Teacher Power

Treehorn Express

For those who respect the power that they have when they care for kids.


With a pupil in the middle of your eye.

Within a speech called The Pupil in the Middle of Your Eye that I once gave at a Primary Principals Conference, I said,

“Institutional teaching and learning places enormous power in the hands of each teacher.  Each shares with parents, for an important period of time, the development of the lives of growing human beings who are going to take over this world from us.  Do we ever reflect on this enormous power of the teacher and whether we principals are allowing them to use their special expertise for the benefit of their pupils.
They are, after all ‘PUPILS’ not ‘students’ because the act of ‘teaching’ is involved. There is serious interplay between two human beings that deals with learning something.”
{What do we do and how well do we do it? Do we ‘pupil’ or ‘hack teach’ ?}


Kathleen A Butler [‘Learning & Teaching Styles’ Maynard 1984] says, “ I’ve come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It is my personal approach that creates the climate.It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humour, hurt or heal. In all situations it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanised or dehumanised.”

Suppose we, as sincere teachers, are able to give some of our thinking time to the consequences of our actions in the classroom.  We do this at times, don’t we?

Or….don’t we bother?

A teaching nun once told me of a pupil who told her, to “Get f…..!”  My instinctive reaction would be to flatten him [I’m a product of the sit–stillery,  exam-ridden schools of the 40s].

The better-trained teacher of today would say what the nun said, “That’s not a nice thing to say to someone who loves you, Danny.”
“Nobody loves me.” said Danny.
“I love you, Danny.”

Wisely, it seemed to me at the time, the conversation with Danny did not go much further than this. Actually, the teaching sister was searching for ideas on how to show Danny that her love was genuine – without over-doing it. She was hoping that the next encounter would assure Danny that he belonged in a circle of learners who shared his teacher’s love and that things would go better in a non-disruptive interchange with his [future] friends, sharing learning challenges with mutual affection for achievement.

This teacher was exhibiting great power, and was using it in a healing way on a small human-being who had been severely injured. Danny really didn’t want to be at school, so the teacher’s task was to make the learning experiences so attractive [in a magnetic sense] that he couldn’t resist them.”


As a former Queensland classroom teacher/teaching principal for many years [and so proud of it], my heart really bleeds for present day teachers of Years 3,5,7,9 who must try to establish enjoyable, challenging learning environments while they are also expected by school authorities to scare the living daylights our of kids to get higher scores with meant-to-be-confusing,  standardised multiple-choice questions that are just so pathetic and meaningless to the Dannys of this world. The Dannys have plenty of more important things to worry about. They need genuine schooling to experience the great joy of learning and genuine teacher-love. They can certainly do without the soul-destroying testucating stupidities forced on them by present day Australian governments.

The task of the humble classroom teacher of 2014 is infinitely more difficult than my colleagues and I had to tolerate.  We certainly taught towards nasty end-of-school-exams, but it was, by no means as professionally debilitating and soul-destroying as NAPLAN is. Our superordinates were demanding, but they knew what was going on. They had ‘been-there-done-that’ themselves and understood the classroom milieu and the kinds of classroom interactions that are productive in learning terms; so could help with the teaching processes…such as they were.  And so we changed and improved our techniques.

Products of the managerial era,  today’s dominating, testucating superordinates would just not have a clue.  NAPLAN’s focus on fear and practice has much greater intensity than did end-of-year tests of old; while there is a much greater need, these days, to take special notice of the Dannys’ of this world whose social future is not bright. There are so many Dannys now. [Of the 42 infants at a pre-school in my neighbouring suburb, 40 are from dysfunctional homes.] Yet, all that our teachers’ superiors and the profiteers care more about NAPLAN testing. The feelings of kids don’t matter.

The deep-soul feelings that come with fighting for kids against these almost insurmountable odds, through the likes of The Treehorn Express is a feeling that bedevils expression. It’s just so satisfying. I’m really proud. To share the crusade on behalf of kids with a number of passionate true-blue professionals  and to be able to keep it up with relish is a true blessing.  It’s truly wonderful. Despite the fact that many old colleagues don’t care in the way that you thought they would, one can still remain hopeful.

