Editor’s Note: Tony Danza, before he grew up and starred in such classic TV series as “Taxi” and “Who’s the Boss?” as well as on Broadway, was a “discipline problem” at Long Island’s Malverne High School, for which he is deeply apologetic. Danza’s just-published memoir, I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had, is his account of a year spent teaching tenth-grade English at Northeast High – Philadelphia’s largest high school with 3,600 students. Learn more about the book here. These days, he divides his time between New York City and Los Angeles. Here at Signature, we asked Mr. Danza to share his top five favorite movies about education. Here are his picks.
“To Sir with Love”
Number one has to be "To Sir with Love," with Sidney Poitier as an out-of-work engineer who takes a job teaching in a tough, predominantly white school. His approach is to teach his students about life and in the course of the movie, he imparts many lessons and learns more than a few himself. The movie also delves into the racial biases of Britain at the time. The last scene of the movie illustrates the never-ending task that is teaching. Sidney Poitier is a friend, I'm proud to say, and this movie is one of his best.
My number two, “Blackboard Jungle,” also features Sidney Poitier, this time as one of the unruly students that Glenn Ford, as Mr. Dadier, confronts in the 1955 movie. At the time, this movie was promoted as shocking and Vic Morrow makes a lasting impression. “Blackboard Jungle” is another story of a teacher trying to make a difference in his student's lives. These kids are bad and Mr. Dadier bends – but doesn't break.
In another favorite, "Freedom Writers," dynamo teacher Erin Gruwell is portrayed by Hilary Swank and nothing will stop her from helping her students to overcome any obstacle. This movie is set in a gang-infested area of Long Beach, California, a very difficult place to teach anybody anything. Never giving up, which is the mark of a good teacher, she transforms her kids and proves their worth to themselves and to her doubtful colleagues. My favorite moment is when Erin, asked by her perplexed husband why she's so crazy about teaching, answers, "I don't know, but in that classroom my life makes sense." When I was teaching, I felt the same way.
"Up the Down Staircase"
In 1967’s “Up the Down Staircase,” Sandy Dennis as a first-year teacher in a troubled school. I like this movie because it's a depiction of a new teacher confronting not only rough students but the sometimes impossible bureaucracy.
"The Ron Clark Story"
A small-town white teacher, played by Matthew Perry in the 2006 television movie “The Ron Clark Story,” comes to the big city and tries to face his own fears and make a difference in the lives of minority students. Having met the real Ron Clark and seen his dedication, this is another great movie about why people want to teach. They do it, it seems to me, to make a difference in the lives of the young people assigned to them.
Read an excerpt from Tony Danza's new book: