NEW YORK (Reuters) - Tony Danza has worn many hats during a career spanning over 30 years, including singer, dancer, talk show host and Broadway star, but his latest role as "teacher" may be his biggest challenge so far.
Danza, 59, best known for creating lovable and enduring characters in the popular TV comedies "Who's The Boss" and "Taxi", documented his year-long stint as a 10th grade English teacher for the reality show, "Teach: Tony Danza," premiering on Friday on cable channel A&E.
"As my 60th birthday approached, I wanted a chance to do something meaningful while benefiting others," said Danza, who had planned to go into teaching in the mid-1970s before his acting career took off.
"I heard President Obama's call to service, and I talked about teaching with a TV producer friend of mine who said, 'That might make a good show.' But I didn't want to do it unless the kids came first. They'd be the priority, and I'd have a chance to live out my dream," Danza told Reuters.
The seven-part series follows Danza as a first year teacher at one of Philadelphia's largest inner city schools. Additional footage was filmed by Danza using a small camera.
Despite a brief career as a professional boxer in the 1970s, Danza described the experience of teaching as "overwhelming" and much harder than he had expected.
"There were some rough times, especially in the beginning that left me in tears," he said.
"I wasn't prepared for how hard it really was. Not just the actual work of lesson planning and grading and test preparation, but the counseling aspect. You have to be a lot of different things to a lot of different people: a father, mother, brother, friend, social worker."
SANITIZING AND SKEPTICISM
Danza's decision to trade his Hollywood life for the classroom brought its fair share of criticism from both teachers and students.
Among the quirkier moments of the series is watching Danza explain the importance of "sanitizing" after installing a hand sanitizer in his classroom.
He was often criticized for talking too much by his students, many of who had never heard of him as an actor in movies like 2005 Oscar-winner "Crash" or as host of his own TV talk show that ended in 2006.
Monty, an outspoken 10th grader, didn't mince words when questioning Danza's credentials. "My education is very important to me and I'm not sure Mr. Danza is qualified to be my teacher."
"I experienced a healthy dose of skepticism upon my arrival to the school, which is not surprising," Danza said. "But I think that I was able to win them over after they saw my dedication and how serious I was about the project."
"Teach: Tony Danza" is being broadcast during a renewed focus on education in the United States.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg last week announced a $100 million gift to help improve public education in Newark, New Jersey, while documentary "Waiting for Superman" -- about five kids facing a lottery for a place in a charter school -- was released in movie theaters last week.
"As a teacher, you're up against a lot, including a staggering dropout rate. A child drops out of school every 26 seconds in this country. They need to know that someone cares," Danza said.
He recalled a story another teacher told him about a storm that leaves thousands of starfish stranded on a beach.
"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 and throws it in the sea, and says, 'It made a difference to that one.'"
(Editing by Jill Serjeant)