Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Icky Twerp & Slam Bang Theatre

"Don't let schooling interfere
your education."

~ Mark Twain ~

As a child of the sixties in Dallas, I enjoyed watching a local TV show called Slam Bang Theatre on channel 11 at 7:00 a.m. Hosted by the late Robert Camfield, who played a goofy looking fellow named Icky Twerp, the one hour show ran the Three Stooges, Edgar Kennedy shorts, and cartoons such as Mighty Heroes, Mighty Mouse, Popeye the Sailor, and Rocket Robin Hood. Icky had an assistant with an ape-mask named Ajax who would pedal the projector as Icky Twerp said “roll ‘em”. In between shows, Icky picked children from the studio audience to come on stage and participate in contests. My favorite contest was when he timed children to see who could hold their breath the longest. I also participated from the comfort of my living room and (in my estimation) always held my breath longer than any of those kids on TV.

This no-frills, low budget, childish television show concept (come on, a gorilla mask?) was immensely popular to children. It grabbed our attention and held it for one hour. I got up early to watch it in the morning. I even hurried home in the afternoon to watch it again after school. Why? Icky Twerp. He risked looking foolish to adults to get down on my level so that he could relate to me. He presented me with childish humor, he spoke my childish language, and he gave me childish entertainment.

Many adults (my parents included) considered time spent with Icky Twerp a waste of time. In looking back, though, he taught me some valuable lessons that have broad applications about relating to children, especially in my current job as a high school principal. While I have never donned a spiky wig or ill-fitting suit to make kids laugh, I have learned that my impact on the students is directly related to the relationship I have with them. Here are a few of the lessons Icky modeled for me:

Get to know your audience on a personal level.

Icky used children in the audience as contestants and he talked to them on their level.

I begin the school year by learning all of my student’s names (thank you, flash cards). There are only 250 in our high school so it is not too difficult. Who doesn’t love the sound of their name?

I think it is important to learn who plays athletics, which students are in choir, band, theatre, or student government, who is not involved in any way, and who has interests outside of school. Hopefully this communicates that what is important to them is important to me.

Discover their likes & dislikes.

Icky knew what cartoons and shows kids would like. He knew they had to be short, in keeping with our attention span, and varied to keep us interested.

I use student surveys, student advisory councils, and town hall meetings to give kids a forum whereby they can voice their opinions and know that they will be heard and their wishes considered. When decisions are reached with the help of these councils, I announce the results to the student body giving full credit for the decision to the advisory council. The goal here is to empower the student body, while at the same time giving them ownership of their school. With ownership comes responsibility.

Discover what makes them laugh and be willing to risk looking foolish.

Icky knew that we would not be frightened or intimidated by him if he dressed in a goofy way. He deliberately acted silly so we would laugh and enjoy being with him.

My teachers and I try to create fun activities for the kids, to balance out all of the structure and rules. There are a few times a year, like homecoming and Christmas, when the teachers and I act out skits or sing silly songs to entertain the kids.

Let the kids know how much you enjoy their company.

The kids in the audience could tell that Icky got a kick out of being with them.

Before and after school, during lunch, and in between classes, I walk the halls and interact with students. I try to attend the same number of games of each sport. I also go to choral and band concerts, as well as theatrical productions. Each week, we have a student recognition assembly, where kids are recognized for their accomplishments, their servant leadership, and given prizes for good behavior (no demerits).

Do what you enjoy and enjoy what you do.

Icky clearly loved his job. He was consistently happy and bubbly.

Each week during student recognition, I remind the kids that there are 250 reasons why I love my job. Beyond that, however, it is important each day that my words, my tone, and my attitude leave no doubt. Some days, this is easier than others!

That’s it. That’s pretty much all I learned from Icky Twerp, but what a valuable education it turned out to be!


Amydeanne said...

what a fun story! And how true! Thanks for the great post!

Meagan said...

I can picture you sitting cross-legged in front of papa's television...blonde pigtails and all.

Love you!

Tracey, in MI said...

and now I've learned from Icky too;)

Funny- sometimes methods get overly complicated when it comes to teaching---- we can all learn from Icky;) great post

Anonymous said...

Was one of the people who could not wait for the morning Icky Twerp Slam Bang Theater. Many good mornings spent in front of a Black and White Tv watching. Then School would go to school don't remember many lessons learned other than how to KNUK KNUK KNUK lay on the floor and spin while knuking lol. Great times.