When Tony Danza stepped into the classroom for his new series Teach, his first victory wasn't his students' high marks on a test or getting everyone to turn in their homework on time. It was a rap ... on creation myths.
"Thought Thor was a gangster, and then one day, he woke up the sun to find a brand new day.
Today, still tough and cool and always chill, he realized then someday he'd have to pay the bill.
"So back to school he went and what a change he did see. He's teaching now in Philly, teaching the mantra of he.
His uniform he wears with much Viking pride, a him he never knew, he swings against his own tide."
Teaching a 10th grade English class, it seems, was a stretch for the 59-year-old actor on multiple levels.
"I worked harder than I've ever worked," Danza tells TVGuide.com. "Emotionally, it was the most trying thing at times."
Before making a name for himself on Taxi and Who's the Boss, Danza studied towards becoming a teacher. However, he only recently began contemplating a return to the profession. "Then I was having a conversation with one of my crazy friends who is a TV producer and he said, 'You know, that would make a heck of a TV show,'" he recalls.
For someone so adept to being in front of an audience or millions of viewers, Danza says he was still hesitant about having cameras document his every move. "I was totally frightened and terrified that I would not only make a fool of myself, but let the kids down," he says. "I know the kids signed up for this, but they didn't sign away their 10th grade of English. It was very important to me that they got a year of it."
These kids — 25 students between the ages of 15 and 16 at Philadelphia's Northeast High School — proved to be Danza's toughest obstacle. "The kids test you. They know when you're getting ready to do your lesson and how to divert you into something else," he says. "It's frightening not only because your intellect is on display and you have this unbelievable responsibility, but can you really make an impression on them that will last?"
To ensure his mark on the students was a lasting one, Danza says he was a rigorous but compassionate instructor. He tried not to assign too much homework, but also gave an 11-page final on such material as Of Mice and Men and Julius Caesar.
"That's the key, to show the kids you care," he says. "One of the things I'm most proud of is that the kids who had great grades coming into my class didn't do as well, and the kids who had crummy grades coming into my class did better."
Outside the classroom, he also found ways to put his more well-known talents to good use. Danza, a former boxer, helped coach the school's football team. He performed his lounge act with music students as a fundraiser — entitled Extrava-Danza — to get air conditioning for the library.
Despite the hardships along the way, Danza is grateful he got to take the road not taken and finally realize his dream of teaching.
"I just kept pushing them and telling them they could do it and they did. It was amazing," he says. "It was one of the most successful things I've ever done."
Teach: Tony Danza premieres Friday at 10/9c on A&E.