Sunday night I was relaxing at home, flipping through the T.V. channels and something caught my eye. A&E’s new reality show Teach: Tony Danza follows sitcom start Tony Danza as he tries his hand and teaching English in the biggest public school in Philadelphia. The thing that caught my attention was his reaction to the students in his class who had reading disabilities.
From Mr. Danza’s perspective, letting a student go to resource to take a test would be isolating that student from the mainstream class. He felt that the student was choosing to be lazy. In this particular episode Mr. Danza gave his 10th grade class a test on the book, Of Mice and Men. Half the class (12 students) failed the test. Mr. Danza’s reaction was that the students aren’t reading the book and aren’t doing the work because they aren’t trying. He said he did the same thing when he was in high school.
Tony was called in to the principals office and she informed him that BY LAW he is required to allow any student resource time when they request it. The principal also tried to help him understand that learning and reading disabilities are real and aren’t just something “lazy” kids make up.
A few things stood out to me in this episode. One, I think that there is still that stigma in America when it come to reading disabilities. Some people still believe that if the student can just motivate themselves enough then they will love to read. It broke my heart to hear some of the students comment to the camera that they tried to read. They said they read a page over and over and they still couldn’t comprehend what the text was saying. They were putting forth the effort to read and they still struggled with comprehension. Much of the time poor reading comprehension originates with poor decoding skills. For students with reading disabilities a program that is systematic and explicit instruction is crucial to improve their reading abilities.
The end of the episode showed his students left frustrated and Mr. Danza crying. I could tell he was at a loss for how to help the students. I think he was beginning to understand that he needed to change his mindset in order to reach his students. I am interested to see how the semester progresses.
In a recent interview in Parade magazine Tony Danza talks about the difficulties of being a teacher. “It’s tough—you’ve got kids who read at a third-grade level and others in the same room who read at an 11th-grade level. That’s what teachers are up against—not to mention the culture in general. As a teacher, you’re supposed to “model” things for the kids—show them the ways that education matters in the world. But where in their communities do they see that? ... I tell them, “If you have one person who’s committed to your education and your future, you’re very lucky.” A lot of these kids in public school don’t have that. They need to know that someone cares.There’s this story another teacher told me, about a big storm that comes and throws thousands of starfish onto the beach. The next day, they’re broiling in the sun, and a guy starts throwing them back into the ocean. Another guy comes along and says, “There’s thousands of them—how are you going to make any difference?” And the first guy picks up another starfish, throws it in, and says, “It made a difference to that one.”
Overall I think that Tony Danza has a good heart and really wants to help inner city students succeed. I just hope he quickly understands that reading disabilities aren’t a made up excuse made by kids who didn’t want to read Of Mice and Men.
Please leave your comments about your perception of learning disabilities or the show Teach: Tony Danza.