Unsolved Mysteries of Teaching

March 11, 2007

What I want to know is:

  1. Why are there boys called Cain (or Kane)? I know there are fewer churchgoers these days and it would be overly optimistic to expect parents to have learnt even a basic knowledge of the Bible in school RE lessons, but surely they must know it is a by-word for “murderer”? They don’t call their daughters Jezebel (yet), so they must have some knowledge of biblical names. Actually now I think about it, I can think of one reason a parent might call their son Cain. Perhaps they had some insight into his future academic achievement and realised he wasn’t Abel.
  2. Why don’t SMT take things literally? If you tell them a class won’t do any work they assume that the class doesn’t do enough work. They won’t actually accept that the entire class will just sit and do nothing. If you tell them that a child is barking they assume you are saying that he is mad, not that he is literally yelping like a dog (and in some cases walking around on all fours as he does it). My friend Jack at Woodrow Wilson School had all sorts of problems with his Year 10 reports. As part of the Woodrow Wilson tradition of making things difficult, Key Stage 4 reports had to be signed by the students. He warned SMT that his class (which was one that wouldn’t do any work in the literal sense) would scribble on and destroy the reports. They told him to hand them out anyway and report any problems to them. He did so, and they were all scribbled on or destroyed. He ended up having to rewrite them all.
  3. Why are school desks big enough for two children to sit at? Putting two children right next to each other is just going to stop them working and encourage them to chat and copy. We know this well enough to have individual desks for exams. So who decided that copying and chatting was fine in classrooms?
  4. Why was PT (Physical Training) renamed as PE (Physical Education)? I can understand why those delivering the lessons might have wanted the change. No doubt there is greater status in being an “educator” or “teacher” rather than a “trainer” or “coach”. But how come nobody in charge of the curriculum said “but you aren’t educating them, you’re making them run around a field”?
  5. How is that students aren’t embarrassed by making particularly stupid statements? I don’t mean on academic subjects, I understand why they want to be seen as academically weak, they might get beaten up if they were known to be learning. What I don’t understand is how a child who is standing up can say “I am sitting down”, or how any child can say “I’m not talking”, or worst of all how a child told not to answer back can say “I’m not answering back”.
  6. What do RE teachers do?

Answers to my questions welcome.


  1. The answer to #6 is that they put them in for a GCSE it is impossible to fail. They are the target-chasers’ favourite teachers.

    “Putting two children right next to each other is just going to stop them working and encourage them to chat and copy. We know this well enough to have individual desks for exams.”
    Priceless! When I was at Primary School we sat at one-person wooden desks with lids, in serried ranks. But that was before some bright spark decided that school should be an extension of home (it was assumed that homes were friendly supportive places) and later an extension of one’s social life.

  2. I’ve often wondered about Cain and Kane too. And what possesses a proud mother and father to look down at their gurgling, innocent infant and call him Daemon? Don’t they realise it’s practically selling the baby’s soul to the Devil?

  3. I had a child named De’mun… But then, I did a whole post about weird names last month.
    And we have been told that we HAVE to arrange the kids so that they sit in groups as opposed to rows. So they have have “academic rigor” and “socializing intelligence.” Yeah, it’s nice for group work, but they often think group work is all day, every day…

  4. Re Cain: Not everyone reads the Bible. You have heard of people of other religions, right?
    So they may be choosing the name up not because of the Biblical Cain but because they like the sound, or they know and like someone named Cain, or they’re fans of “Kung Fu” and don’t know they’re spelling it wrong.

    When the Jezebels start showing up, consider the possibility of parents who like Bette Davis.

  5. Does your “clever” group contain children named Hannah, Charlotte, George, Elizabeth, James? Does your delinquent group conyain Tyler, Tyson, Kyle and Eli-shell?

  6. I suspect people are naming their children Kane because of the character in the soap Emmerdale.

  7. For the last scenario:

    I found the best responses to be

    + I heard you.

    +I saw you.

    + I don’t argue w/ kids.

    or, in a particularly hard case, ask the runt (one on one) “On a scale of One to 10, what would it take for us to co-exist in this classroom this year (or similar wording, dependent on age of runt.)

    The kid will usu respond fairly low (a three is usu a high number) So whatever # the kid gives you, “respond w/, “What can I do to make that a 9 or 10?”

    Kid will say, ‘You pick on me.’ or “You give too much work.”

    To which you respond w/ something like, “Okay, I won’t pick on you. I will try extra hard this week. Why not sit on the front row center so I remember our promise?”

    “Oh? Too much work? OK, why don’t you Just do the odd numbers until we feel you are ready to keep up w/ yr peers?”


    Anyhoo, those responses worked well for me in over three decades, all garade levels/subjects eggggcept 1st grade.

