The Amateur Amateur: A Classy Seminar, Part II
By Gary Hoffman, KB0H
My sense of
being watched by hungry wolves returned. Only now there were two
packs, circling each other, wary, watching for possible territorial
February 18, 2004
, 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
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
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
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
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-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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
questions. It was gratifying to see that everyone had actually read
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
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.
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
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.
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,
© 2004 American Radio Relay League