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'Now hear this' - from the principal's office

I'm back on the air. Let it be known that, as an elementary school principal, I relish every chance I get to grab that intercom microphone, press the red button, and send my voice reverberating down the hallway into all the classrooms. This is the big payoff for all that effort spent getting certified for administrative work. And now I am master of a medium that begs for creativity and mirth.

Surely you remember as a child what awe was inspired by The Voice of Authority coming over the school airwaves to your homeroom. That public address system seemed more powerful than either radio or television when every classroom and every school hallway reverberated with news from "the office." I recall as a 7-year-old assuming that everyone I knew was participating in a "broadcast" moment.

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For all I knew the principal was broadcasting to the whole city: Traffic was grinding to a halt, pedestrians were freezing to the sidewalk to repeat the pledge of allegiance, their hands over their hearts, just as we were down the hall in Mrs. Lee's classroom.

Now that I have risen to the level of my media ambitions, oh the power I feel as my amplification fantasies come true. One can not only broadcast to the entire school, but can single out individual classrooms. Do you recall hearing the speaker above the door come to life with a message like "Mrs. Smith, can you take a phone call?" Or "Mr. Johnson, would you please bring your attendance to the secretary?"

Or "Mrs. Lee, would you please send Todd down to the office ... again." The PA system defined omniscience. I even theorized that because the voice could reach everywhere, there must be commensurate powers of visual observation - a scary thought that certainly reformed many a grade school rapscallion.

And yet I have come to feel that the principals in my elementary schools never made the fullest use of their opportunities: Their restraint seemed incomprehensible to me.

My power of the airwaves brings out in me a streak of mirth best described as the Thousand Clowns syndrome, from the movie of the same name.

My mother thought that the pinnacle of humor was Jason Robards leaning out the window of his New York City apartment, megaphone in hand, to shout: "All right, all you campers! Now hear this!" every morning. The assumption: Your neighborhood always has needed and always will need wry comments from a mirthful wiseacre on the fourth-floor fire escape.

Any elementary school is ripe for the mirth of a thousand clowns. For instance, how much more interesting might homeroom be if the fourth grade were startled by "Welcome to McDonald's. May I take your order?"

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The sixth grade might enjoy: "Principal Nelson coming to you live on WKID - and some fortunate caller today is going win free tickets to the head of the lunch line ... but first let's check out traffic by the jungle gym."

During the eighth-grade basketball game: "This is Vince Scully and Todd Nelson welcoming you to Monday Night Basketball where the Tigers are taking on the Seahawks for a chance to win the Northern Division championship series." Followed, of course, by some astute color commentary and play-by-play stats.

How would you feel about Homer Simpson calling your classroom to say your mom was here with your lunch?

Perhaps Cookie Monster should lead the pledge of allegiance for the kindergarten some day? Or perhaps we'll just announce bus dismissal like this: "Kirk to Enterprise. Mr. Scott, we're ready to beam up. And we will leave no child behind."

Sadly, my audience is from "Star Trek: The Next Generation," at best. But I'm encouraged by the fact that today's shtick - getting everyone on the bus for the field trip - worked pretty well: "Welcome to Adams School Air, Flight No. 2 to Main Street." Over and out.


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