An outside look

I just completed Tony Danza’s memoir I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had.

I’m not going to lie, part of me felt cheesy about reading a book by Tony Danza (of all people) about his one year as a teacher. But, as a teacher, I can certainly respect Tony for stepping into my shoes not for a week, a month, or even a semester, but an entire school year. Its one thing to talk about being empathetic to teachers, but its a completely different thing to have the courage to live out what it means to be a teacher in America. His experiences as a high school teacher were turned into a series on A&E, which I have yet to watch.

Reading his thoughts, struggles, euphoric highs, and emotional devotion to his students is something I, and most teachers, can absolutely relate to. On nearly every page, I couldn’t help but to say to my myself: “Oh yeah, yep, I know exactly what he’s going through.” In this respect, there was nothing really new or surprising in the book – especially since I have taught in an inner-city high school for nine years.

The first thing that struck me was how Tony vehemently opposed a staged, dramatized depiction of his experiences that was “good for T.V.” I’m with him. With everything that needs to happen for student success, the last thing my class needs is a camera crew filming our every move. We have work to do.

I found his stripped-down account of the school year a strong reminder of the immense work that I do. After all these years, I sometimes forget actually how much “work” I do on behalf of my students. I put the word work in quotations because I still don’t really consider what I do as work in terms of what others consider work to be. I’m helping students succeed – to me that’ll never really be work. Nonetheless, I take much of what I do for granted simply because I have been doing it for so long. Teaching (and teaching students that are classified as high need especially) is hard. Tony learned for himself. It was helpful to get Tony’s fresh point of view on my daily grind. This was where my first takeaway from the book comes from. It reminded me that my commitment to my students can be overwhelmingly extensive, but it is incredibly vital. I can tell you that this will make me even more vigilant and persistent with my students.

Bob DeBitetto, who was the head of A&E network at the time of filming, mentioned that he picked up Tony’s show because it was a “good cause, topical” and that he “might get lucky” with ratings. Tony pointed out that this attitude pretty much summarizes America’s perspective towards public education as a whole. I would say that there’s some truth in that sentiment. Tony had a production crew with him for a good part of the school year and struggled with this because he refused to make good television. Apparently, there wasn’t enough drama. That’s crazy. There’s too much drama in an inner city high school; thats the problem. But, because I’m inside the box, I’m inherently ignorant to how America views what I do. This was the second takeaway from Tony’s book. It helped to inform me exactly how my country views my profession. I now have a more holistic perspective on myself and my students, which isn’t all that reassuring.


My Year in Review & 2015 Resolutions


Colored pencils

2014 was an awesome year for my growth as a teacher. Here’s an abbreviated recap of my past year.


This spring, I had the opportunity to chaperon a school trip to Europe. Myself, two colleagues, and six young people ventured to London, Paris and Rome over spring break. For the students, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and it was truly an honor to help it become a reality.

This was my first year NOT teaching summer school. Before the summer, I wanted it be an incubation period for my own personal growth. I wanted time off to relax and recharge, of course, but I also wanted time to reflect and become a better teacher for my students. It didn’t disappoint. I will never forget the summer of 2014.


In August, I took a two-week class at United Bicycle Institute on bicycle mechanics. I’ve been enthused about bicycles for a long, long time and this was a chance to follow my passion and earn a technical certification. I expected to learn a good deal about bicycles, but I what I didn’t expect was for it to change my perspective on teaching. Forever.

Professional Development

Building on my goal of becoming a better teacher this summer, I attended Twitter Math Camp in July for the first time. This was by far one of the best professional development experiences I’ve ever had. The teachers were incredible. Their work and passion were both humbling and inspiring. After TMC, I started, which has transformed how I view reflection and collaboration. I used to think I would never have time to write about my teaching. I’ve learned that not only do I have the time, but also that writing and reflecting is just as necessary to my teaching as writing lessons plans.

This was also year 2 of my Math for America Master Teacher fellowship. My focus this year was on 3-act math activities, robotics, and arduinos. Shaun Errichiello spearheaded the 3-act team, I helped lead the robotics group with Rick Lee, and Mike Zitolo introduced me and many others to the vast world of arduinos. Math for America was absolutely critical in my growth this year. I made it a point to give back to the MfA community by leading workshops and speaking at Information Sessions. I also attended the MT^2 event again, which was both enlightening and motivating.

Following up on the bicycle mechanics certification I got this summer, I brought this knowledge back to my students by starting a bicycle club at my school. In preparation, in the fall I attended a six-week teacher-mechanic course provided by Karen Overton and Recycle-a-Bicycle. I then began teaching my students mechanics and will be doing some after-school groups rides in 2015.

I joined the 2014-15 professional development committee at my school. Myself and five other teachers plan weekly professional development sessions for our colleagues. I felt responsible to give back to our learning community and help harness the strengths of our teachers. The work is promising and I thoroughly enjoy it.

2015 Resolutions

I have a couple resolutions for my teaching in 2015. One is to implement standard-based grading in my classroom. I want to shift the mindset of my students away from grades. Our focus in the classroom should be on learning and mastering content, not rewards or labels that mask what you truly know (or don’t know).

Thanks to my discussions with Mike Zitolo, who also shares this resolution, I want to make an extra effort to visit other teacher’s classrooms in 2015, both in my school and out. Watching and listening are incredibly underrated skills. Hopefully this resolution not only strengthens my ability to teach math, but also furthers my connections with teachers from other disciplines.

Here’s to 2014. I’ve probably never grown more than I have this year. But this was by no means a journey of one. There are so many people and organizations that helped me in varying ways. Thanks to everyone I collaborated with and all who provided me opportunities to grow in 2014.

I hope 2015 holds even more growth.