When he’s not running up and down the basketball court as a referee, SUNY Potsdam alumnus David Vroman '83 & ’91 is busy teaching his sixth-grade earth science students about everything from the plate tectonics to astronomy.
“I often describe my background as a Jeopardy game. I know a little about a lot of different topics. And to me, that is vital in my science classroom,” he said.
After graduating from SUNY Potsdam with his undergraduate degree in 1983, he bounced around the service industry as a waiter, restaurant manager and bartender. He even became a certified exterminator in Florida where he oversaw baiting, spraying and trapping at homes in the southern part of the state. When he moved back to Northern New York, he decided to get serious about a career path and once again turned to SUNY Potsdam—this time to pursue a master’s degree in teaching.
“My mom was a teacher, my oldest sister was a teacher and my stepfather was a Crane music professor, so I think the teacher component was always there. I started taking the classwork for my master’s degree and a lightbulb went off. I said, ‘This is really what I want to do, this is me’—upper elementary especially, because I feel like my sense of humor and my approach is more applicable to kids who are a little older. That just fit my personality,” Vroman said.
In graduate school, Vroman became the student that he always wanted to be. He prepared for class, engaged with faculty members and set out to learn as much as possible. After finishing his Master of Science in Teaching (MST) degree in elementary education from SUNY Potsdam in 1991 he landed his first teaching job at the Gouverneur Correctional Facility, helping inmates with their educational objectives. “They were great to work with. I had probably two-thirds of the class that were like, ‘Hey I’m here, I might as well try to get my GRE,’” Vroman recalled.
From there, he took a job at SUNY Potsdam’s former campus learning center, before a position opened up at A.A. Kingston Middle School, just a mile from SUNY Potsdam, where he’s been teaching ever since. He’s now been at the district for 24 years—the bulk of his time spent as a sixth-grade science teacher. Over the years, he has worked closely with dozens and dozens of student teachers and classroom observers from SUNY Potsdam and he always encourages them to find their own voice and not replicate his specific style of teaching.
“I don’t use a lot of technology, I don’t use a lot of gizmos and games. I’m an old-school lecturer, but I think that’s my strength. I’m a little loud and I like to laugh, and I tell the kids from day one that there are times in the classroom where we are going to have fun and laugh with each other, and laugh at each other, and yet there are times where we need to turn that channel and get back to work. I don’t expect all student teachers to have that. Some have a soft gentle approach and that can be just as successful as a little brash and a little volume and a little schtick,” Vroman said.
The energy he brings to the classroom is only matched by his exertion on the basketball court. He’s not out there throwing up three-pointers, but rather hustling around the court as a high school basketball referee—a side job he started 29 years ago. After watching the sport for many years, he knew that he had the right temperament and the ability to be successful at it. “You have to use a lot of interpersonal skills, you have to use a lot of de-escalating skills, you have to keep your composure and still monitor everything that’s going on in the game. It’s mentally as tiring as it is physically,” he said.
After a long day of teaching at his middle school, he will hop in the car and drive to high schools all over the North Country, from as far as Chateaugay in the east to Hammond in the west. “It is so damn exciting,” Vroman said. “Exercise isn’t a bad thing and then you get paid to do it, which is even better.”
He admits that he was never very good at the sport. “I was a terrible basketball player in school. My life was over in seventh grade when I got cut from the basketball team and I thought I would just shrivel up and die,” Vroman said. When that happened, the junior varsity basketball coach at South Jefferson High School, Bill Arthur, called him up and asked him to be the team manager. He jumped at the opportunity and traveled with both the junior varsity and varsity teams to all of their games. Over the years he watched a lot of basketball, which parlayed perfectly into becoming a referee. “Basketball was always my sport of love, no doubt about it!” Vroman said.
He recently covered a high energy girls basketball game between Hammond and Heuvelton—two schools with top-tier talent. “I was on cloud nine leaving that game, because I knew we did a good job, not getting every call right, but I knew we managed the game well,” Vroman recalled.
On top of all his work on the court and in the classroom, he still finds time to give back to his alma mater and his connection to SUNY Potsdam has remained strong over the years. His stepfather, Calvin Gage ’54, was a music education professor at The Crane School of Music, and his mother, Gail Vroman Gage, got her master’s degree from Crane in 1979. His oldest sister, Susan Vroman Cavanagh ’77 is a Crane alumna, now working as a music teacher in Florida. His sister, Lisa Vroman ’79, is also a Crane alumna, who went on to star on Broadway. To top it all off, he is married to Mona Ouimet Vroman ’85, who is now the College’s director of alumni relations. David also worked as an adjunct faculty member for several years, and he now serves as the president for SUNY Potsdam’s School of Education Alumni Association, which sponsors the Teacher Education Student Association.
Vroman was recently back on campus for the annual TESA Conference, where SUNY Potsdam alumni—local teachers, principals and superintendents—came back to campus to network with SUNY Potsdam students. The event gave alumni the opportunity to provide advice and guidance to current education students who are in the process of student teaching and who are looking for future teaching opportunities.
As president of the School of Education Alumni Association, Vroman had the privilege of kicking off the event, welcoming guests and sharing a few words of wisdom. “I often stress to the teacher candidates the importance of networking. I also share my passion for the teaching profession...especially at the middle levels,” Vroman said.
For more information about SUNY Potsdam’s School of Education and Professional Studies, visit: www.potsdam.edu/academics/SOEPS.
Article by Jason Hunter