Classroom Pedagogy: The Reality TV Edition

Last Friday night, the reality TV show Teach aired. Tony Danza “stars” (if one can star in a reality TV show) in this program as a first-year 10th grade English teacher at Northeast High School in Philadelphia. The premise of the program is simple: Danza, at one time, wanted to become a teacher (majored in History Education), but he became famous as an actor. Life moves on, and he decides to explore a path he had not taken, so he pursues this path–being a teacher–and puts the whole affair on national television.

Easy enough. Maybe.

When I first heard of Teach, I thought the reality TV show phenomenon has reached a new level. “Who is this clown dressing up like a teacher and ‘performing’ for students?” “What could he possibly ‘teach’ them?” “What kind of training could he have?” “What about the kids?!?!?!” my idealist self wailed.

After watching the first episode last week, I find that I’m surprised at my reactions. Yes, some of it appears to be staged and quite cheezy. (Danza crying in the Principal’s office before school has even started? Oh, give me a break.) But. But there is something genuine about it all, something honest about Danza’s desire to be a teacher.

Moving through the first episode, we see Danza nervously greeting his students, trying to learn their names, talking with them about the rules of the class, and we see him struggle. He knows the pedagogy, to focus his attention on his students and their stories, but he finds himself talking about his move from acting to teaching; his monologues come all about him. In his nervousness, he moves from the role of teacher to a role that is comfortable to him, that of an actor. It’s a trainwreck. And we get to watch.

The reality show Teach has some problems, but it does demonstrate how important teaching is and how difficult it can be. Not everyone is cut out for this work.

As I viewed the episode, however, in between judging Danza and laughing at his exploits, I was embarrassed to recognize myself in his actions. I realized that I had made the very mistakes Danza makes in the program and that students probably looked at me with the same skepticism and disdain they looked at him. But when that happened to me, no one else was watching.

What would happen if our university courses were filmed–not for a reality TV series–but for our own (and our students’) edification. What could we learn about pedagogy, the profession, students, or ourselves? I have filmed myself teaching, but I planned the lesson and knew when it was going to happen. I was prepared, and I probably “acted” my way through that lesson. What if that filming happened on some random day that we could not control? What would the film capture? It would certain capture the reality of that day’s teaching, good or bad.

And look at what could be learned from that activity.

How about you? How have you used film to improve your teaching, your pedagogy? Please leave thoughts or suggestions in comments below.

[Creative Commons licensed photo by John Haslam.]

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