop.’’

It was the first of several times Danza welled up during the filming of his new reality show, Teach. But he eventually found his footing and spent the next 10 months teaching a class of 10th graders everything from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar to modern classics such as Of Mice and Men and To Kill a Mockingbird. In between he ran a highly successful poetry contest.

Making Teach, which premieres Friday at 10 p.m. Eastern on A&E, taught the former University of Dubuque history education major that a teacher is also part social worker, part psychiatrist and part parent.  

"It has just been a most amazing experience,’’ says Danza, 59. "You feel like you are on the front lines of something that is so important.’’

Danza never intended to do a reality show, and with his past success in sitcoms, talk shows, Broadway and Las Vegas, he’s at a stage in his career when he can be choosy. But as he approached the end of his 50s, Danza was anxious to do something different.

President Barack Obama’s call to service helped focus Danza’s attention on teaching. He was further inspired when he saw a video promoting Teach For America, which sends new teachers into neglected rural and urban areas.

Most of Danza’s friends said he was crazy when he told them his plan to join Teach For America. But a television producer pal suggested that rather than join Teach For America, he should do a reality show. At first, Danza balked, but his friend convinced him that it could do a service by showing America what it’s like to be a first-year teacher in an urban school.

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