A long time ago, when I was at school, we used to recite a trite little aphorism: ‘those who can, do; those who can’t, teach’. Presumably our intention was to convince ourselves of our superiority over our teachers.
On Saturday, on a misty morning, I drove across the fens to Downham Market, to attend a training day, organized by the diocesan association of bellringers. The day was about teaching beginners to handle a bell, and to take their first steps at ringing backstrokes and then handstrokes.
Richard Pargeter, the association’s training officer, first led a dozen or so would-be teachers through the basics of learning to ring, handicapped only by the want of a cable to connect his laptop to the projector — although this lack of a Powerpoint accompaniment was no great handicap. As well as the basics of what the beginner needs to learn, the teacher must also be aware of what might go wrong, and be able to cope with potential disasters and put right lesser mistakes. After coffee we trooped over to the church, and Richard demonstrated these points with the aid of a complete and willing novice. After an hour of teaching her and demonstrating to us this brave soul was confident at ringing backstrokes, and able to try ringing handstroke and backstroke.
In the afternoon, we were ourselves let loose to supervise some volunteer novices and pseudo-novices. When you know how to ring, and are starting to teach then you realize how dangerous it can be for a beginner, and how ill-equipped you feel to cope. So I was quite pleased to stand in front of a novice and have her ring backstrokes while I rang the handstrokes; and then to have her ring a few handstrokes as well as backstrokes. She was quite good at this, but then I realized that she had no idea how to stand the bell, and I would have to do this. Lesson to be learnt — always have an exit strategy, preferably before you get going.
Back to that old jibe about teachers. Nasty little boys that we were, we added another clause: ‘and those who can’t teach, teach teachers’. And that was certainly not true on Saturday. Richard Pargeter is not only a very experienced ringer, but has taught many others to ring over a period of 20 years or so. His booklet One Way to teach Bell Handling, published by the Central Council, summarizes his approach to teaching novice ringers, and his comments on theory and practice made him an excellent teacher of novice teachers. I and others came away with knowledge and confidence to begin to teach our own beginners — all in all a good day’s work.