To see that the principals of the professional associations, in which one was heavily involved, lie dormant for want of expression, is disappointing.  You hope that it is just because present circumstances have led to a change in the culture of membership and not a change in ideals.  One can still remain hopeful. The occasional comment from some members of Australia’s more respected  groups gives heart to the our Treehorn-type crusade for kids. When these groups eventually decide to exert the group synergy that tells the pompous testucators, politicians and business leaders to leave schools alone, Australia will be able to take its first steps in fifteen years  towards a learning renaissance. Things are looking optimistic. We Treehorners have faith in the power of love-for-kids.

Our children are forced by too many arrogant ne’er-do-wells to spend, during this present fortnight for instance, more school time using practising techniques to gain higher test scores – than to share in the development of music, art and human movement – those aspects of living that are of enormous importance for human well-being and personal interest.  We didn’t have such pressure from outsiders to neglect these curriculum parts in earlier days. While we did it and hid it, but the poor buggers today are forced by superordinates to succumb to politically-sourced dysfunctional manipulations of the curriculum…well beyond normal tolerance.  If our professional opinions were ignored then, our unions usually managed to stand-up for us, or our associations had something serious to say. Classroom teachers have no genuine champions these days. Children have only a few advocates. The teaching culture has altered significantly.  Teachers are confused, compliant, neglected, frightened and meek. As the salt of the earth, these Kathleen Turners, deserve better.

Knowing that one might be helping one or two of them to think clearer is extremely satisfying for those who love the Treehorns of this world….the ordinary, every-day kid.

Neither did we, in the pre-managerial days, have politicians acting as puppets of the big-end-of-town, who would dare to tell us how to teach, nor use their pompous hubris to fiddle with the general curriculum to suit their own quack biases….Yes, you in particular, Chris Pyne.   You do like to be in charge of little eichmanns, and be pompous in spreading confusion, don’t you?

2014 is not a good year to be a teacher. The world is due for change.



1. BUDGET  MONDAY – the day before the NAPLAN devastation. Let’s hope that our all-knowing Treasurer can transfer the money wasted on counter-educative initiatives such as NAPLAN to positive educative enterprises….for the nation’s sake.  NAPLAN costs would be better spent paying for aircraft repair over the years to come.  Just get rid of NAPLAN, Joe, …..save heaps and heaps of money….and then …only after such invasive learning cancers disappear … watch school learning achievements grow.

2. THE AUSTRALIAN RESEARCH ALLIANCE FOR CHILDREN’S YOUTH (ARACY)+ CHILDREN’S HEALTH QUEENSLAND+ THE STATE LIBRARY OF QUEENSLAND + THE LOGAN CHILD FRIENDLY COMMUNITY CONSORTIUM from Logan City, south from Brisbane, are pleased to be hosting a symposium on children and young peoples’ well-being..

The Q’ld State Library, Southbank, Brisbane on Thursday, 19 June….9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
For further details check logancfcc@gmail.com or michelle.swales@slq.qld.gov.au
Should be lots of reliable NAPLAN info available.


     WANTED – Some T-Shirt Printers
Our oligarchy is better than yours.
Visions of Learning
 The Short Story of NAPLAN

4. No Queensland School Principal can receive The Treehorn Express any more.  I have had to remove the addresses of about 40 recipients. Apologies to those who requested The Treehorn Express in the first place.  Your emails kept coming back to me because “Your message was rejected by mxb.eq.edu.aufor the following reason: spam detected (0.20)”  Sorry old buddies.throughout Q’ld.  You just won’t get them. If someone sends this on to you, I’d be grateful, but please believe that there is nothing I can do about it.  Those who gave me their private email addresses might like to contact friends and pass this message along.

I’d like to think that it is a technical hitch, one that infests one special group amongst hundreds of others.

Ah well….

5  Prayer. Prayers. Prayers are the order of the day for the coldly distressed victims of cruel NAPLAN for the next 15 days or so.

Phil Cullen [….just trying to help kids and their teachers] 41 Cominan Avenue  Banor Point 2486    075524 6443.   cphilcullen@bigpond.com

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