The Amateur Amateur: A Classy Seminar, Part I

By Gary Hoffman, KB0H
Contributing Editor
January 21, 2004

(Part II)

You've probably figured out by now that I like to try new things. Like many Amateur Radio operators, recent events have gotten me thinking about emergency communications. I was already a member of a Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES) group, but its activities were strictly limited to SKYWARN (weather spotting). That was rewarding, but I kept wondering if there was more that I could do.

Perusing the Internet one day, I accidentally stumbled across the St Louis County Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) site. I was somewhat surprised, because I didn't think that there was a St Louis County ARES group. I contacted the ARRL ARES Emergency Coordinator (EC), the local ARES leader of the group and learned that it had only recently been re-formed.

Anyway, I filled out an application to join the new group. One of the questions was, "Are you willing to undergo training?" Well, of course I was. That seemed like an odd question to me, but then I like to learn new things. I guess that some people don't.

But it was the next question that really pulled me up short: "Are you willing to train others?"

I cautiously responded, "Yes, once I have been sufficiently trained myself."

Big mistake! And when you make a mistake like that, the repercussions can be like a shock wave traveling at the speed of light.

The day after I mailed the application I got a phone call from the St. Louis County ARES EC himself asking if I could attend a meeting that evening. I couldn't believe he had received my application that fast. Have you ever known a piece of mail to be delivered and acted on that quickly?

I attended the meeting. The EC passed my application around to the Assistant ECs, each of whom read it, licked his chops and eyed me like a hungry wolf. It was pretty much at this point that I realized the error of my ways.

Training class instructors

The Training Committee: (L-R) Gary Hoffman, KB0H; Dana Joines, W0AIA, and David Bartholomew, AB0TO.

It didn't take long before I was designated as "The Instructor." I protested that I had very little emergency communications experience and had only gone through two of the three ARRL Amateur Radio Emergency Communications courses (ARECC). It seemed, though, that no one else had any more experience than I, and no one else had gone beyond the first ARECC course. Dana Joines, W0AIA, and David Bartholomew, AB0TO, offered to assist if I took the job. I did. The wolves had me.

Dana and Dave and I became the "The Training Committee." Although the other two were eager to help, it was clear they were looking to me to make the important decisions. One decision had already been made for us, however--that we should use the ARECC Level I book as our textbook. The fact is, we had no better source of material.

Not long after we began working on our training course, the EC contacted me to tell me that we could not call it a "course."

"Call it a 'training class' instead," he said.

"I don't understand," I countered.

"You're not teaching the official ARECC course."

ARECC Level I book

One decision had already been made--to use the ARECC Level I book as our textbook.

"That's right."

"Well, the 'Powers Above' don't want people to think you are teaching it, so they want you to use the word 'class' instead of 'course'," he explained.

"Okay," I agreed.

Dave, Dana and I agreed to meet once a week until our class was ready. We sent a lot of messages back and forth by e-mail and spent a lot of time going over the ARECC Level I book. The idea was that our students would read the book just as if they were studying on their own, and we would offer summaries, explanations and supplementary information in our weekly classes. We also wanted to have demonstrations, or what we began to call "touchie-feelies."

I had worked out a basic lesson plan for the course by this time. I edited it to say "class" instead of "course" and sent copies to Dana and Dave.

The three of us met again. By this time our individual interests and roles had become clear. Dave was good at procurement. He would find a place to hold the class and arrange to get the textbooks. Dana wanted to complete the ARECC series of courses online, become a Certified Examiner and eventually an ARECC Mentor.

Both of them wanted me to do the actual teaching. And I just wanted to survive the whole thing and not make an utter fool of myself.

"How many students are we going to have?" Dave asked. It was important for him to know how large a room we would need.

Actually, we had no idea how many people would sign up for our course, er, class. We'd seen signs of interest, but since we had no definite date, time, or place no one wanted to sign up yet. We figured we'd be comfortable teaching a class of about 10 people, and would definitely limit the maximum number to 20. If this turned into a success, we could always do another one.

Materials for seminar

I didn't know how difficult it would be to actually teach a class, uhh seminar, but the preparations were becoming overwhelming.

At this point I received another call from the EC. "You can't call it a 'class,' he said. "It's really a 'seminar.'"

"It is?" I replied.

"It wasn't my idea," he pleaded.

"Okay, it's a 'seminar,'" I said.

Our committee-of-three had approved my basic lesson plan, and I had begun writing synopses to hand out to the students. I also went through everything I'd written to that point, changing all references to "course" or "class" to "seminar."

I didn't know how difficult it would be to actually teach a class (excuse me, seminar), but the preparations were becoming overwhelming. Dana and Dave kept smiling at me and saying things like, "Relax! You'll do fine!"

I was glad that they had confidence in me, but they misinterpreted the root of my apprehension. I wasn't worried that I couldn't do the job. I knew that I could--and even knew I could do a good job. But I also knew that I could do a good job only if I were well-prepared. There was no way that I could stand before a class (seminar) and just wing it.

By this time Dave had found a place for us to hold the seminar. We decided to go ahead and set a date. Public announcements were made. Our meetings and e-mails and phone calls intensified. I was a nervous wreck.

Then the EC phoned. "Good job!" he said, adding, "Errr, change the name from 'seminar' to 'study group.'"

(To be continued)

Editor's note: ARRL member Gary Hoffman, KB0H, lives in Florissant, Missouri. He's been a ham since 1995. Hoffman says his column's name -- "The Amateur Amateur" -- suggests the explorations of a rank amateur, not those of an experienced or knowledgeable ham. His wife, Nancy, is N0NJ. Hoffman has a ham-related Web page. Readers are invited to contact the author via email.

© 2004 American Radio Relay League

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