Thinking allowed

Those who can, teach...

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.

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