    Good Luck. Let me know if you ever try it- the outcome



  8. Syb – I would try it if it didn’t sound so much like appeasing a kid who could clearly cooperate if arguing the toss weren’t more amusing.

  9. Unsolved Mysteries of Teaching? I am thinking unsolved mysteries of the narrow minded ethnocentric? SFTB you seem to forget that as one earlier and wise commenter pointed out, “not everyone reads the Bible”….(pause for dramatic gasp)…….you seem to have stooped to the poor level of an uninformed elementary student who has sat at the dinner table one two many times after the children were excused to listen to the conversation of two equally dimwitted folks wish for the days of yesteryear when children had normal names like Robert and Mary (although she was a virgin that gave birth – this may be too taboo for even you SFTB). Your closed-mindedness is frightening. RETIRE

  10. I don’t normally reply to comments on my blog. However the comments that have all but called me a racist for suggesting that you shouldn’t name your child as a murderer deserve some response.

    All the Cains and Kanes I have met are White British and I’m fairly certain they weren’t followers of any “other religion” unless you count Chavs as a faith group.

    It is misguided to give your child the name Cain without finding out who Cain was. But this is a criticism of ignorance not a complaint that people aren’t Christians. In the same way I would argue that it would be wrong to call your child “Dracula” regardless of whether you have read the novels of Bram Stoker or watched the films of Christopher Lee.

  11. I haven’t taught a Jezebel yet
    (well I have taught a few actually but no one called Jezebel) but I have taught a Lolita. She was one too.

  12. I am unsure whether your list was meant to be serious or not. As a teacher in an averagely dificult school I would respond as follows

    1 People in the UK are free to name their children whatever they wish. The idea that Cain means murderer seems a bit daft.

    2 I dont have classes that sit there and do nothing. If I were SMT and a eacher came to me and said the kids sit and do nothing I wouldn’t believe them either. What sort of teacher is this?

    3 Up and down the county kids sit in pairs and do excellent work. Sit a nuisance kid on their own. If they are all nuisance kids when s1t in pairs, see 2 above.

    4 Maybe because they are educating them.

    5 Why do you set a different standard for pupils than you set for yourself?

    If you can make stupid statements then why can’t they?

    6 Teach RE.

    I believe you suggest you are a practising teacher.Why do you think it acceptable to make comments such as these on a public forum.

    Cayne made a valid point and you simply posted another daft answer.

    I know there is pressure to put “something” on a blog, but maybe there are times when you just need to say “gone for lunch” and wait until you have something worth blogging.

    • Visitor,
      you seem like an angry parent whose child is possibly one of those described on these very accurate pages by Andrew.

      Anyone who has EVER worked in a state school system would have encountered one or likely, more of these situations. So it’s nothing new to us, and absolutely accurate of such behaviour.

      However, the fact that you sound so angry, could well be because you have a sinking feeling that you haven’t been doing your part as a parent, yes, no? Or that you’ve been trying so hard, but it’s all slipping away….

  13. “I am unsure whether your list was meant to be serious or not.”

    Obviously it was meant to have some humour value. I do know what RE teachers do: they make kids colour in pictures of festivals.

    “As a teacher in an averagely dificult school I would respond as follows”

    Don’t claim to be in a difficult school and then say things like:

    “I dont have classes that sit there and do nothing. If I were SMT and a eacher came to me and said the kids sit and do nothing I wouldn’t believe them either.”

    You clearly don’t work in a difficult school. I think most teachers could quickly find a class in their school doing nothing without searching too hard. (The cover list is usually a good place to look.)

    “What sort of teacher is this?”

    It was a teacher who had taught for several decades in several different countries, who has been a year head and a head of department, but who had the misfortune to have an appalling class and no support from senior management.

  14. I work supply and was (mildly) surprised to meet a year three girl called “Lolita” the other day.

  15. oh, and with regards to 3; In many primary schools the kids sit around group tables, all happily not working together. Today’s school even had children positioned so their backs are always to the teacher. Yummers.

  16. As an adjunct to the “Cain” thing, and people not knowing about the Bible, my friend’s wife was chatting the other day with a woman who asked after the new baby. Friend’s wife responded that baby was well, and that they were calling him Adam (just like the few people who aren’t calling their kids Jack).

    Woman responded that she didn’t much like “these modern names”…

    All the more amazing because this conversation took place in a church immediately after a service. I promise I am not making this up.

  17. There are many perplexing names. Thoughts rush through my head as I hear, write, learn the names. Why would you call a child,
    Kerosine (said Ker-ross-sin-nay)
    The children do live up to their names.

  18. I was told of a name recently written La-a. It is pronounced Ladasha.

    Also when I started at my current school I requested advice at a staff meeting as I had a class (Year 10 in NZ) that ‘did nothing’. Everyone, SMT included, just looked sheepish and we moved on. I wa left baffled.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: