The Amateur Amateur: A Classy Seminar, Part II

By Gary Hoffman, KB0H
Contributing Editor
February 18, 2004


(Part I)

My sense of being watched by hungry wolves returned. Only now there were two packs, circling each other, wary, watching for possible territorial incursions.

Last time, I'd explained how I had joined the local Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) group and, almost immediately, I had been assigned to teach an emergency communications class. Our saga now continues.

The first class was rapidly approaching. The three of us on the training committee, Dana Joines, W0AIA, David Bartholomew, AB0TO, and I had decided that our class would be held one night a week and would run for six weeks. The study materials were ready, but a seemingly never-ending list of tiny details cried out for attention. Somehow, the list never got any shorter.

Study session students

The students: Who was more nervous, them or me?

One thing we could not avoid was that each us had some conflict with the scheduled class dates. Dana could not be there for at least two classes. Dave also could not be there on two of the evenings. I could be there every night, but my wife Nancy and I were going to be on vacation the week just before the class. It was a symptom of our busy lives, I suppose.

We did some juggling and shuffling and assured each other that everything would go okay. We crossed our fingers and hoped for the best.

Nancy and I had a very nice vacation in North Carolina. I relaxed, had a good time and tried to put the upcoming class out of my mind. For the most part, I succeeded.

When we returned from vacation, however, I found that all hell had broken loose. During my absence, the St Louis County ARES group had been disbanded. I won't go into the details of what happened short of saying that it appeared to be the result of a district-vs-local dispute of some sort. Suffice it to say, I was saddened and somewhat disappointed. But, it occurred to me, at least I didn't have to worry about the emergency communications class any more. Or so I thought.

Go bag or jump bag

Go-kit/jump-bag: A cheap joke, but it got a laugh.

Much to my surprise, the former St Louis County ARES Emergency Coordinator wanted me to go forward with the class anyway. He and some of the now-former ARES members had been looking forward to attending it and still wanted to learn the material. I got an even bigger shock when the District Emergency Coordinator contacted me. He also encouraged me to go ahead with the class (or "study session" as he called it). It was one of the few things on which he and the former EC agreed: The class should go on!

My sense of being watched by hungry wolves returned. Only now there were two packs, circling each other, wary, watching for possible territorial incursions. But neither was going to let this little rabbit escape.

Dana and David were still enthusiastic about the class, bless 'em. We still had a room reserved, and we still had all of our study materials. The only thing we didn't have was any kind of official status. The "St Louis County ARES Emergency Communications Study Session" now became known as "Gary's Class." Now working outside of officialdom, so to speak, I felt I could call it a "class" if I wanted to.

The first session arrived. I had my notes, handouts, props and everything else I needed. All I was lacking was moral support. Neither Dana nor Dave could make it that first evening, so I was going it alone. Even more intimidating, I'd heard that a district-level "observer" would be sitting in on the class. Talk about pressure!

I kissed my wife goodbye. She said, "Good luck!" Pausing at the door and chewing my lip for a moment, I asked, "Will you go with me?" She looked at me in surprise, then said, "Give me a minute to change."

Nancy and I arrived at the church where the class was to be held. Most of the students were already there. Although Dave couldn't make it that night, he had recruited one of the students, Tom Hobbs, KB0QIP, to sell the textbooks. Tom had already covered that base by the time I arrived. He had also put out an attendance sheet and had the students sign it.

Seeing that Dave had arranged for a competent substitute and having Nancy along went a long way toward settling my nerves. I unloaded my materials, asked Tom to distribute the handouts, took a deep breath and started the session.

I went through several "learning units" (chapters) of the ARRL Amateur Radio Emergency Communications Course Level I book. My primary focus was on items that I considered extremely important, potentially confusing or in need of additional explanation. I drew pictures on a dry-erase board (I'm a frustrated cartoonist), did one or two demonstrations, and showed some other items I'd brought.

Teddy bear

Sorry Teddy, but you won't be attending any future classes.

The students were attentive, but quiet. Rarely did anyone ask a question. Nancy, who was sitting among the students, raised her hand and asked one question. At first I was puzzled, because I knew that she already knew the answer. Then I realized that she was just trying to "prime the pump" and get the students to open up. Unfortunately, it didn't work.

At the end of the session I gave the first week's homework assignment: Read the learning units I had just discussed.

So the first week was a mixed bag. There were seven students (plus one observer)--a reasonable number. I didn't faint or throw up. There wasn't much interaction between teacher and students, but a few did stop to say, "Good job!" at the class's conclusion. And the observer, it seemed, wasn't there to critique me. He just wanted some pointers for a class he intended to teach in the future.

If Week One was quiet, Week Two was just the opposite. Dana and Dave were back. Dana handled the review of the homework assignment. Now there were questions. It was gratifying to see that everyone had actually read the book.

Week Three was even more lively, since we handed out National Traffic System forms. We asked one of the students, Roland Kramer, W0RL, who is active in NTS, to read a message aloud. The rest of the students copied it down, and, later, Roland checked their work. Roland had even brought a pad of official NTS forms for "show and tell." Dave also had brought along samples of feed line described in the book.

Since the students were so interactive that night, and the rapport was high, I did a "touchie-feelie" of my own. I didn't own a "jump bag" at that time, but I concocted one and put "GO" (go-kit) on one side and "JUMP" (jump-bag) on the other side. Everyone got the joke. A jump bag should contain those essentials that they would absolutely need in a crisis, I told the class. Then I opened the bag and pulled out a teddy bear. Although I had anticipated a big laugh, everyone just stared at me.

Week Four went fairly well, and by pre-arrangement with the students, we decided to do our final review and give the official examination on Week Five. We would just skip Week Six altogether. So on the fifth week I sat back and relaxed. Dana did the review of the final homework assignment, then administered the official ARECC Level I exam. (I had asked her to set up her own Certified Examiner team.) All of the students passed.

The whole experience was very positive. At the very least I found out that I could teach. I think that Dave and Dana got similarly favorable vibes. Together I believe that we imparted some important knowledge. And although there was no county ARES team at the time, a significant number of amateur operators felt strongly enough about community service to take the course anyway.

I'm very grateful to Dana and Dave for their assistance and advice. I also want to thank and to congratulate Tom and Roland and all of the rest of the students. Thanks also to all the district level and county level people who had faith in me and encouraged me to teach the class (or "study session").

One final note: John Weis, N0UFB, (the observer) donated a few items for me to actually put into my jump bag. Thanks John. I guess I won't try that teddy bear joke next time.

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 e-mail, [email protected].

© 2004 American Radio Relay League


E-mail Gary Ross Hoffman

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