First Day of Class

The first day of class might seem to be a daunting prospect the first time you teach, but staying organized and planning the day well can make the experience a pleasant one. Here are some ideas to make the first day go as smoothly as possible:

  • Bring dry erase pens or chalk with you.
  • Be early; set up any technology long before class begins, so that you have extra time to fix problems that arise.
  • A few minutes before the scheduled start, be available for student questions. If no one approaches you, engage students seated nearby in small talk.
  • Start on time to set a good precedent for the rest of the semester.
  • Consider not starting by distributing the syllabus and discussing the course policies. We recommend you leave the syllabus discussion for the last part of the class period.
  • Introduce yourself and mention how you'd like to be called. Some instructors like to establish their credibility by relating personal stories relevant to the discipline being taught.
  • Lay out a good atmosphere and climate. The first day sets the tone for the entire semester, so structure the first day with the climate you prefer, be it formal, relaxed, or humorous. Research suggests that the things students most value in a professor are enthusiasm, objectivity, and a sympathetic attitude toward the problems that students face.
  • After introductions and icebreakers, consider starting with your course material directly. That sends a signal that your class is rigorous and the schedule is disciplined.
  • Discuss the syllabus at the end of the first class period. Some instructors assign the syllabus as reading for a quiz to ensure it gets read, and others ask their students to sign a paper to signal their receipt of the syllabus. The latter action bolsters the view of the syllabus as a contract with students, which may well be how the syllabus will be treated in questions of disagreement that escalate to department chairs. However, be aware that while stressing the contractual side may elevate student responsibility, it may have undesirable rhetorical side-effects. If the syllabus is perceived as just a contract, students may view education as purely transactional in nature; they become "consumers" paying for their degrees, which can create unwanted grade expectations.
  • Encourage students to visit your office hours.
  • For more ideas on first day activities, visit: http://teaching.berkeley.edu/what-do-first-day-class
 

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Kristen Schellhase
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